You probably know actor Michael B. Jordan as the star of the Creed franchise or as Black Panther’s antihero. But this year, the Sexiest Man Alive (according to People magazine) has ventured into new territory: nature documentaries. And honestly? We’re here for it.
Following in the footsteps of celebrity narrators like Morgan Freeman and Sigourney Weaver, Jordan is the voice of America the Beautiful, a six-part National Geographic series about the fauna and (occasionally) flora of North America that started streaming this month on Disney+. The show features stunning aerial footage of dramatic landscapes and cloud formations (some of which was captured by cameras attached to fighter jets) and impossibly close-up looks at critters searching for food and hunting prey. The footage is amazing, but we love Jordan’s endearing narration most of all.
America the Beautiful is not a particularly groundbreaking show, but that’s OK. It captures the previously undocumented behaviors of multiple animals, from the likes of the Grand Canyon’s elusive mountain lions to the nation’s tiniest toad. The final episode refreshingly focuses on conservation groups trying to protect threatened habitats. But baked into the series is a hefty dose of American exceptionalism. The animals are framed as “American heroes,” or icons, or legends, throughout the series, which can feel a little on the nose. (Not to be that guy, but the so-called heroism is just critters’ behavioral and physiological adaptations for their particular environment.)
Jordan, with a voice as recognizably American as anyone’s, pulls off the hero motif better than many could. But his most delightful moments as a narrator come when he’s impersonating a critter, and, specifically, when he’s commenting on its mating habits. It’s made all the more charming by the fact that, unlike beloved nature series host David Attenborough, you don’t get the sense he spends a lot of time talking about gray whale migratory patterns or the hunting practices of crocodiles. His earnestness pulls you right in.
Below are my five favorite moments from the Hollywood A-lister’s narration of America the Beautiful:
His Red Squirrel Impersonation (Episode 1)
The first critter we meet in America the Beautiful is a red squirrel in Wyoming’s Teton Range, munching on pine cones and avoiding larger predators. As viewers, it’s our first taste of Jordan’s narration. He starts off sharing the kind of info on red squirrels one would expect from a nature doc (what they eat, where they live, their predators). But Jordan breaks it up with plenty of sympathetic comments (“Yeah, he’s small. But trust me—size isn’t everything!”) and dialogue from the squirrel’s perspective (“Darn!” says Jordan, as the squirrel looking at its raided pine cone stash). Jordan keeps it just as lighthearted and fun through the rest of the show.
Every Time He Explains a Species’ Mating Behaviors (Episodes 1 to 5)
Many species perform their wackiest and most dramatic behaviors when the time comes to attract a mate, and Jordan strikes just the right balance of “Um, what?” and “Dignified adult who will not giggle.” He gives a male hummingbird props for his iridescent purple throat feathers (“He’s throwing some great shapes!”) and describes the culmination of alligator courtship as “foreplay, reptile-style.” Jordan dispels any discomfort or awkwardness—sometimes by leaning into it—and makes the weird approachable.
His Pronunciation of “Marmot” (Episode 3)
Jordan calls the chubby rodents who are play-fighting and munching on wildflowers on the slopes of Mount Rainier “mar-MOTs” instead of “MAR-mots.” It’s really endearing.
His Comedic Timing Describing a Red Fox on the Hunt (Episode 5)
Knowing when to keep silent is critical to good nature-doc narration, and, well, have you ever seen a red fox hunt in the snow? They jump up high and dive straight down, plunging headfirst into the drifts, with their tail and back haunches sticking out awkwardly. It’s pretty hilarious. At the end of a mostly silent hunting sequence, during which no narration could possibly equal the spectacle of the diving foxes, Jordan says, in a deadpan, “A little guile goes a long way.” While the foxes are undeniably wiley, they don’t look it; and whether or not it was meant to be tongue in check, I was laughing.
When He Pulls Out a Bear Pun (Episode 2)
On screen, it’s springtime. Bears young and old enthusiastically rub up against tree trunks in wetlands in the southeastern U.S. to thin their heavy coats before the high summer temperatures arrive. It would get too hot for the bears overwise, or, as Jordan quips, “un-bear-able.” Could be I’m just a sucker for a pun, but a little bit of irreverence can go a long way.