Wild Things With Dominic Monaghan debuts tonight on BBC America at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Between the programming schedules of Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, and Travel Channel, not to mention various other spots up and down the TV dial, it isn’t as though the world at large is particularly chomping at the bit for another series revolving around random jaunts to foreign locales in search of this and that. Nonetheless, there’s something about BBC America’s Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan that causes it to stand out in a crowded field, and you will likely be unsurprised to learn that the unique element in question is, in fact, none other than Mr. Monaghan himself.
Sure, we all know Monaghan from his efforts as an actor, be it Lord of the Rings or Lost, but it turns out he’s had a penchant for creepy, crawly creatures virtually as long as he’s had a hankering for treading the boards. He also seems to have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about their behaviors over the years, as evidenced by his utter lack of hesitation when presented with the opportunity in Wild Things’ first episode to shimmy up a tree and share a special moment with a reticulated python. (Indeed, Monaghan’s general serenity seemingly charms the serpent into submission, as it isn’t long before the animal has casually rested its head atop Monaghan’s.) But is that enough to turn him into the next Bear Grylls?
In a happy coincidence, that’s not something he’s interested in doing, anyway. In fact, during the panel for Wild Things at the Television Critics Association press tour, Monaghan clarified that, unlike the knowledge and preparation displayed by Gryllis on Man vs. Wild, “What I’m trying to say in this show is, ‘It’s fine traveling to countries where you don’t speak their language. It’s okay going somewhere and eating food that you might not have had before, having experiences with animals that you might not know a huge amount about. As long as you are respectful and have a smile on your face, fingers crossed, you’ll survive.’”
This mindset seems to have worked out well enough thus far, if the first episode of Wild Things is any indication. Each installment of the series will find our genial host on a quest to find a particular animal, kicking off the proceedings with a trip to Vietnam, where Monaghan travels down the Mekong River in order to seek out the appropriately-named Giant Water Bug. Although it’s unlikely that his adventures are quite as informal and impromptu as they’re painted—it plays well on TV for things to seem so casual, but surely there’s a least a bit of advance reconnaissance—it’s entertaining to watch him wander down the docks, looking for a boat captain who speaks English.
After indulging in a bit of food and drink from the floating marketplace, Monaghan heads off on his mission, unable to resist referencing his favorite film, Apocalypse Now, as he rides down the river. Following the aforementioned encounter with the python, it’s into the rice paddies, where a local farmer notes how the bite of the Giant Water Bug burns like fire and, a few moments later, Monaghan also observes the significant population of poisonous snakes that frequent the area, which inevitably leads to a close encounter with a cobra. As the episode progresses, he also battles with leeches and finds himself with many, many crocodiles in his general vicinity, although the latter encounter occurred in a body of water known as Crocodile Lake, so it’s not like you don’t know what you’re going to be in for. But, hey, the show’s called Wild Things: if nothing else, the producers can’t be accused of false advertising. Spoiler alert: he does find a Giant Water Bug in the end. A couple of them, actually, including a few on his plate. (Turns out they're pretty tasty. Who knew?)
Maybe it’s because of the incongruity of his surroundings, since he’s better known for playing a hobbit and a smack-addled former rock star than being an animal wrangler, but Monaghan is remarkably effective as a nature/travel show host, blending his confidence of knowledge about the creatures he encounters with an aura of childlike excitement that surrounds him throughout each new animal and/or cultural experience that crosses his path. It’s possible that the novelty will wear off in time, but in its initial outing, at least, Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan proves to be a great deal of fun.