13 July 2010

NY Times reviews "Chasing Mummies"

Run, dude. Zahi's gonna yell at you. (ZH.com)

You know it's going to be bad, just from the title. Neil Gelzinger at the NY Times tears into the History Channel's new show thus:
Dr. Hawass, like many celebrities before him, [has been given] the mistaken impression that any sort of personal behavior will be embraced by his adoring public, because he sure is obnoxious on “Chasing Mummies,” an annoying new show that begins Wednesday night on History.

Dr. Hawass has allowed a History crew to tag along as he does what he does, but, at least from the evidence of the premiere, this does not result in many revelations about the science of archaeology. It results instead in a fair amount of footage of Dr. Hawass verbally abusing those around him: the film crew, college-age interns who have come to worship at his feet, and so on. Any infraction, or no infraction at all, seems sufficient to warrant one of Dr. Hawass’s tirades.


Sure, some Egyptology occasionally creeps into this irksome spectacle. In the opening episode Dr. Hawass finds a never-before-breached sarcophagus, a rare thing these days, and when it is opened, he imparts interesting tidbits about why this mummy is not in very good shape. But this scene doesn’t last as long as you want it to; gotta go look for someone else to dress down.

There are two possibilities here. One is that the program is accurately capturing Dr. Hawass’s personality. The other is that, as on many reality shows, the people in this one are putting on personas that they think will make good television, and Dr. Hawass, having studied his Simon Cowell and Donald Trump, has concluded that American audiences want to see underlings browbeaten. But there’s a big difference between enjoying Mr. Cowell’s antics in the artificial construct of “American Idol” and seeing the same thing out in the real world, where college kids are just trying to learn, and film crews are just trying to film.

I've always thought an archaeological excavation would make a good reality TV show. The slightly insane and occasionally cruel excavation director is an important character of course, but it's frankly not enough for a good show. To get the real flavor of the experience you need to see the real monotony and stress of excavation, combined with excessive drinking, sunburns, sexual tension, culture shock, and poorly-thought-out relationship choices. THAT show would be tight. Not sure if Zahi just yelling at people would scratch the itch.

Thanks to Diana Ng of Northwestern U for the tip!


  1. I've thought the same thing for years as well: excavation reality show. We'll call it "The Dig." I can think of a few projects that have enough drama to fill an hour spot!

  2. My first thought, ten minutes into this, was "Fake. Bad acting." According to the forums I found, I am not alone. That being said, looking at the History channel's site, you can read that two of the interns have degrees in acting.
    Welcome to "reality" TV.

  3. @ Dig Girl - I can think of a LOT of projects with enough drama to fill an hour. Or a series. It would be even better than 'Jersey Shore' IMHO.

    @runlewrun - No kidding, reality TV has become kind of a joke...

  4. We turned it off after about 15 minutes. It reminded us of "Blair Witch meets The Hills". Everythhing about it was fake and the people playing the "interns" need to go back to acting class. Dr. Hawass came off as a totalitarian dictator much like the King of Siam in "The King and I" or the red queen in "Alice in Wonderland". I was waiting for him to say "Off with their heads!!!" It's a shame as I have always been facinated with Egyptology and this just really turned me off.

  5. Yup, this show is a fake. Zoe D'Amato is an actor. The interns are definitely actors. And bad ones. Ridiculous show.

  6. Total shame, I agree. What a waste of time and money. Am I the only one who found the "director" beyond annoying? Why is he narrating? Who the hell is he? Just shut up, dude. Noone cares what you think. And yes, having actors play the interns? Just horrendous. As for Hawass yelling, it was the least of the problems in this show, but yes, he was quite the Spongebob Cranky Pants, wasn't he?

  7. I, too, found the show to be fake, fake, fake. And I dispute the NYT assertation that the film crew just wants to film; judging by the narration by producer Leslie Greif and his frequent appearances on camera, it seems that his ego overshadows that of Dr. Hawass. I would submit that Mr. Greif is behind all the fakery and has directed Hawass to be an Egyptian Gordon Ramsay. And clearly, there are many planned, staged, sequences, such as the chase through the streets to save the supposedly "trapped" Zoe and cameraman, and others too obvious for words. When it comes to credibility in documentary television, I think the History Channel has compromised its reputation severely.

    But I'll watch it one more time to see just how far they go.

  8. Yeah, I reckon all digs in their own right have enough drama to satisfy...never mind the added stress of working CHM/CRM excavations.

  9. So fake I love how in all the "tension" to find the girl in the tomb each searcher is accompanied by his own camera man who is ahead of him in the tomb.

  10. I lasted about 20 minutes before I gave up. I liked that I got to see inside the tunnels beneath the step pyramid but it was overshadowed by some truly terrible acting and a feeling that nothing was genuine.

    As for Zahi, well he has always had a reputation as a monster and this just confirms it. Given his behaviour I couldn't even recommend this for kids.

  11. I would laugh my ass off to no end if they sent
    CHUMLEE of "PAWN STARS" fame to be on a CHASING MUMMIES episode. Every hot button that Zahi has
    would be pushed to the max as he tries to strangle CHUMLEE or die of a heart attack!!!

  12. CAS from Boston, MA:
    I've always thought that Zahi must be the only archaeologist in all of Egypt, because his obnoxious self is in every History Channel/Discovery Channel/National Geographic program on anything Egyptian.
    And, yes, my god, what a fake show. It insults the hard work of true interns and Master's Degree/PhD degree candidates, and experts in Egyptian and other areas of archaeology and anthropology. The History Channel is losing more and more of its integrity (what modest amount it seems to have, after so many Nostradamus/Hitler/Doomsday/Top Gunshooters, etc programs.

  13. How can Zoe and Lindsay be fellows in the first place?? They only have undergraduate degrees (if that is even true). I thought you had to be a PhD candidate to be a fellow. Am I missing something or is it another clue as to how fake this show is?