The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill is a can’t-miss factual series that begins airing nationally in the US tonight.

The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill
The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill — Photo courtesy of Ovation TV

Voilà. My first favorite Down Under TV program of 2019: The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill.

The six-part documentary series is part travel show, part adventure drama, and part edutainment — beautiful and brilliant in its storytelling and compelling from start to finish.

It follows multiple award-winning and internationally-renowned actor Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park, Reilly: Ace of Spies) as he embarks on his own epic exploration of the Pacific 250 years after James Cook launched the first of his three voyages across the largest ocean in the world.

You suspect you’re in for a treat when the show opens with a voice-over of Sam saying:

“I’m off on the greatest journey of my life…

“I’m fascinated by Cook. I want to know him better. I want to see what Cook saw, go where he was forbidden, and I want to meet the people of the Pacific whose lives — for better or worse — were changed forever because Cook was there.”

And you’d be correct.

By turns humorous and thought-provoking, The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook is multiple history lessons delivered with Sam’s passion inside a travelogue filled with stunning sights and electrifying sounds of life in the Pacific that will have your wanderlust kicking in forthwith.

During the first three episodes, Neill recreates the then-Lieutenant Cook’s first voyage — to Tahiti, New Zealand (which Sam calls home), and Australia aboard the HMS Endeavour— which began as a scientific journey for Cook to observe and record the 1769 transit of Venus.

The second half of the series finds Neill following (by sea and by air) in Captain Cook’s wake to the Antarctic, where Cook, aboard the HMS Resolution, went in search of the Great Southern Continent; to Alaska and Canada, where the 18th-century navigator and explorer sought to discover the Northwest Passage (and be rewarded mightily if he found it); and back to Hawaii, where all the luck Cook had experienced on his expeditions finally ran out.

Throughout the series, Sam engages in rich conversations with locals — descendants of the people of the Pacific that Cook met, including historians, activists, artists, tribal leaders, and members of royalty — who share their stories and histories and examples of the lasting impact that Cook has had on them, their cultures, and their lands.

Neill, too, offers pieces from his own life, including one about an ancestor linked to Cook’s second voyage.

Within all of this is the story of Captain Cook himself, Europe’s greatest navigator.

Some parts will have you smiling and laughing along with Sam, some might bring tears to your eyes (as they do him), and some might elicit a sense of anger (or depending on one’s context, shame). All of it will leave you a bit smarter and wiser and wholly entertained.

A production of Essential Media and Entertainment and Frame Up Films for Foxtel, with the support of NZ On Air and Screen Australia, in association with Create NSW, The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill begins airing tonight, Thursday, February 14, at 10 PM ET, on Ovation TV, which will broadcast two one-hour long episodes every Thursday night over three weeks. All six episodes are currently available for streaming on Journy, the travel-entertainment app powered by Ovation TV.

The series, which has a companion book, will also air in local markets under the title Pacific with Sam Neill, starting on or after March 1, on the public TV stations listed below. Check your local listings or contact the station that serves your area for broadcast dates and times. If your station isn’t listed, contact its Viewer Services department or American Public Television to request the program.

IDAHO Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls
MISSOURI Kansas City
TEXAS Austin
UTAH Richland, Salt Lake City, St. George
VERMONT Burlington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Windsor


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Down Under TV to Watch: Excellent Documentary Series ‘The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill’