Four Torches (Out of Five)
The Discovery Channel’s new show, Out of Egypt, is an ambitious idea for a series: Kara Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA, uses her knowledge of that ancient civilization to try to make connections and find common elements between all civilizations, past and present.
For example, “The Shape of the Gods” episode looks at the phenomenon of how so many different civilizations all over the world have built pyramids, despite having no contact with each other. Kara rejects supernatural explanations for why this may have happened — alien visitors, for example — and instead looks for plausible, scientific reasons, eventually drawing interesting conclusions about what this preponderance of pyramids tells us about what it means to be human.
Even better is “Flesh and Bone,” the second of two episodes the network made available for preview, where Cooney explores the notion of relics — the idea the body parts of dead humans can be imbued with magical powers. Her respectful look at the practice of magic, past and present, is interesting, but some of the show’s footage, especially a monastery where the remains of generations of dead monks have been preserved on the walls and and ceiling of the crypt, is downright astounding.
Sometimes some of the connections to Egypt are a little forced — Egyptians, for example, didn’t see mummies as relics at all. But this is immediately forgivable once you realize the producers are using people’s never-ending fascination with Egypt to talk about other, much lesser-known ancient civilizations — and to talk about some pretty complicated, sophisticated ideas (all streamlined into an easily digestible package for television, of course).
Cooney herself is soft-spoken, but funny and engaging — and she’s definitely easy on the eyes, something that must have factored into her getting her own show.
One of the best things about the series is that it’s not loaded up with fake drama, like she’s personally trying to accomplish some scientific feat that’s never been done before — find Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster, for example, on a 4-day shooting schedule.
As a result, when something significant really does happen, as when she’s invited behind-the-scenes to see the tooth of Buddha in Sri Lanka, it feels genuine, not contrived.
Viewers may come to see the hot Egyptologist, but there are plenty of other reasons to stay and watch.
Out of Egypt premieres Monday, August 24 on the Discovery Channel, with “Relics” airing at 9 PM and “Pyramids” at 10 PM.