TV Review: ‘Years of Living Dangerously’

Years of Living Dangerously Television Review

The celebrity power fueling “Years of Living Dangerously,” Showtime’s multipart, James Cameron-Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jerry Weintraub-produced documentary devoted to sounding alarms about climate change, is inevitably a double-edged sword. Big-name stars obviously call attention to a project that otherwise might be lost in the shuffle, but they also make it easy for deniers to dismiss the message because of the messengers (oh those silly tree-hugging Hollywood dilettantes — though Schwarzenegger has right-wing street cred as a recent Republican governor). Nevertheless, this is a serious look at an important issue, and the fact its talking heads could just as easily be working on “Ocean’s 14” or “The Expendables 3” shouldn’t be held against it.

Indeed, the actors who participate in the first few episodes at least put their money (that is, their time) where their mouths are, traveling to far-flung locales with camera crews in tow to investigate what’s happening and discuss possible solutions. And while they’re not journalists (with the exception of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman), they do exhibit a facility for asking the right questions.

“Is there a way to discuss climate change,” Don Cheadle asks, as he ventures deep into the God-fearin’, science-hatin’ heart of Texas, “without politics or religion getting in the way?”

The answer’s probably “no,” based on the tenor of the debate, but that doesn’t dissuade the participants in “Living Dangerously” from dutifully plowing ahead: Harrison Ford exploring deforestation in Indonesia; Cheadle meeting with a scientist who happens to be a devout Christian; Schwarzenegger wondering about a fire season in California and the Western U.S. that “seemed to last all year,” and going to the front lines with a group of firefighters.

The statistics used are occasionally mind-boggling (enough forest lost every year to cover Germany), and the stars’ intense reactions at times perhaps a little too studied. Nevertheless, the producers build a compelling case, and keep the production moving by flitting among two or three separate celeb investigators in each hour.

At its core the series represents a longform version of the advocacy-documentary brand HBO has championed so effectively, dispensing with present-both-sides evenhandedness that seems especially wasted on this topic, given the weight of the scientific evidence. (In terms of dissenting voices, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is among those shown denying any link between man-made greenhouse gases and the weather.)

In that respect, “Years of Living Dangerously” is banging its head against the climate debate’s version of an invisible ceiling — composed of greed, religion, partisanship and plain old apathy — that doesn’t let in ideas with the potential to pollute one’s existing point of view.

“A thermometer is not Republican,” Cheadle quips at one point, and it should be noted Weintraub, too, is a Republican, so party affiliation isn’t the sole determinant in this conversation.

“Years of Living Dangerously” has been assembled with all the glitz of a major Hollywood production. It’s just that unlike most movies associated with the time of year when temperatures are supposed to rise, nobody knows in this one what the ending will be.

TV Review: 'Years of Living Dangerously'

(Documentary series; Showtime, Sun. April 13, 10 p.m.)


Produced by Roaring Fork Films.


Executive producers, James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Daniel Abbasi, Joel Bach, David Gelber; co-executive producers, Solly Granatstein, Maria Wilhelm; supervising producers, Jennifer Latham, Adam Bolt; producer, Jacob Kornbluth; music, Richard Marvin; theme, Thomas Newman. 60 MIN.


With: Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 6

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. This is an amazing, timely series on mankinds hottest topic. Big thanks to all the people who are offering their time to it for all of us.

  2. EPUnum says:

    “Nevertheless, this is a serious look at an important issue…”

    “Serially”? (see “ManBearPig”)

    Mr. Lowry…a serious question please. Do “serious looks” seriously examine serious opposing viewpoints?

    If so, here’s one for you to consider…

  3. Frank carso says:

    It is wrong to say we normal people out here don’t care. Far from it. My family probably generates less carbon than any one of these rich people generate in a month (planes, boats, movies, parties). We care but when I’m still trying to earn a wage to support my family, that’s my focus.

    China has a massive population and 98% live in poverty. Do you think they care? Chili’s poor? Brazil?

    These mega rich stars only care now when they have more money for their families futures. That’s diabolical and cynical.

  4. Cloudy McNogggin says:

    The premiere episode is on You Tube. If the topic is of interest it’s a must watch. Eye-opening on a couple of levels The point made about how drought influenced the situation in Syria was compelling.

    And I’ll disagree with the writer about Christians not being able to square science and belief. The section with Cheadle was all about that. They just need to hear the information from one of their own who feels that god is behind climate change. I don’t care how they come to the conclusion. As long as they get there.

  5. mememine69 says:

    What century is this? Politicians are promising to make the weather nicer and colder by taxing the air we breathe with bankster funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by trustworthy Greenzi politicians?
    We dare any of you remaining Climate Blame “believers” to actually say out lout that you are still a climate blame believer and see who gets stuck with the bar bill.
    And get up to date;
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    *32 more years of “95%” scientific certainty that THE END IS NEAR is anything you want to be except sustainable in “belief”. REAL planet lovers are happy a crisis wasn’t real, the rest of you just must hate humanity itself.

    • Funslinger says:

      LOL. The science is compelling to those who look with unbiased eyes. Set aside your confirmation bias (it took me a few years to do so) and really research the subject. The science is clear on the cause of climate change, but on the question of climate sensitivity, the jury is still out. It may turn out that our impact is minimal but the odds are small. The highly likely range of sensitivities will result in significant change. The lower end of the possible sensitivities will be benign but are ten times less likely than the upper end of possible sensitivities which—while still highly unlikely—will be catastrophic in impact. The conservative thing to do is be cautious and mitigate. Consulting 100 doctors and choosing the course of action recommended by 3 instead of the one recommended by 97 is not conservatism.

More TV News from Variety