Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is clicking for the truth—and going to the kitchen for some more coffee to do it.
"An electric drill would be nice."—Josh Bernstein, on using colonial construction methods to build a defense wall
Josh Bernstein is back. He may not think of himself as another Indiana Jones, but he kicks off Digging For The Truth: The Complete Season Two by investigating a "real temple of doom." He ends the season by investigating the failure of another person who's been called a "real-life Indiana Jones": Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett of the Royal Geographic Society, who disappeared fairly close to the lost cities he was seeking, likely unaware of the evidence that was right under his nose.
Digging For The Truth, of course, is the History Channel show with the tagline: "We're digging for the truth—and going to extremes to do it!" In each episode, Josh tries to follow the paths or methods of the ancients, while finding room for caving, scuba diving, hot air balloon rides, and other decidedly modern extreme sporting activities. Whenever you think he's going to deliver a straightforward account of archaeological progress, he'll start shooting arrows from a moving chariot to try some of those Greek methods of warfare himself.
His extreme means of recreating history bring in viewers: Mediaweek notes that a 2007 episode drew an average of 2.1 million viewers, with History Channel getting its highest season premiere ratings ever in the 18-49 and 25-54 brackets.
Facts of the Case
Digging For The Truth: The Complete Season Two contains 13 episodes. What does Josh do next? Here's a rundown:
"America's Pyramids"—How did pyramid-building Native Americans chase away the Conquistadors along the Mississippi River? Josh shoots at chain mail with a bow and arrow, carries a basket of rocks on his back, and has a potentially deadly allergic reaction to fire ants.
"Stonehenge Secrets Revealed"—As he tries to figure out why British ancients upgraded a wooden circle into Stonehenge, Josh makes crop circles, digs a ditch with an antler pick, goes rappelling in a copper mine, opens a stinging nettle branch to make rope, and attends a summer solstice ceremony.
"The Vikings: Voyage to America"—Why did the Vikings start a settlement in Newfoundland, and why did they leave? Josh sails on a Viking-style vessel and tours a Viking settlement in Greenland.
"Cleopatra: The Last Pharoah"—Was Cleopatra the seductress of Roman texts or the philosopher and scientist of Arab texts? Josh faces a cobra, joins an archaeological dig, and goes diving into Alexandria Harbor to seek her lost palace. Whatever the answer, the actress portraying Cleopatra in the reenactments is enough of a knockout to tilt the scales toward the Romans.
"City of the Gods"—What secrets are held in the ruins of Teotihuacan? Human sacrifice, for starters. Josh gets a nasty bruise but is otherwise unscathed when he plays the ancient ball game used to choose candidates for burial alive, takes a balloon ride to check out the city's grid layout, and goes underground a couple more times.
"Troy: Of Gods and Goddesses"—Checking out Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Josh visits the ancient ruins of Troy and Mycenae, which were located with the help of the epic poems, goes scuba diving to find some ancient discarded pottery, and tries his hand at archery from a moving chariot.
"The Da Vinci Code: Bloodlines"—Josh sets out to prove that the bestselling novel was indeed fiction. Josh does some rappelling to the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, but he's mostly checking out DNA samples and documents of a secret society.
"Giants of Patagonia"—The word "patagonia" means "big feet." It's apt, since big footprints, big skeletons, and big somethings or someones were spotted there. Josh swings bolas at a bush, tries his hand at archery again, and climbs a glacier's slippery slopes.
"Last Cities of the Amazon"—Josh follows the trail of Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett of the Royal Geographic Society, who disappeared while searching for a lost city he called "Z." Josh follows the dense jungle path by air, stopping at a farming area and a remote village.
In his exploration of the Roanoke Island mystery, Josh Bernstein camps out at Fort Raleigh, using the canvas and wool bedding that the colonists themselves might have used. It's not quite the same situation, though. The site's now a park, with a staffer arriving to bring coffee and wake Josh up, and it's not the unknown, frightening situation the colonists must have faced. "It was quiet—really peaceful. It was actually very nice," Josh says of the experience.
Thus, Josh proves that the Roanoke colonists would have stuck around if only someone had brought them coffee every morning. For want of a barista, the colony was lost. Just kidding, but the scene shows, albeit accidentally, that it's hard to get into the minds of people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sure, Josh can camp where the colonists camped, but he knows he'll be safe and sound—and caffeineated—in the morning. With one small scene, Josh reminds us that some historical mysteries will always remain lost.
And that episode about The Da Vinci Code? Did anyone really need Josh to explain that the novel is fiction? I think what really clinched it for me was the word "novel," which tends to imply fiction.
Having started off with the two worst moments in Digging For The Truth: The Complete Season Two, I can say that those lows existed, but were surprisingly rare. Sure, the show seems at times to be more about "What will Josh do next?" than about the historical evidence and it's harder to believe that the intrepid explorer still has "wow" moments with each season, but it's usually a fun ride.
"America's Pyramids," the story of the Conquistadors' failure along the Mississippi, was the strongest hour here, although the finale, "Lost Cities of the Amazon," handles Percy Fawcett's story with a surprisingly low-key, thoughtful approach.
As with the first season, the Panasonic HD Varicam mostly looks good, but has its variations for underwater, underground, or night scenes. I'll reiterate my complaint that a subtitles option would come in handy for anyone using Digging For The Truth for educational purposes.
Fans might enjoy the 15-minute interview with Josh Bernstein, but it's a typical extra—with Josh answering questions from an unseen interrogator—even if he's perched on a rock while doing it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's the occasional passing sexual reference—such as mention of a "phallic" ceremonial rattle—or discussion of human sacrifice. These things are kept low-key, but it's worth noting if you're watching with the whole family.
If you've ever seen Digging For The Truth, you know what to expect here. Josh Bernstein acknowledges that in Season Two, the show's producers knew people were looking for that "What will Josh do next?" moment, and delivered. For the most part, they delivered it well.
Not guilty, even if it leaves you with the suspicion that Josh Bernstein takes his rappelling hook and his bow and arrow to the grocery, just in case.
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Scales of Justice
• Interview with Josh Bernstein
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