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We live in a golden age of science documentaries, what with the revival of Cosmos and the proliferation of TED talks, and the explosion of venues for the broadcast of such knowledge. Not to mention the leaps and bounds by which scientific discovery is being made, and the accompanying technological advances which allow not only for those discoveries to be made, but for their display through superior computer-guided animation and other means. So into this new realm of knowledge and the capability for its conveyance, enter Your Inner Fish, a three-part documentary on the evolutionary descent of man. This work is not concerned so much with the evidence of man having evolutionarily differentiated itself from his forebears, but from his failures to do so -- with the litany evolutionary throwbacks which continue to be passed down in our generations, but which originated with, and were of use to, our ancient ancestors who were fish, or reptiles, or monkeys.

Hosted by a quirkily affable paleontologist, Neil Shubin the series examines human anatomy from the holistic level down to the molecular, comparing aspects of our bodily operations with those of other species, as revealed by connections found from prehistoric fossils to modern DNA. The most intriguing aspects of it really are demonstrations of how certain anatomical structures in our bodies originated with what was useful for ancient ancestors, and then adapted to later environments even though they would not be the ideal structure for that environment if a creature designed to inhabit it was being built from the ground up. A great example given is in the bones of our limbs, which in virtually all land-living vertebrates start with a single bone leading from body to limb (in humans, the humerus of the upper arm and femur of the upper leg), followed by a pair of bones allowing for some torsion (in humans, the radius and ulna of the lower arm, and tibia and fibia of the lower legs), followed by a whole mess 'o bones which the function of the hand or foot or fin at the end of the limb spread across. In humans, this is expressed in the clump of wrist bones separating arm from hand (and a similar clump in the ankle), which becomes fused together in adolescence and are the occasional source of some ligamentary problems. But in fish, the earliest originators of this structure, the bones are much more articulate and movement-functional.

Three episodes make up the series. One shows features which Man derived from monkey ancestors (most interestingly, the distribution of our spinal column -- which is not really suited for walking erect, leading to humans having a litany of back problems which other animals generally don't face). The second shows how early reptilian features remain with us, such as the scaliness of our water-retaining skin when viewed close-up, the presence of certain teeth which other animals use for hunting in a quite direct manner (in humans, a function long superseded by tools), and the brief appearance of a superfluous yolk sac during our brief tenure as an embryo. The third (really the first, as I'm going in reverse order of their airing) shows our fish features like the aformentioned limb bone layout, interwoven with the story of Shubin's discovery of the fish-to-land transitional fossil. Put altogether, the series is game for some wit, clever, and enormously entertaining.

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