It was a simple idea–let animals be animals. And with that straightforward, yet brilliant concept, an old cable standard-often forgotten in the world of MTV sluts and truTV meth heads–finally came into its own. It’s the rebirth of the 12-year-old Animal Planet.
It was a simple idea–let animals be animals.
And with that straightforward, yet brilliant concept, an old cable standard-often forgotten in the world of MTV sluts and truTV meth heads–finally came into its own.
It’s the rebirth of the 12-year-old Animal Planet.
Since February 3, 2008, Animal Planet has relaunched its image with new shows and with a less family-friendly image. No, that doesn’t mean animal porn; it just means there’s now programming that doesn’t pander to the “animals just want to cuddle” mindset. Cuteness is still prevalent, but it’s cuteness that may bite you.
With the exception of their horribly designed new logo (which is merely “Animal Planet” spelled out with the letter M on its side so it looks sort of like a 3, which makes no sense), this programming shift has worked exceptionally well.
Gone are the days of the clichéd smooth baritone-voiced narrators explaining that the lion eating its prey helps complete the eternal circle of life.
Now there are new shows like Meerkat Manor and Orangutan Island, which focus on groups of the respective species living in families and doing what they do best–being animals.
Animal Planet seems to have finally cracked the code of animal shows: Most people don’t want educational television spoon-fed to them.
With the new Animal Planet, we finally get to see animals as they actually are. As simple as it sounds, that is what’s been missing all along. In all of their instinctual glory, we now get to see lions, chimpanzees and bears–exquisite natural creatures–as intriguing, complex animals and not as real-life puppets injected with human personalities.
There is one new show on the channel that stands high above the rest, and it is “The Great Chimp Hope” of the station. It’s called Escape to Chimp Eden, and is by far one of the best shows on television.
The show follows Eugene Cussons, an animal researcher in South Africa who works to rescue abused chimpanzees from their neglected and often caged lives. Some of the chimps have never even touched a tree, and when Cussons finds them, they are often so depleted of energy and life that they can’t even bear to make eye contact.
Cussons works for Chimp Eden, a chimpanzee sanctuary located in South Africa at the Jane Goodall Institute. The scenes of Cussons negotiating to free the captive chimps so he can rehabilitate them and bring them to Chimp Eden are only part of the greatness of the show. What really sets it apart are the intriguing storylines inside Chimp Eden as the often mentally distressed chimps work to become a family, and learn from the ground up how to be authentic chimps.
These animals are real and often dangerous. Contrary to what is portrayed in popular culture, chimps aren’t just cuddly and loving (even though this show proves they love to hug and drink cola), but they are also prone to outbursts of violence.
In one episode, an antisocial chimp named Cozi bites off a portion of a female caretaker’s finger because she reminds him of his former female captor. Yet, that’s the risk these noble people take when they work with chimps, and the love they retain for the animals is heartwarming to say the least. When you finally see Cussons teach Cozi to climb a tree for the first time, I don’t care how tough you are, you will get teary.
Even with such greatness on Animal Planet, there are still a few baby teeth intermixed with the channel’s new fangs. For instance, a show like Groomer Has It, which is about competitive dog grooming, belongs more on E! or another lowbrow station. Still, the fluff can’t completely distract from what the channel is doing right.
Niche channels are exploding on television left and right, with some failing where others succeed. The Food Network is still going strong, even if it is almost entirely the “Bobby Flay Network,” and the Travel Channel is starting to gain legs. But it’s nice to see Animal Planet step up and take its crown as the king of niche TV.
A few years ago, who would have thought that Animal Planet would not only become a great television channel, but one that would also expertly stalk its prey in the Serengeti of cable TV, clawing through other channels and devouring them. Such is the eternal circle of life. Escape to Chimp Eden9 p.m., every FridayAnimal Planet