"Voice of the Planet, Part Three: The Sacred and Profane"

A terribly clever review by Echo


In this segment, Bill stays put in his Posh Himalayan Cabin while Gaia uses the computer to show him images of how water on Earth has shaped biology and culture. "Pilgrims have been trekking to the source of precious liquid for millennia." Trekking, I get it. Har har.

This episode was notable for its extensive footage of Bill hanging out at a mountain stream. Having divested himself of his shoes, socks, and trousers, he sits on a big flat rock, clad only in a flannel shirt and black briefs. His feet dangle in the stream, and his pasty white thighs are on display for all the world to see.

"William Hope Planter fascinates me," Gaia says. (An ecologist named "Hope" and "Planter." How inspired. Moving right along...) "I still can't tell whether he's precocious or an imbecile. I know about other life forms, but what does one do about a goofy oddball like this? He keeps me wondering what the human species is all about."

During this insultingly affectionate dialogue, we see a series of shots of Bill making self-aware faces at the camera, finishing off with him crossing his eyes, all the more amusing (or disturbing) for the way he did it v-e-r-y- s-l-o-w-l-y. After that we are treated to an inexplicable but not unwelcome shot of him doing push-ups on the floor of the cabin. And these weren't girl push-ups either. In fact, these weren't even guy push-ups. Seeing him do them, I think there should now be three classifications:

1. girly push-ups (on knees)

2. guy push-ups (military standard) and

3. Bill push-ups (able to be performed only by William Shatner)

There were some stomach crunches as well, all performed in a blue denim shirt, and for those of you keeping score at home, the sleeves were NOT rolled up. A shame.

Gaia elaborates on the importance of water to all living things. People, mammals, and then – penguins! Thousands of adorable penguins! There was something scientific going on here...perhaps something about how almost all of our drinkable water is frozen in the arctic regions, and global warming is causing us to squander even that supply....BUT WHO CARES? PENGUINS! ON THE SCREEN!

Gaia continues. "For you, William, water is also critical. I've watched you guzzle it down with greed, during your sojourns down to the pools beneath the cliffs surrounding the monastery. I've seen how you exult in your addiction to it." During this rather suggestive declaration, we see more of the flannel-shirt-and-briefs scene, this time with Bill on his belly, scooping water from the stream and drinking it out of his hand. Then we cut back to the cabin, where Bill is watching that very scene on the computer. Huh. Does that make it more sexy, that Shatner is watching himself half-undressed on a computer screen? And if so, would it be even more sexy if the Shatner on the screen was fully dressed, and the one doing the watching was the half-naked one? These questions may be useful if one of your listeners is trying to think of a topic for their dissertation.

There's a brief segue down to the chemical level, as Gaia tells Bill, and us, "The water molecule is the most gregarious in all of chemistry." "You can't attribute emotions to molecues," Bill scoffs. "Oh William, don't be a bore. They love to cling to one another." (I was the unfortunate victim of a clingy water molecule once. A friend introduced me to this molecule at a New Year's party, and I was not into him at all, but he was just hanging on me the whole night. But that's another story.)

Bill himself then explains to us: "A human being is seventy percent water. Each of us is a walking urn, lugging around fifty quarts of the stuff. It's amazing, with so much water in our bodies, that we don't slosh ourselves silly during lovemaking."

I sat here staring at the screen for five minutes, trying to come up with some clever comment on the previous sentence, but I just can't.

I just can't.

So, the last third of the program was a montage of footage that made me feel guilty about being a white American. Gaia shows us places in the world where there is no access to clean water, where people drink from the pools that the animals bathe in. (There was also a commercial halfway through this segment for one of those collections of "Easy Listening Hits of the 70's," and that also made me feel guilty about being a white American.)

The episode closes with Bill pouring himself a cup of water, and posing the question to Gaia, "Is it half-full, or half-empty?" Well, I'll tell you what, at the end of Part Three that thing was half-empty. This was a very disappointing episode: An entire hour of chatter about water, pictures of water in all its sundry forms, gallons of the stuff flowing all around, and Bill himself frolicking in the general vicinity of water...

...but not one Shatner Swallow. Sigh.




Voice of the Planet" A review of the now-infamous mini-series. Part Two.

By Echo


So, after watching the first part of this series, I had high hopes, not for its intrinsic quality but for its extreme snark potential. Particularly since this segment dealt specifically with S-E-X, I was like "Alright, you bizarro docu-drama, make with the Shatner." Sadly, this segment was neither Shat-tastic nor Shat-rageous. But I'm gonna do my best here.

This segment begins with a sufficiently pleasant shot of Bill sleeping in his posh Himalayan cabin. The Mother Earth Computer (hereafter "Gaia") is just chillin' in the background. When Bill wakes up, he is discontented; he feels like he hasn't slept at all. "Restless dreams?" Gaia asks.

Bill insists, "I don't remember."

Gaia says, "Your alpha-stage REM was accompanied by four periods of heavy sexual arousal."

I know what you're thinking. "Only four? What, was he asleep for just ten minutes or something?"

Bill expresses a little anxiety about Gaia monitoring his sleep. Gaia explains, "So much good weather we're having. My hydro-electric surges have been bountiful. I'm turned on all night."

Bill gets up, goes to the mirror to shave and do his little morning routine thing, and he reminisces about his nights spent playing chess with Gaia, being soundly trounced by her every time. (Hmm, chess as sexual metaphor...where have we seen this before?) Gaia, who really does seem to be kind of a horn-dog, tells Bill he ought not shave; he'd look sexy with a beard.

"What does a computer know about sex?" he scoffs.

"Oh, I know all about sex," Gaia says, and we get the seen-one-seen-em-all sex montage: cells dividing, a time-lapse shot of a flower opening, some sea lions gettin' busy. "Until 1.3 billion years ago," Gaia says, "there was no sex. The world was made up of sexless protoplasms."

Wait a second. Sex was invented 1.5 billion years ago...Bill was born in 1931. That means...there was sex before William Shatner. Well, it couldn't have been any good.

So rather than taking Bill on a tour of the planet to demonstrate her virtues, as she did in the previous segment, this time Gaia just hangs out with him in the cabin and they chat about various aspects of sexuality. For example, there's a bit about bees. Drone bees, in case you didn't know, tend to die when they fertilize their queen. Like many insects, such as certain spiders and praying mantises, their mating ritual involves the death of the male. "For these altruistic males," Bill narrates over stock footage of bees, "orgasm means suicide."

And that concludes my essay on why William Shatner is happy that he is not a bee.

Next up is a segment which will make any child-free person cringe: a montage of babies, lauhging babies, people cuddling babies, even people having babies (gross!). Gaia explains that, you know, this is what it's all about: love, life, and snugglin'. Bill plays the Pragmatist in this show; every time Gaia waxes philosophical about how great sex is, Bill's gotta harsh her buzz by bringing up the flip-side. He mentions to her the staggering divorce rate in the modern world, and asks how she feels about that. But you can't faze Gaia, because she's all about the Big Picture. She says, "Divorce isn't the point. Cuddling is the point."

She extols the virtues of sex while the audience watches a disparate bunch of clips of "sexy stuff," you know, a lion mounting a lioness, the red-light district of a modern American city, a Brazilian chick frolicking in a swimsuit, et cetera. This was made back in the day, when you could still reasonably expect to hear someone exclaim, with amazement and/or moral indignation, "Oh my God, that woman is wearing a THONG!"

So at this point we're kind of getting into some rough territory. Bill continues to play Devil's Advocate, and Gaia continues to ignore his protests and just keep talking about sex like it's some sort of great thing. No matter how skeevy, oppresive, or weird, if it's sex, Gaia digs it.

The first bit that got my second-wave-feminist dander up was a piece on geishas, whom Gaia raved about as demonstrating "the elaborate beauty of sex." She gushes about how totally radical it is that geishas doll themselves up and cater to a man's every whim in exchange for currency. Bill protests, "These men come to geishas to escape family life. This is emotional, if not physical, infidelity!" But Gaia chooses to describe it rather as "sensual therapy." As the geishas giggle and feed the men, she says of it, "This is the result of four and a half billion years of biological evolution and finesse."

Bill asks, "What about women's lib?"

Gaia says, "What's women's lib? You mean women's libido?" Har-har. She summarizes: "Women are sex. Men are sex." And next we visit a few strippers, who exclaim with pride that rather than being exploited by men, they think it's really the other way around. The girls are taking advantage of the guys' weaknesses. It makes them feel empowered. Uh huh. You want to know what sexual empowerment really is? Empowering is having your own podcast with your friend, where people all over the world listen in as the two of you watch movies about the sexiest man on the planet and squeal "Look at his butt!" throughout. If that's not sexual empowerment, then damn it, I don't want to be empowered.

"It seems like you're insensitive to the problems humans have with sex," Bill suggests.

"Politics change," she says. "Love is eternal."

What about AIDS? Bill wonders if this isn't a rather dangerous time to be sexual. "AIDS is just another Plague, another Influenza," Gaia says languidly. Things like these come and go, you know. (Big Picture, people, the Big Picture.)

So, to demonstrate how Big this Picture is, Gaia shows us a few shots of cave-people going at it. Ugh, you thought those hairy hippies in "The Joy of Sex" were hard to look at? Yikes. But the important thing is that back in those days, it wasn't about politics or empowement or divorce or any of that stuff. It was about getting' it ON. [Cue Marvin Gaye.] Gaia also mentions that back in those days, women in the same tribe would all be on the same menstrual cycle, like that was great or something, like that wouldn't have been a hormonal and aesthetic horror. "Humans are just a bundle of quirks and obsessions," she says. "The details don't bother me. The consequences are what matter." All this over more of that footage of girlie shows and bikini babes on the beach, which segues into third-world moms smilin' and cuddlin' their third-world babies.

Well, of course all this was written by a guy. I'd like to listen to Gaia explain to me why the guy in the mail room downstairs where I work insists on calling me "Sweetcheeks."



"Voice of the Planet" is not just a documentary.


It is also a cheesy drama. By the way, I hope you aren't lactose intolerant, because the term "cheesy" is going to describe many, many aspects of this program. Anyway, in this series Bill plays an intellectual mucky-muck who's got a boner for the environment. (I believe the correct term is "ecologist," but "intellectual mucky-muck who's got a boner for the environment" is a bit more vivid, I think, and one must utilize these literary devices.) The character's name is also Bill, which will make describing this program either more confusing or less confusing. Onwards. Okay, so the premise for this show is flimsier than the set of "The Young Ones," but I'm going to try to explain it: Bill is visiting his friend at NASA or something when he sees a spoooooky message on one of the computers. It seems the machine is trying to tell him something! He is lured by this spooooky computer message to a remote Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, where he finds....another computer. At first, this strange, self-aware computer's agenda is a mystery to Bill, and we the audience must learn right along with him what it's all about.

First of all, a caveat: this show was produced in 1991, during that transitional period after computers had become familiar enough to be presented on television to the unwashed masses without blowing their feeble minds, but before we became so savvy about computers and how they work that it became imperative that computer usage be portrayed realistically in television and film. During this transitional period, computers could do anything! They were magical! A computer could just scroll a block of random letters across the screen, as a way of telling the audience, "This means something very important to the computer, but you couldn't possibly comprehend it, because you don't understand [make exaggerated quote marks in the air with fingers] Computer Language."

This is also the sort of magical computer that can answer you when you type questions which obey no particular syntactical rules. When Bill finds this computer, a message appears on the monitor wherein it offers to help Bill write his next book. He types into the computer, "How do you know about that? You must tell me!" I'll have to remember to try this technique the next time I get the Blue Screen of Death. I'll just type, "What do you mean, you're crashing? You must tell me why!"

Bill eventually discovers that this computer is, indeed, the "Voice of the Planet" that we have heard so much about. Sounding suspiciously like Faye Dunaway [cue the shifty eyes], the Earth has decided to communicate through a computer, to an ecologist, how very proud it is to be the Earth, and She offers to take Bill on a whirlwind tour of all her majesties. And so it would seem, from the first segment that I've watched, anyway, that the series consists of Bill being magically transported to various times and places on the planet, where he can frolic about amongst the molecules and palm fronds while Her disembodied voice lectures him on various Earth-related topics. These segments are book-ended by cozy shots of Bill chillaxin' with the Earth-Computer in his posh Himalayan cabin. (More on that in a sec.)

I will take a break here (I know, I know, just when it's getting exciting) to answer the question I know is on everyone's minds, "Did Bill at least look good in this steaming pile of a mini-series?" I'm afraid I don't have the definitive answer to that, since I am not a connoisseur of the Glory that Is Shatner's Hot Bod Praise It's Holy Name etc etc, but I'll do my best to describe him in excruciating detail: For the indoor sequences, Bill was dressed in a dark plaid shirt with a fuzzy greyish fuzzy sweater over it. If you like Bill in a fuzzy sweater, "Voice of the Planet" is for you. Oh, and corduroys. Rugged but stylish, as anyone should look in their posh cabin in the Himalayas. (More on that in a sec...I promise.) In outdoor shots he's fairly bundled up: same corduroys, and despite the arduous trip hundreds of miles through the Himalayas, his blue-and-black Gore-tex jacket is in pristine condition. I guess those raggedy sherpas just need to hit the REI. The corduroys don't do much for his butt, but then, do corduroys make anyone's butt look good? Seriously, that's not rhetorical, I'm asking. THESE ARE QUESTIONS WHICH DEMAND ANSWERS. Honestly, though, most potential butt shots were obscured by coats, backpacks, and Nature. So, you can't win 'em all, but there's always "Alexander the Great," right? Let's see, what else...Bill's hair was of the darker, wavier variety for this production, he's in about the same shape as he was for "Undiscovered Country," perhaps a bit trimmer, and he spends quite a lot of the show looking very perplexed. So if you like a Bill that looks perplexed, "Voice of the Planet" is for you.

This show is a documentary, ultimately, but like I said, it has this bizarre dramatic element added. The Earth spends most of the time taking Bill to places around the world (this first segment featured Iceland and some forests that inspired Percy Shelley), and it explains nature-type things to him. Because this was on TBS and is presumably for typical TBS viewers, everything has to be explained very simply, and so even though Bill is an ecologist with numerous degrees and many published works, he has to pretend he doesn't know what a stick-insect is.

The Earth describes everything from volcanoes to DNA in a sultry voice, I mean really selling us on this whole Earth thing, using language so feminine and voluptuous that it was kind of making me uncomfortable. You know, saying-"naked"-when-you-don't-mean-"naked"-but-people-have-dirty-minds-so-they-think-of-nakedness; similarly, words like "swelling" and "moist" got thrown around so much, I had to check the label on the tape box to make sure I really was just watching a documentary about mud and molecules.

In my opinion, the CUTEST parts are the book-end segments, where Bill rests up in his posh Himalayan cabin. More on that in a sec...No, wait, this actually is the part where I talk about the posh cabin. So while the Buddhist monks are eating plain rice and living half-naked under animal skins or whatever in the freezing mountains, Bill has a warm, comfortable little cabin complete with fireplace, elaborate wall hangings, the computer of course, and a cozy couch, upon which he is often found napping. If you're into Napping!Bill, "Voice of the Planet" is for you. There are some serious Z's caught in this series. And so for these book-ends the computer is like a Mother, in a way: "Wake up Bill, it's time to go to school...I mean, Iceland."

To sum up, I would say that this whole concept of Bill's female co-star being The Entire Planet Earth certainly brings a new twist to the classic question:

"Did he do her?"