Premieres Sunday, April 13 at 9pm on Showtime.
Eight years after former Vice President Al Gore presented one of the most terrifying Power Point presentations ever, Hollywood is tackling the issue of climate change again, and this time they're breaking out the biggest guns in their arsenal: movie stars. Showtime's new docuseries presents a string of stories about the impact of extreme weather across the globe, through the eyes action heavyweights, blushing starlets and, of course, actors from other Showtime series in a well-meaning but distracted attempt to encourage activism.
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With Hollywood giants James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger serving as producers, it's not surprising that Years of Living Dangerously assumes that the reason the average Showtime viewer hasn't taken climate change seriously is that they haven't had someone like Harrison Ford help explain it to them. In its first episodes, the series sends Ford to Indonesia to investigate how the palm oil industry is destroying the country's natural forests. Don Cheadle heads to a West Texas town to see how a conservative and religious community is dealing with a massive drought that's left many of them out of work. Schwarzenegger joins a group of "hotshots" that fight California forest fires. And columnist Thomas Friedman travels to the Middle East to explore the theory that drought may have been a contributing factor in the Syrian civil war. Correspondents for future episodes include Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, America Ferrera, Michael C. Hall, Chris Hayes, Olivia Munn and Ian Somerhalder.
While its flush with good intentions, Years of Living Dangerously gets far too distracted by the outrage and attempts at personal connection between its celebrity voices and the topic they're covering. When Ford snarls angrily at corrupt Indonesian government officials it comes off far more like a man who's been deluded into thinking he is the gruff action hero he's played so many times before, rather than a concerned global citizen. Likewise, Schwarzenegger stating that one time he played a firefighter in a movie while lunching with the hotshots is a painfully tin-eared moment. (Plus, Arnold should never remind anyone that Collateral Damage existed.) Cheadle and Friedman fare much better, focusing less on injecting themselves into the lives of their subjects and more on letting the story unfold around them. By and large, the famous faces serve more as a distraction from the real information that the series is trying communicate. It's heart is in the right place, but the show relies too much on star power in a distracted attempt deliver what should be powerful and moving stories that stand on their own.
Like Neil deGrasse Tyson in Cosmos, the faces of Years of Living Dangerously are attempting tear down the political walls that are preventing conservative audiences from accepting provable scientific facts merely because they come from those that have different values. But, aside from Schwarzenegger's involvement, most of the correspondents fall into the "Hollywood liberal" category and its hard to imagine that their million dollar smiles are going to be the sugar that makes the medicine go down.