Riggle presents his “global investigator” persona as his actual self on the series, though in media interviews he admits that the persona is a character. It’s just not a good one, or a well-defined one. As seen in the show, he combines pomposity with a frattish disregard for anyone beyond himself and more than a touch of harshness masquerading as jocularity. The character could have worked if Rob Riggle: Global Investigator were a full-throated and carefully scripted satire of cable TV’s half-assed pseudo-documentary series like Expedition Unknown (the show’s direct model), America Unearthed, and Ancient Aliens. I could see a version of this show where other comedians show up to make bizarre proclamations in the manner of the Ancient Aliens talking heads, only to be undercut by facts while Riggle stumbles about making declarations of truth only to be shown up by reality. That might have been funny.
Here, however, the “jokes,” such as they are, amount to little more than Riggle boasting about himself and making some ethnic slights and some poorly received insults. Most are clearly improvised and simply sit uncomfortably atop what is otherwise a dull and overly familiar “ancient mysteries” show that breaks no new ground in retreading the same mysteries that others shows have done better.
According to the information provided by my cable company, “The Atlantis Case” was originally produced as the sixth and final episode of Rob Riggle: Global Investigator, but it is the first episode broadcast. If this is the strongest episode, this show is doomed.
The episode starts out with the same form and tone as any number of cable documentary-style programs, with Riggle using a pompous voiceover narration before descending into bottom-scraping comedy, calling himself the “Plato of comedy.” Throughout the show, his humor is forced, superficial, and often poorly conceived. Eliminating it would change nothing about the show. For the most part, Riggle plays his role as Josh Gates’s slightly melted wax copy straight, with only a handful of sub-frat-boy insults folded into his general air of pompous boorishness. He does, however, manage to hit upon one of the most important undercurrents of these types of cable shows, the combination of arrogance, heroic fantasy, and ignorance that marks a top-level cable host. He notes that the great mysteries have stymied many of the greatest minds in history, and then adds: “You should never send a great mind to do a hero’s job.” If we find either on this show, it certainly would be a major discovery.
For this episode, Riggle is in Greece to look for an underwater city that might have inspired Atlantis. However, in describing other sunken cities, his producers include the geological formation at Yonaguni, Japan, and falsely claim that the natural formation is an artificial city.
In Greece, Riggle visits a tourist trap devoted to Atlantis, and the curator shows him “the only diorama of Atlantis in the world.” It’s a depressing sight and an embarrassment. It’s a hodgepodge of stylistic anachronisms, from a Classical temple modeled on the Parthenon to Hellenistic lighthouses in the style of the Pharos of Alexandria, to what look like Byzantine-style or perhaps Babylonian style city walls. This model of Atlantis is also far too tiny at scale to meet Plato’s description.
Riggle and the curator claim that the Thera volcano destroyed Atlantis, a claim that traces back to the nineteenth century and was popularized in the 1960s. Naturally, no one bothers to explain the two problems with this claim: (a) It took place around 1600 BCE, which was 8,000 years too late to meet Plato’s date of around 9600 BCE. And, of course, (b) if we follow the 1909 hypothesis that Atlantis was Minoan Crete, we have the problem that the volcano did not destroy Minoan society, which continued on until the Mycenaean people took over centuries later.
Based on the faulty idea that Thera is connected to Atlantis, Riggle dives into the water to explore some caves. He sees some artifacts in the water, including the fossilized bones of an extinct elephant. Riggle is very excited by this because Plato said Atlantis had elephants, something not otherwise known in Greece. In fact, he declares these bones to be the “key” to proving Atlantis was in Greece. No one bothers to try to fit the elephants into a chronology, naturally, since the Ice Age megafauna don’t fit neatly with Thera some 8,000 years later. There is also the little problem that the Greeks didn’t recognize elephant bones as those of elephants; they thought elephant bones belonged to Bronze Age heroes, whom they considered giants.
After this, he visited Malia Palace, a Minoan settlement on Crete that an earthquake destroyed in the Bronze Age. Then he visits Akrotiri on Santorini, the Minoan city buried by the Thera eruption. Like In Search of Aliens before him, Riggle seems to think that a fresco showing houses on an island surrounded by a ring of water is Atlantis, even though Plato said that Atlantis sat in the center of multiple rings and contained a temple among other things not seen in the mural. Riggle still doesn’t deal with the problem of the dates—that Plato’s Atlantis existed nine thousand years before Solon, who lived in 600 BCE, a difference of 8,000 years from Akrotiri.
Riggle does another dive in the waters of the volcanic caldera within Santorini to see Minoan artifacts in the water, though obviously there is no lost city of Atlantis contained therein. He sees some geometrical blocks of stone that Riggle excitedly thinks belong to Atlantis, though even his guides concede that they could be natural geological formations. Later, marine geologist Paraskevi Nomikou claims that the squared off stones underwater may be manmade. Riggle says that the experts are “killing my buzz over here” when one tells him that some of the actual artifacts under the water are almost certainly from much later than the imaginary Bronze Age period where Riggle has placed Atlantis.
Later, Nomikou returned to the caldera to scan the site of the stone formation in hopes of proving it was part of an ancient port used during the period when the sinking caldera filled with water. She plans to investigate the steps further in the hope of exploring ancient use of the volcanic caldera. Riggle excitedly declares this proof of Atlantis, though there is an obvious problem: If the caldera only formed after the Thera eruption, and the stairs were part of a port (meaning they were meant to access water), then any stairs found within the caldera cannot be from “Atlantis,” however you define it, since the volcano destroyed “Atlantis” in forming the caldera.
“I, Rob Riggle, have found Atlantis!” he said.
Not even close. But he did find a way to waste an hour of TV remaking what we’ve already seen before.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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