Judge Dylan Charles thinks Desperate Housewives would be much more entertaining with meerkats.
Nature's Runaway Hit Family Drama Continues?
Who woulda thought that a program showing the exploits of meerkats could have done so well? But Animal Planet seems to have struck meerkat gold—or so I gather from the fact that it has entered its third season and was also nominated for two Emmys.
Meerkat Manor, Season 2 is my first foray into the show and if it's yours as well, we'll be taking a special journey together.
Facts of the Case
Meerkat Manor documents the lives (and deaths) of a family of meerkats (called The Whiskers) in South Africa. Their struggles to survive in the brutal Kalahari Desert are captured on film by a Cambridge research team that has been studying the meerkats for nigh on ten years. All 13 episodes of Season Two are spread across two discs:
I'm a newcomer to Meerkat Manor, never having seen the show before I received it in the mail. I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but it was probably something more along the lines of an extended National Geographic special on the wily meerkat. Instead it plays more like a soap opera. So much so that I avoided doing any research on the show for fear that I'd run across spoilers. Spoilers for a show about meerkats!
While there is no clear narrative (how could there be?), they have managed to create clear threads through each episode. This is a fairly remarkable feat considering the fact that this is obviously unscripted and any attempt to try and find continuity in the day-to-day life of meerkats must be difficult. The fact that some episodes even manage to have a theme or a meerkat moral, such as using two different meerkats to show the importance of sticking with the group, is even more impressive.
I was also worried at first that I wouldn't be able to keep track of the numerous meerkats. But within a few episodes I had their personalities and names down, helped along by the show's intro which does a run-through of the main meerkats. It's impossible to forget by the fifth episode that Mozart is the wayward daughter and Flower is the dominant female.
For the most part though, Meerkat Manor is consistently entertaining, but is definitely not for everyone. There is a cruelty inherent in nature in even the smallest, most cuddly of creatures—and the meerkats demonstrate this to a T.
There's backstabbing, murder, one-night stands, abandonment, infanticide, and much, much more! It's almost appallingly entertaining. The narration by Sean Astin adds even more drama to what's already happening on the screen. Though, sometimes the narration adds a little bit too much and I'm not just talking about the frequent abundance of punnery. They always seem to go for as much pathos as humanly possible. When one of the Whiskers family was exiled, there was a constant reiteration of her plight, hammering home her aloneness and that death was imminent if she didn't get back into the group.
Considering the brutality of nature, this sort of thing happens a fair number of times. The amount of anthropomorphizing that goes on in Meerkat Manor makes the events taking place almost unbearable. Life and death are given a human weight and consideration that the meerkats don't have. It's an unforgiving life for the meerkats, and I didn't think that this needed the air of melodrama that the writers gave it.
There's also a tendency toward redundancy. Each and every episode starts with an introduction in the project and a basic rundown of why we're all watching a bunch of meerkats running around. While this is a fine idea every couple of episodes, it became a little painful to sit through every, single episode. But I might just be coming at it from the point of view of someone who watched 13 episodes back-to-back in a weeklong period.
It's all very beautifully shot and the presentation is equally pretty. Shots of the Kalahari Desert come through crystal clear. My main problem is the lack of extras; I would have enjoyed something like a documentary on the actual Cambridge research project that kicked off this whole series.
Meerkat Manor, in this space of the second season, has become one of my favorite shows. It has everything one would expect in a drama starring human actors, but in miniature. However, constant attempts to up the ante with the emotional drama can make the show almost painful to watch; maybe a more straight take on the lives of the Whiskers would be more palatable.
Still, Animal Planet has a winning and addictive show on its hands, and I'm looking forward to the third season.
Animal Planet is guilty of distributing addictive meerkat crack. Judge Charles is guilty of somehow connecting meerkats and a cocaine addiction.
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