Meerkat Manor Season One / Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins

Meerkat Manor Season One / Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins
Meerkat Manor is the world’s first nature soap opera, stemming from a ten-year scientific study of the tiny yet complexly social Kalahari desert denizens. Beginning life as an Animal Planet reality-style show, it’s an odd amalgam of fact and television construction. With complex social structures and relationships, the truth about the meerkats’ life is embedded in the storylines of the show, yet the filmmaking and construction of "scripts” give it a more dramatic, but also suspiciously constructed, feel. From the drama of dominant female Flower attacking her own daughters for breeding without permission to the territorial wars with neighbouring bands of meerkats to the daily struggles of life (and, regularly, death) in the desert, Meerkat Manor portrays the tenor (but not necessarily the "reality”) of this tiny band. The drama, however, is palpable, making it both educational and compelling viewing, as long as you can turn off the scepticism of how "constructed” it is. (More or less than Survivor? You decide.)

There’s little doubt about the feature film The Story Begins; it tells the (again fact-based) story of Flower’s origins, her early fight for life, her battles for dominance and her "war” against the elements for the survival of her band. Yet The Story Begins was filmed well after the series had begun and after Flower’s social position was well established. Thus, filmmakers armed with camera cranes, helicopters, HD gear and a feature film script shot "scenes” they needed to construct the tale. It’s no less true than, say, a documentary that recreates key moments based on fact, and the DVD is up front about the process and its challenges, but purists may cry foul over the meerkats’ story being manipulated in these ways. The feature film is less entertaining than the day-to-day life of the series but offers better DVD extras, with a "making of” and a "science of Meerkat Manor” look, while season one offers a lame "Ten Best Moments” and a season two preview. If you’re already a fan, The Story Begins provides illuminating back-story but if you just want some desert drama, the Animal Planet series seems at least to be closer to reality. (Animal Planet/Alliance)