You can be forgiven if, for a moment, you mistake Leigh Hart’s Mysterious Planet as a serious documentary. It’s shot in the right style, it has the growling deep narration of a man who’s survived throat cancer, and it contains the required amount of dramatic, slow motion re-enactments. It has all the elements that you’d find in something made by the National Geographic channel. This is where similarities end though, and it’s host Leigh Hart himself who is taking the piss.

Mysterious Planet sees intrepid kiwi explorer Hart journeying to distant corners of the globe to solve the unsolvable (or at least look into them) — all inspired by a book of world mysteries from his childhood.

Without being a straight out comedy or documentary, the show can’t be clearly defined as anything but entertaining. Hart is sincere and authentic. He spends equal amounts of his time staging some good gags, but also milking the humour out of encounters with eye-witnesses and experts. It strays into being ridiculous at times, but it’s a tolerable amount.

The first episode, which finds Leigh journeying to America in search of Bigfoot (after he dismisses Stonehenge as half finished and not worth his time), introduces us to the perplexing society of Bigfoot enthusiasts. Yes, I realise that I spent most of the episode laughing at how seriously they took their search, and how little “evidence” it took to convince them that they found something. It’s pretty clear that Leigh left the Bigfoot convention without making many new friends.

Using advanced scientific technology (a requirement for these documentaries) and a Chewbacca costume, Leigh searches the American wilderness for Bigfoot and attempts to recreate dramatic footage of the beast. Future episodes will see him investigating Roswell aliens, the city of gold, the Bermuda triangle, the Egyptian pyramids and the Loch Ness monster.

Imported from New Zealand television, the show seems to have suffered a bit from editing, cut down by almost 20 minutes to fit the half-hour time slot assigned by ABC2. Are we missing out on a lot? It’s hard to say. From what I’ve seen, the pacing of the show still works well, but you can,t help but feel that there’s something missing as a result.

This week will also see the screening of a similar show on ABC1, Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable. Both are comedy styled documentaries exploring the strange, unknown and unexplainable. Both shows will appeal to similar audiences, and would have made good companions.

The details: Leigh Hart’s Mysterious Planet airs tonight on ABC2 at 9pm. Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable airs tomorrow at 9.30pm on ABC1.

Peter Fray

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