Saturday, June 5, 2010

Maggie 2010: Maggie Likes Things, Too! Part 1 of 4

#73. Meerkat Manor S1

I first tried pitching this series as "better than any human soap opera," but as that set the bar ridiculously low, I was met with well-justified skepticism. Hopefully I do better by this unique piece in my descriptors this time around.

Meerkat Manor follows a family of meerkats. Unlike anything we were taught from Lion King, these are not isolated creatures; without the particular group dynamics this species has developed to survive conditions in the Kalahari Desert, these foot-long creatures would soon be toast. Those group dynamics make up the core of this show, which picks up alongside a Cambridge ten-year study of a family called "The Whiskers," making these little critters perhaps the most closely documented mammalian species ever. By collaring the lead female in the group, and setting up permanent camera posts around The Whiskers' territory, the Cambridge team has made it possible for show producers to provide us with a bounty of material both endearing and depressing -- in fact, this show easily takes top prize for being able to manage both to such an extreme!

Season One follows matriarch Flower as she has to make some important choices regarding the viability of her four litters of four pups over the course of one year. Narrator Sean Astin (Mikey from The Goonies, and eh, an epic fantasy film or two) helpfully fills in the behavioural back-story that explains why Flower simply cannot allow her daughters, Tosca and Mozart, to mate or get away with mating if she's to give her own pups the best chance of survival in their group. This is a cruel lesson, but what's even more striking are the whims of happenstance that ultimately consign one meerkat to an exceptionally lonely, outcast fate. Meanwhile the meerkats' capacity for self-sacrifice is staggering; above and beyond the turns meerkats take babysitting at the burrow, providing sentry duty against predators, and themselves getting to forage for food, some meerkats, like little Shakespeare, time and again risk everything in order to defend the helpless youngsters of the group. This is especially important because, as with humans, some meerkats do tremendous damage to their own social network, and Yossarian, though with legitimate reasons for his eccentric behaviour (he was literally dropped on his head in a fluke survival of a bird-of-prey attack, and as non-dominant male brother to lead male Zaphod, he commands no authority to boot), is no exception. Time and again he attempts burrow moves with infant pups, ostensibly for their greater protection in the long-term, but when these burrow moves flop due to his low positioning within the group, he abandons the pups to their fate. It's a frustratingly complex circumstance -- as, surprisingly, most are within this little band of desert critters.

It would be easy to suggest reasons to watch this series that relate back to us--our own shared group dynamics, and the complexities therein--but truly, this is a series that can operate perfectly well on the surface level, and should be lauded as such. This is a sweet show to watch, but it's also a difficult one: Viewers should mind how much they'll become attached to these little meerkats the moment they set figurative food in the Manor.

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