“Years,” created by a pair of producers who worked together on “60 Minutes,” is billed as a documentary series about climate change, but it’s constructed like a newsmagazine, albeit a nine-hour newsmagazine about a single subject. Each episode weaves together several reports, some done by journalists like Lesley Stahl or Chris Hayes, but most by a roster of celebrities that includes Mr. Ford, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Olivia Munn, Jessica Alba and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You might assume that this meant sacrificing some measure of journalistic credibility in the quest for attention. But the truth is, Mr. Ford and Mr. Cheadle are just as good as any seasoned television correspondent at the newsmagazine drill: Parachute in, digest a lot of material gathered by producers and researchers, ask reasonably intelligent questions, make small talk, look concerned. On the basis of the first episode, they’re probably better.
The series, whose executive producers include Hollywood big shots like James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Mr. Schwarzenegger, is a well-made and, by the looks of it, expensive product, from the crisp graphics to the travel budgets to the jittery opening credits that recall Showtime’s “Homeland.” Conveying information, à la “An Inconvenient Truth,” often takes a back seat to engaging the casual viewer. A report on wildfires entails Mr. Schwarzenegger’s going into action on the fire line; a lot of screen time is given to Mr. Ford’s alternately soulful and acerbic reaction shots.
Of the early reports, Mr. Ford’s is the most successful, largely because it’s the easiest to grasp: huge, smoky fires = deforestation = more carbon dioxide. Mr. Cheadle’s is more complicated, linking climate change to job loss in Texas and taking a long detour into science versus religion.
The most ambitious segment is reported by Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times, who seeks to investigate whether a long drought in Syria was one of the primary causes of that country’s civil war. It’s probably too big and complex a question for 20 minutes of screen time, parts of which are spent on issues of security and border crossings. When it comes to livening up environmental reporting, you can’t beat Mr. Ford in a boat in Borneo.
Hollywood celebrities and respected journalists endorsed in a common thing “Climate Change” and span the globe to explore the issues of climate change and cover intimate stories of human triumph and tragedy. Check out James Cameron’s eye-opening documentary series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously: