Review: The Green Planet by BBC Earth

by | Reviews

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There is nothing not to love about the recent series from BBC Earth The Green Planet. Originally airing in 2022, it was primarily celebrated in the UK as a groundbreaking series focused on the world from the perspective of plants.

To make things even better, it is not only narrated by David Attenborough, but he also presents the story. His love for the natural world is evident in the genuine smiles from his interactions with the plants and their animal partnerships throughout the series.

Unfortunately, it was not available in the United States, and as time went on, many of the potential audience forgot about this series. It was not widely publicized when it became available, and the prime marketable time for the series has since passed.

There is still, however, interest in the series, which is great news to consider now that it is available on this side of the pond. In this article from HerbSpeak, you’ll not only learn about the current ways you can view The Green Planet, but also follow along with me with individual episode reviews from this series.

Where Can I Watch The Green Planet Episodes?

The series is now available to viewers in the United States, but there is a catch: none of these places are streaming for free.

BBC Earth lists the official – and only – place to watch The Green Planet as Currently, you are asked to donate to PB to watch episodes. To watch the episodes, they require that you subscribe to their streaming service which is called a GBH Passport. This ‘donation’ requires a $60 minimum one-time fee, or a minimum monthly fee of $5. Streaming access may make sense to you if you are interested in other PBS content.

The series is listed in other places, however, which may better suit your streaming situation. Prices are updated to reflect the prices at the time of writing. Have updated information?

Current places to watch The Green Planet are:

  • YouTube ($2.99 per HD episode, $14.99 for Season 1 in HD.)
  • Prime Video ($2.99 per HD episode, $9.99 for Season 1 in HD.) Affiliate link, purchase supports HerbSpeak.
  • Google Play ($2.99 per HD episode, $14.99 for Season 1 in HD.) Syncs with YouTube purchase.
  • (by ‘donation’ with a minimum of $5 monthly or $60 one-time.)
  • Apple TV ($2.99 per HD episode.)
  • Vudu ($2.99 per HD episode.)

How Many Episodes of The Green Planet Are There?

There are 5 episodes from The Green Planet, all in Season 1. In response to an inquiry, BBC Studios stated they do not have any news right now whether there are plans to create a second season.

In order, these episodes are:

  1. Tropical Worlds
  2. Water Worlds
  3. Seasonal Worlds
  4. Desert Worlds
  5. Human Worlds

Each episode is roughly 56 minutes long, including a behind-the-scenes look at the technology and production that went into creating that episode. This is a fascinating insight into the latest cinematography technology and the lengths the BBC Earth crew went to in capturing such elaborate scenes and stories.

Exploring Each Episode

While the narration is relatively simple, David Attenborough is a gem bringing awareness of the natural world to an everyday light. Combining his storytelling and reputation with pioneering camerawork from the team, The Green Planet has gone above and beyond to dispel a lot of the plant blindness that goes on in the world. All the series needs is another marketing push in the United States to make everyone aware of it again and provide a license allowing a free streaming service to pick it up.

Let’s explore each episode fresh from watching it for the first time. These various clips are portions of each episode as they are available on YouTube, or snippets from the On Location portion of each episode’s ending.

Episode 1: Tropical Worlds

The first episode begins with one of the most diverse “plant battlegrounds” in the world: the tropics.

In this episode, David Attenborough opens the series standing next to a giant Sequoia tree, talking about how plants are the basis of all life on Earth.

Throughout it, he highlights the sheer diversity in the tropical rainforest, revealing to us that the plant world is actually one of constant strife and struggle. This is our first look into the series’ pioneering timelapse photography and the dedication of the camera crew to film such intricate scenes.

Coming to life on an amazingly fast timescale, we see the life and death of many plant species, including several beloved species such as Drosera (sundews) and Rafflesia (corpse flower), to Monstera. The team also follows leaf-cutter ant colonies through the tropics to demonstrate their effect on these plants and how the tug of war between plant and insect carries on, all something we typically go on without noticing on our outdoor walks.

True to the style of these documentaries, this is also the episode where he touches on how fragmented the Amazon rainforest is becoming, with jaw-dropping moments where the team breaks the immersion of the endless tropical rainforest to drive the point home on just how scarce these habitats are.

Overall, it’s truly worth watching and an excellent opening episode. I watched many BBC Earth episodes growing up. In my mind, David Attenborough’s voice is synonymous with learning in narrative style, so it was a wild ride to see him move and truly present the scenes as we follow him around the tropics. Each point is beautifully illustrated, though simple, perfect for the casual viewer or experienced botanist, with something for everyone to enjoy, whether that is cinematography or immersion into the natural world.

On Location – Each episode wraps up with about 10 minutes of an “On Location” piece that showcases the behind-the-scenes of how each episode was filmed.

In this, we learn about the revolutionary camera techniques pioneered by engineer Chris Field. The crew has lovingly named this camera system the Triffid, after the 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (later adapted into a movie), which featured invading, monstrous carnivorous plants in a post-apocalyptic world. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching this fictional gem.

The crew also shares their experience of tracking down and recording leaf-cutter ants non-stop in the jungle through video journals taken during filming.

Episode 2: Water Worlds

Here, we learn about the diverse range of plants that make their lives in the water and how many still seek the assistance of pollinators by moving from the aquatic world and into the terrestrial world for this purpose. We also learn about how gruesome the battle can be, featuring the giant waterlily and its offensive strategy that forcibly removes its competition with barbed leaves that unfurl, choking out any plant life photosynthesizing below.

We also gain insight into the amazing Marimo moss balls and how they live peacefully under the surface of the water near Japan, constantly dancing and rotating to maintain balance in their world.

Most spectacularly, we learn about a Columbian river that is home to the most pristine waters that bathes the plants living there in sunlight. These fully submerged plants visibly showcase the marvels of photosynthesis, which provides the world with the oxygen necessary to survive. The result is a river that fizzes and bubbles with life-giving gasses like champagne.

Overall, having seen The Blue Planet, I was uncertain how they were going to differentiate the two series here and make Water Worlds truly stand out in the basic naming convention, but this was such a mind-boggling, soul-inspiring episode. There is so much to mention, and not enough words to do it justice.

If you watch any episode out of the series, I recommend watching this one. It is impactful, beautiful, and detailed.

There are many beautiful, breathtaking places highlighted here that contain absolute marvels of nature in a little-studied realm of botany. David Attenborough even calls this fact out as he sits in a canoe along a wide river.

Little researched, it is unclear the diversity that we are losing without ever knowing about it; and this area of expertise provides a clear path forward to aspiring scientists who want to make their mark on the world.

On Location – This section of this episode highlights the camera crew filming on location in the field, as well as a special setup created by master timelapse videographer Tim Shepherd, in an attempt to capture the giant waterlily’s development on camera.

To create specific shots that truly showcase the giant waterlily’s perspective uninterrupted, they build a tiny replica of the Brazilian wetland habitat in Devon, England and allow us to follow along for the segment, algal struggles and false-starts included. It makes for a very interesting insight into the artistic and technological side of creating this masterpiece of botanical videography.

Episode 3: Seasonal Worlds

This episode showcases the familiar seasonal landscape for many of us – but does so by first showcasing the extremes. We’ve already seen the tropics to the south, but the episode opens with David Attenborough in the boreal forest, not far from the Arctic circle. Here, he stands on what appears to be several feet of snow, the trees behind him completely blanketed in ice.

Then, we see a landscape familiar to those in New England, Canada, and much of Russia, where plants must adapt and struggle with every seasonal change. Here, plants must have precise and perfect timing to survive, and how they do so with the help of fungus. We see how vast forests are connected using these mycorrhizal networks and, briefly, what these underground connections may look like. Throughout these scenes, we also see how an increasingly unreliable future is actively affecting these plants’ survival.

Showcased in this episode is also several genuine moments shared with David Attenborough, where he demonstrates the ballistic nature of some spring and summer seeds, which grow so taught and pressurized that even a single touch can cause an explosion, catapulting the seeds far away from the parent plant. It’s hard to say this demonstration provides both Attenborough and the viewer with anything less than childlike joy.

On Location – This section of this episode really struck a chord with me, as a single snippet from the Assistant Producer perfectly epitomized the experience of plant monitoring. Here, the camera crew is searching for the notorious Fire Lily, which grows only a few inches tall after a blazing Fynbos wildfire.

This section talks about the struggles and dangers of filming the wildfire featured in this episode. Interspersed in their over-the-shoulder journey into filming these scenes, we hear from local fire chief Reinard Geldenhuys about his concerns over what he has observed as increasingly hot and frequent wildfires in a changing climate.

Episode 4: Desert Worlds

Desert Worlds introduce us to the driest climates on the planet, where rain seldom falls and plants and animals alike must work together to survive. Even in the driest deserts, trees and other plants manage to survive.

This episode focuses primarily on the plant’s adaptations to this difficult life, whether they are the familiar cactus, or the mighty baobab tree. We also see historical photographs, and a clip from David Attenborough forty years ago talking about a particular population he re-visits in modern day to emphasize the plant’s unique strategy of slow growth.

While other plants store great amounts of water to survive, others have taken the opposite route, becoming so dry that it can better protect photosynthetic cells. These adaptations and strategies are just some of the ways plants are capable of surviving in such dry conditions.

We also visit David Attenborough in the lab, where he showcases some of the amazing chemical communication between leaves in response to predators. We’ll also see how animals and plants interact in unique symbiosis in some of the most remote deserts in the world.

On Location – This episode’s “on location” section follows the camera crew to the isolated desert island, showcasing the unique experience of interacting with this plant and animal relationship that exists nowhere else on the planet, and how fragile this relationship is in the face of change. The crew documents the travel and filming experience in this unique habitat, giving viewers an over-the-shoulder experience of an island that few have seen.

Episode 5: Human Worlds

The last episode in season 1, Human Worlds takes the approach of a much more familiar perspective in the world of plants. I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this episode, because I imagined they were going to take the tact of “agriculture isn’t bad!” and have this remain the underlying theme for the entire episode. Happily, I can say that assumption was wrong.

Rather than focusing on the dire burden of a changing climate, or agricultural relationships with plants, this episode touches briefly on these subjects, as well as our relationship with weeds and how these plants are signs of plants pioneering a new habitat.

From there, however, it goes on to tell us a wide range of stories from all over the world about how humans, of all things, are coming together to re-wild the planet, helping to maintain balance and biodiversity.

To put anything in Human Worlds into words feels like it would lessen its impact, but this episode is a message of hope, and the ways that humans just like you and I can work together to make a difference we can see and feel. It shows us that there are many wrongdoings that have been done, but increasingly as a species, we are turning the tides and working to undo these mistakes – and marvelously, the BBC Earth team also shows us just how well these efforts can work.

In David Attenborough’s ending statement of this episode, there is no doubt that he believes in this message of hope. His sincerity is palpable and inspiring, coming from a man who has dedicated his life to promoting the beauty and intricacy of the natural world, and who has hope for the future.

On Location – In this portion of the episode, we hear from Aja, an invasive plant removal specialist who is on the ground in Hawaii, helping restore the native plant diversity. We listen to her story about how her work is about more than just restoring plants. It is about restoring the land to its rightful state on a spiritual level, and the beauty and richness of the land for future generations.

We also get a behind-the-scenes look at what was at stake in the helicopter scene, where the filming was not only dangerous, but nerve-wracking as the crew had a narrow window to capture all the shots necessary to do the story justice.

About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.


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