This guy or <i>Mad Men</i>?

This guy or Mad Men?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Perhaps you, like many, keep a list of the places you wish to go before you die. Fair enough—if a two-hour meeting requires an agenda with bullet points, why not some kind of cursory outline for the unfolding of a life, eh?

Maybe what’s most notable isn’t what lands on the list, but what doesn’t. Care to dive under the water in the Antarctic Ocean and witness the sea life? Care to hang out in 150-mph winds and watch the penguins mate? If so, bully for you. Go over there in the corner and eat lunch by yourself.

Better yet, make a documentary. Make a couple. Get out there on the frozen polar ice, film it all with the technology of gods, as E.O. Wilson calls it, and bring it back to the rest of us. Shorten our list of things to do before we kick. Make the frozen tundra of cable TV a less foreboding place.

Sir David Attenborough has made a career of this. If you haven’t seen the 2007 Discovery Channel series Planet Earth, described as the biggest nature documentary ever made for TV, seek it out. Narrated mostly by Sigourney Weaver, it is a stunning examination of life on the planet, flora and fauna, notable for the fierce commitment of Attenborough’s crews to endure hardships for months at a time to capture to-date unseen footage of the natural world.

That work was notable for its muted environmentalism. Attenborough lets his well-captured tales of nature speak for nature’s defense, with almost no asides as to the human impacts.

Which is all so five years ago. These past Sunday nights on the Discovery Channel, Attenborough’s latest effort, Frozen Planet, has been aired with even more urgency (the series will run in its entirety on Earth Day, April 22). Three years in the making, Frozen Planet has all the trademark Attenborough moves—voiceover by Alec Baldwin; high-quality, high-definition footage; the careful unpacking of the story (this gaggle of penguins, that flotilla of killer whales). But make no mistake, this is great environmental work: factually accurate, thoughtfully stated, here to stay. It’s up against heady TV competition—oh, to choose between Mad Men, The Good Wife and this?—but the profundity of it all will stay with you long after you forgot just why Don Draper got remarried in the first place.