By Dean Robbins
‘Into the Deep’ chronicles a bizarre American industry
To be honest, my heart didn’t race at the prospect of an American whaling documentary. But American Experience’s “Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World” (Monday, 8 p.m., PBS) is utterly fascinating. Whale oil was the petroleum of its day, greasing the skids for the Industrial Revolution. It became the engine of America’s economic growth from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and it created a sailing subculture full of danger and romance.
Whaling ships set off on epic voyages into a vast wilderness, searching for 80-ton monsters. Their hunts were marked by primordial bloodlust, as small groups rowed out to harpoon the whale, track it through the ocean, and finally lance it through the lungs. At this point, geysers of gore would shoot into the sky, and the men would yell “Chimneys Of Fire!” to signal a successful kill.
I felt sick to my stomach after the documentary’s vivid descriptions, but I was secretly thrilled at the thought of yelling “Chimney Of Fire!” — sans gore, of course. Maybe I’ll try it in my basement when nobody’s home.
‘Saturday Night Live’
Saturday, 10:30 p.m. (NBC)
The current season has had its share of misses, but the hits have been spectacular, confirming that “SNL” is in one of its periodic golden ages. And speaking of golden, “Golden Girl” Betty White hosts this week’s show as the result of a grassroots Facebook campaign to get her the gig.
The groundswell began after White’s startling Snickers commercial during the Super Bowl. She played a puffy-haired granny in powder blue (in other words, herself) that got brutally tackled in the mud during a pickup football game. If the 88-year-old re-creates that tackle on live TV, she’s even more of a trouper than I gave her credit for. CV