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If I Could Fight With The Animals

Steve and Snake There's this co-worker of mine, someone who's been to Australia numerous times, who has this story he likes to tell. It seems there was this Australian who, after drinking somewhere around a metric ton of Foster's, wandered off into the outback with some mates. And once there, after chasing those earlier beers with some more beer, our Australian friend managed to catch himself one of the world's most poisonous snakes.

The snake safely in the bag, the Australian decided -- Lord only knows why -- to make sure the snake was still inside. So he stuck his hand in. Long story short, the man woke up from a coma several weeks later, one arm lighter after doctors cut it off to save his life.

The reason he reached into the snake bag with one hand? He didn't want to put down the beer he was holding with the other.

That's a tough thing to have to live down. But at least this knucklehead can rest secure that he has a kindred spirit in the demented form of Steve Irwin.

Steve Irwin, if you haven't heard, is the host of an hour of heart-pounding, flinch-inducing, funny-yet-painful animal hijinks called Crocodile Hunter, which airs almost continuously on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet cable network.

Irwin is also, as a matter of clarification, a lunatic.

Like our one-armed, beer-swilling snake-catching bag man, Steve Irwin is Australian. And like his countryman, Irwin has a talent of getting himself into, er... situations involving dangerous creatures.

There are a few differences, though, between the two. When Irwin feels the urge to paddle past a skittish hippopotamus or run headlong after a grumpy black mamba, he doesn't bring along a beer can. He brings a camera crew, instead. And while Mr. Snake Bag presumably learned a lesson from his one encounter with the wild kingdom -- playing with venom-spewing snakes is, more often than not, a very bad idea -- Irwin opts to tempt fate on a regular basis.

To understand how the lure of Crocodile Hunter works, you first have to picture the man himself: a baby-faced, perpetually happy guy dressed in khaki. Irwin's enthusiasm for his work is palpable. It's the kind of wide joie de vivre that makes people murmur, "He always lived his life with such passion... right up until that gator bit him in half."

It's with this background that we spend each Crocodile Hunter episode following around Irwin and his wife, Terri, as they trek to wild locales filled with creatures of all kinds -- most of them dangerous. Only when Irwin can locate the most deadly critters does he spring into action, doing what he does best: Get as close to the danger as humanly possible.

I've watched the show, and I still can't figure out why. Ostensibly, Irwin is jumping on top of crocodiles and grappling with asps to promote awareness about wildlife while fulfilling some twisted sense of stewardship. What it winds up looking like, though, is an ill-conceived frat prank where Irwin tries to pick a fight with the animals. Or maybe he's just trying to star in his own snuff film.

Like I said, I can't figure out why.

Steve and Snake Just about every Crocodile Hunter episode includes a scene where Irwin has managed to pick up a dangerous animal and is holding it -- or letting it crawl on him -- all the while explaining exactly how deadly the creature is. To kick off Animal Planet's "Croc Week" this week (yes, a whole week celebrating the misadventures of Steve Irwin), we got to see the Croc Hunter holding a poisonous African snake in his hand as its body slowly constricted around his arm.

"This fella is poisonous, but only a little," Irwin enthused, as the snake coiled its way around his arm. "Well, he's constricted me a little, because he's scared, so I'm going to have to set him down."

And with that, Irwin bent over, got down on the ground, and let go of the snake -- thereby opening himself up to attack in the fanciful hope that the snake will simply choose to slither away.

"Don't bite me in the face! Don't bite me in the face!" Irwin said, begging the snake to at least choose a less vital area if it planned on sinking its fangs into our intrepid explorer.

Finally, the snake began to loosen its grip and slither away. "Don't bite me between the legs, either!" implored the Croc Hunter, as the snake finally let go of the maniac it had the misfortune to attach itself to and moseyed off into the African bush to face the bitter taunts of its fellow reptiles.

If the Croc Hunter's unrehearsed dialogue is enough to make you question his grasp on reality, then his recorded voice-overs may convince you that he needs to be locked away -- for his safety and the safety of the animals he annoys. In another "Croc Week" episode, Irwin helped transport a one-eyed alligator from one zoo to another, "helped" apparently being an Australian term for "jumped on, hog-tied and dragged to a waiting crate."

"We Australians have a nickname for everything," Irwin said via voice-over, as he pummeled the gator into submission. "We called this one 'Eyegone.'"

Them Australians is clever folk.

Still, I've got to hand it to anyone who would risk life and limb every week just to make an entertaining TV show. And make no mistake -- Crocodile Hunter is fascinating stuff. But while I've accepted that Irwin has decided to take his life into his own hands, I can't accept the danger he puts his amicable American wife into, not to mention his poor, put-upon camera crew.

From week to week, Terri Irwin finds herself in peril from a multitude of sources, from angry animals to treacherous terrain. And who's there to help her get out of those situations? The guy who got her into them, her lunatic husband with the idiot grin. The Crocodile Hunter himself.

The heart, it seems, follows its own reason.

Who is Steve Irwin to have is own show, anyway? Can any goofball with a camcorder and a death wish get his own cable series? Or do you have to put in some time on Fox's World's Deadliest Crackpots first?

Supposedly, Irwin works for a zoo in Australia -- hope they have good medical benefits! -- but that raises an interesting riddle. What the hell kind of zoo would a Crocodile Hunter run, anyway? Sort of a petting zoo, except with deadly creatures with fangs and claws and nasty dispositions?

Bet they do a brisk business in antivenin sales at the gift shop. That and the T-shirts that say "I Survived Steve Irwin's Zoo And All I Got Was This Lousy Shirt... And A Poisoned Kidney!"

No, no. Of course not. Don't be silly. After all, as the Crocodile Hunter and his wife remind us in every episode, Steve's an expert. Don't you try this yourself at home, kids.

Unless, you know, you're daffy.

And I guess that's the root of my queasiness with the Crocodile Hunter. Good show or no, I can't watch it without the sinking feeling that the adventure I'm currently watching is going to be the last, the one where Mother Nature finally tells our boy Steve to cut the crap. I'm afraid that, without any warning at all, I'll be watching a Very Special Episode of Crocodile Hunter where Steve is bitten by a ferocious snake and, months later, he awakes from a coma to discover that his leg has been amputated.

And I bet you he won't even have a can of Foster's to show for it.


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