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Sydney Morning Herald

Monday March 28, 2011

Tim Elliott

Wonders of the Solar System NCIS Shelf Life Into the Deep Whaling and the WorldWonders of the Solar SystemSBS One, 8.30pmPhysicist Brian Cox has lurked around some pretty funky places in his quest to understand the solar system but tonight, in the final episode of this remarkable series, he goes to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, descending in a specially built submarine.With its lack of warmth and light and its forbiddingly high pressure, the conditions on the ocean floor are more similar to those found in outer space than anywhere else on Earth and therefore represent the perfect place to explore the possibility of life in space.If life can exist down here, Cox asks, then why not elsewhere? Why not, for instance, on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, a dazzling ball of ice whose interior is thought to hold more life-giving water than all the oceans on Earth? Fascinating stuff.NCISTen, 8.40pmSeason eight began with rumours of budget cuts and redundancies at NCIS, with Gibbs's team undergoing job cuts. One of those to go was investigative assistant Oliver Froman, whose job it was to process the possessions of convicted criminals. Perhaps figuring he was on the way out anyway, Froman started stealing the stuff. But when Froman is stabbed to death in a garage, light is shed on plans for an even bigger heist.Proficient in almost every sense, NCIS nonetheless suffers from some irritating stylistic tics, such as the perennial parrying between Special Agents Ziva David and Tony DiNozzo (played by Michael Weatherly, who directs tonight's episode). If this is sexual tension, then the sooner they resolve it the better for everyone, viewers included.Shelf LifeTVS, 9pmThe recent collapse of Borders highlights the parlous state of the book industry, hammered by the advent of e-books and online shopping. So what would a world without bookstores look like? Would we instantly revert to illiterate bogans? Could we at last have the perfect excuse to put down Dostoyevsky and pick up New Idea? One advantage to the disappearance of bookstores would be that we could finally stop debating what a world without bookstores might look like.Richard Stern, owner of Macleay Bookshop, discusses all of this and more in tonight's episode of Shelf Life, a companionable and pleasantly low-key book show produced by the University of Western Sydney. Elsewhere, Rachel Morley investigates the immediacy of spoken word poetry, while co-host Milissa Deitz talks to lawyer and screenwriter Anny Slater.Into the Deep - Whaling and the WorldSBS One, 10.05pmEpically violent, blending danger, romance and exoticism, whaling encapsulated many of the defining characteristics of early America, underpinning not only its economy but its founding mythology, as this excellent feature-length documentary shows.Native Americans had always practised drift whaling - the exploitation of cetaceans that washed up on their shore - but it was the pious plain-spoken Quakers of Nantucket who perfected the business in the 17th and 18th centuries, exploring ever deeper waters in search of sperm whales, highly prized for the oil that could be rendered from their immense bodies and for the hundreds of gallons of spermaceti wax contained in their massive heads.Narrated by Willem Dafoe, this exhaustively researched and beautifully produced film is a feast of history and storytelling, tracing the rise and fall of commercial whaling in a world where the only oil came from the sea.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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