There are only three reasons why you would watch the new documentary Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth: you love sharks, beaches or Chris Hemsworth. Hopefully it’s the latter, because that’s clearly what the producers have anticipated.
The opening scene sees the Hollywood actor gazing out to sea at sunrise, surfboard under his arm, blue-steeling the horizon. “There’s nothing quite like the ocean at first light,” he murmurs, as if auditioning for an aftershave commercial. Waves crash. Hemsworth smoulders. A didgeridoo blows.
Broadcast during National Geographic’s annual Shark Fest, this is ostensibly a show about the animals – although it takes eight minutes before we get our first proper look at one. Sure, we learn how many people were killed by sharks in Australia last year. And we see champion surfer Mick Fanning describe the time a shark had a go at him in the water. But mainly we spend those eight minutes with Hemsworth. Hemsworth taking his top off. Hemsworth stroking his surfboard. Hemsworth surfing in slow motion, the salty water caressing his perfect jawline like the touch of an angel.
However, despite this clear devotion to surfing, Hemsworth has never actually encountered a shark. But that doesn’t matter, because he claims to “feel their presence”. While some might query whether this is enough of a justification for a documentary – I think I felt the presence of a bat in a beer garden once, but nobody is clamouring for an hour-long show called Bat Pub With Stuart Heritage – it doesn’t really matter. You’re watching this because it’s got Thor in it.
If you do happen to be watching for sharks, though, you may well come away disappointed. There isn’t a huge amount of new information here. You don’t have to be an expert to know that the climate crisis is altering shark migration patterns, or that shark nets erected at beaches kill plenty of non-shark marine life, or that the shark population has massively decreased. You could get all of that from any boilerplate shark documentary. You could get it from a YouTube video.
To his credit, though, Hemsworth is a bright and engaging host, letting his evident enthusiasm buoy up his lack of expertise. Plus, there’s a short sequence here that I would have happily watched much more of, featuring Valerie Taylor, one of the world’s most qualified shark experts. Now 85, Taylor was the first person ever to photograph a great white without the aid of a cage. She has made documentaries about sharks, campaigned tirelessly for the protection of the animals and shot the real-life shark footage used in Jaws. She is a magnificent, accomplished professional. However, put her near Hemsworth and she flirts harder than any human being on Earth.
Hemsworth and Taylor only have a couple of chats, but every second they are onscreen together is magical. She bats her eyelashes and stumbles over her words, grabs his biceps and strokes his back. The onslaught is so full-on that Hemsworth can’t help but fall under her spell. “I’d let you bite me,” he blushes at one point. It’s fantastic.
If I were National Geographic, I’d go out of my way to team up Hemsworth and Taylor for a full series. It would ostensibly be about diving with sharks, but the bulk of it would be the two of them sitting beside each other on a boat, flirting so hard that it cracks the camera lens. Forget sharks. This is the show we deserve.
Shark Beach With Chris Hemsworth airs at 8pm on 12 July on National Geographic Wild