WHAT THEY'RE ABOUT Dec.21, 2012 ... The first day of winter, right? How very wrong you are, friend. It's the end time, the day of destruction, the final page of the final chapter. WE ARE DOOMED, and one need look no further for proof than Nat Geo, which has become the go-to network for the righteously paranoid among us ("Doomsday Preppers").
But where did this specific date of doom come from? That's what this pair of specials sets out to explore. The first features BBC presenter Paul Murton, who travels to the Yucatán to figure out the genesis of the so-called "13th Baktun," the 144,000-daylong cycle on the Mayan calendar that comes to an end in a couple of weeks. (Gulp.)
In "Maya Underworld," Diego Buñuel -- yes, he is indeed the grandson of filmmaker Luis Buñuel -- leads a diving expedition through a pair of Yucatán cenotes, ancient sinkholes in the limestone where the Maya once performed human sacrifices.
MY SAY Don't worry -- we're not doomed (yet), and this amiable pair of documentaries, in fact, establish that the date is simply the beginning of a new cycle, which is how the Maya conceived of time. It could even be the beginning of the best 144,000 days of our lives -- but I suppose that's for each of us to decide. As a tour guide, Murton is natty in an Old Empire kind of way -- he wears an ascot in the tropical heat -- and is unenthusiastic about the intellectual underpinnings of his assignment. "I found nothing in the archaeology," he concludes, "to say the transition would be a destructive one." Phew. Nor does Buñuel, but that doesn't matter in the least. This terrific hour is a wonder to behold and equally haunting, as host and dive team descend the depths to find the remains of victims -- many children -- thousands of years old. "I'm relieved to find out that the world is going to go on as usual," Buñuel says. "This whole experience has been beautiful, adventurous and sad," he adds. Agreed on all counts.
GRADES "The Mayan Apocalypse 2012": B; "Maya Underworld": A