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This is my old blog, which I no longer update. Feel free to browse around old posts and such, but the much more recent version of my ramblings are to be found at MarilynAnneCampbell.com

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Little African Animals and the Bluth Brood

I don't like reality shows, but flipping channels a few hours ago I found an unscripted family drama I could actually get behind. 'Meerkat Manor' is an Animal Planet UK series that follows the lives of a family of Kalahari Desert meerkats being studied by Cambridge University. The key members of the Whiskers family (as the group was dubbed) have distinct personalities that viewers are clued in to with titles during the opening sequence. In the two back-to-back episodes I saw, the meerkats who were focused on reminded me of some of the characters from one of my canceled favourites, 'Arrested Development':

Flower, the dominant female - Possessive, pushy and on the brink of losing control of her growing brood, Flower spoils her pups while pushing away her grown-up daughters who dared to have children of their own. She could easily be Lucille if meerkats had liquor cabinets.

Zaphod, the dominant male - ...who's still pretty subordinate to Flower. All I saw him do was follow his mate around and try to keep his adult daughter from getting any action. This could apply to a lot of TV men, but let's go with George Bluth and pretend Zaphod's spent some time in a cage.

Shakespeare, the brave & competent one - Though he's low in the ranking, Shakespeare is the true defender of the group, protecting them from attack and saving his relatives when they get themselves in trouble. This is who Michael Bluth was trying to be, but I think his son George Michael was closer, even if he didn't have Shakespeare's fighting skills.

Mozart, the flakey new mom - In the world of meerkats, only the dominant female is supposed to have litters, but Mozart got herself pregnant anyway. In the episodes I saw she was driven away from the family by Flower for her indiscretion, finally groveled her way back in, and promptly slept with a male as soon as the opportunity presented itself. She's like Lindsay, the only difference is Mozart's dates actually pay off.

Mitch, a feisty youngster - All I saw Mitch do was steal food that made him so sick narrator Bill Nighy let us know it was impressive that he lived through the night. Naturally this made me think of Tobias poisoning himself with diamond paint, getting hit by cars, and refusing to have the hair plugs that were killing him removed.

Youssarin, the screw-up - In the episode I saw Youssarin did a horrible job of babysitting and ran off to sleep with a female from another family. Perhaps he's Gob. But he's also the former dominant male, who lost Flower to his own brother. A little like Oscar. What separates this meerkat from the men is that in a previous episode Yousarrin was apparently responsible for the death of one of the pups through his impatience and incompetence. I don't recall any little kids getting killed on 'Arrested Development', but that isn't to say it didn't happen.

As mentioned, 'Meerkat Manor' is narrated by Bill Nighy who puts things in context for us just like Ron Howard used to do. Sadly, 'Meerkat Manor' was missing the punchlines and random scene inserts that made 'Arrested Development' the shining example of awesomeness that it was, but I like nature shows almost as much as I like comedy, so it's fun to find a good one. And no, you don't have to be an 'Arrested Development' fan to enjoy 'Meerkat Manor', you just have to enjoy getting a good look inside the strange lives of socially complex animals. Which, I suppose, was also the appeal of 'Arrested'.

P.S. Speaking of nature shows with a good dramatic thruline, 'Last Feast of the Crocodiles' is a great National Geographic special that I always thought should be novelized for young readers because it's just that engaging.

Quick Links
Meerkat Manor on AnimalPlanet.co.uk

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