Why you should watch Whale Wars, one of the best series on TV today

Whale Wars returns for its third season on Friday night at 9 p.m. ET, and you should be watching it, because it’s simply the best series on Animal Planet, and one of the most compelling, most dramatic, most authentic reality series on TV today. It proves reality television’s value by taking cameras someplace most of us will never go, and shows us what is happening in the most entertaining way possible. From the fly-on-the-wall cinematography to each episode’s dramatic narrative structure, it’s one of television’s best series.

If you’ve never seen it, you need to rent or buy season one and watch season two; the first and second seasons are airing all day today and overnight, sometimes with the addition of commentary from cast members (those episodes are titled “the aftermath”). The the show follows Sea Shepherd volunteers who search for and confront Japanese whalers in the southern ocean. Convinced that whales are being killed needlessly and pointlessly, they try to stop them, using methods that range from laughable to brave to stupid. Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they are incompetent, like when they got their ship caught in ice. (Read my interview with one of the show’s camera operators for more on that, and the crew’s ridiculous job.)

I actually stopped following news of the confrontations between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers after the big news because I wanted to see it play out on TV, because executive producer Liz Bronstein’s Lizard Trading Company does such an exceptional job of producing engaging episodic TV based on these unpredictable, incredible events. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Really, Whale Wars works because it’s a documentary that unfolds over a few months instead of a few hours–and is incredibly entertaining. It presents events honestly and openly, and despite what the Japanese whalers insist, it does not take sides, because the environmentalists frequently look bad, even if they have the moral high ground. My only complaint with the show is that its first two seasons have overused narration; I prefer no narration, but understand it is sometimes necessary for narrative cohesion. Otherwise, though, I’ve been on the literal edge of my couch watching the show live on Friday nights, and I watch very few TV shows live.

If my babbling isn’t convincing, just watch the trailer, which has the intensity of an action movie:

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.