'Chasing Shackleton' review: Polar adventure bland at times

Seb Coulthard and Barry Gray in PBS' "Chasing Seb Coulthard and Barry Gray in PBS' "Chasing Shackleton." Photo Credit: Ed Wardle

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REVIEW

THE SERIES "Chasing Shackleton"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night and the next two Wednesday nights at 10 on WNET/13

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WHAT IT'S ABOUT Six British explorers set out to re-create Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's famed 1914-16 expedition -- his boat crushed by ice, he was forced to cross open seas in a small boat to reach South Georgia Island, which he then crossed by foot. This February 2013 expedition -- which replicates virtually all aspects of Shackleton's earlier voyage -- is led by noted author and environmentalist Tim Jarvis, who has led other Antarctic expeditions.

MY SAY Shackleton staged one of the most treacherous -- and fearsomely miserable -- rescue operations in recorded history, but why a group of six grown men have cared to retrace the route would appear to be between them and their psychiatrists. Pain bleeds through the screen -- their pain -- and their reasons for this voyage of self-induced flagellation are like petrels skimming the tops of waves -- flitting, elusive.

They certainly want to honor Shackleton, but they also want to gauge some inner mettle. It's an admirable impulse, especially to those of us who'd rather ride a couch than an open boat in the southern ocean, but it needs to be more fully explored here. These doughty men, with their frozen beards and frost-lined faces, may be more interesting than the voyage itself -- Jarvis is a particularly fascinating figure. But his, and their, motives remain stubbornly out of reach. As a TV experience, "Chasing Shackleton" can be a bit monochromatic and frigid -- gray on gray, cold on cold -- but a more human touch could have thawed it out.

BOTTOM LINE A grand adventure that (at times) can feel surprisingly bland.

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GRADE B

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