A series that combines romance, comedy, drama and maybe even some horror and mystery, "Meerkat Manor" is a fascinating series that aired on Animal Planet. The series was part of the Kalahari Meerkat Project, a project founded by Cambridge University that was designed to study cooperative behavior among Meerkats. While there were many groups of Meerkats studied, the one that got the focus in the first season of the TV series was the Whiskers tribe, the largest group of the study at a count of over 30. The researchers tried to limit their time with the Meerkats, yet make them used to the presence of humans enough so that the creatures would be comfortable when they started being filmed with automated and fiber-optic cameras.
Each episode of the first season follows the Whiskers tribe as they head out for their daily activities, which include searching the desert for food such as beetles, turtle eggs and other Meer-snacks. There's also the surprisingly animated and detailed interactions between the Meerkats, who all operate as a very tight unit, with some even sticking by an injured family member to give them comfort after a bad injury. Speaking of injuries, the series does give a warning at the open that the show does present all aspects of Meerkat life, which means that injuries - and worse - may be shown. While the series would be terrific for older children, young kids may be scared by some moments.
The series actually developed the Meerkats in the first season as characters, as they have different personalities and different roles in the family. The second season of the series continues the "storylines" that left off the first season, such as the departure of Shakespeare and the eviction of one of the females by the group's Alpha Female, Flower. As the season begins, it's Winter and the group has to deal with short supplies of food and bitterly cold nights.
While the group does have sentries that stand on their hind legs and scan the area for any predators, occasionally threats will manage to get through the defenses, such as other mobs of Meerkats, who attack to try and take over the territory of their neighbors. Each Meerkat mob has the run of an area a few miles by a few miles each, and their scent marks their territory. In one episode, the Whiskers family needs shelter from a rapidly approaching storm and the only close shelter nearby is the home of another mob.
Overall, the series is remarkable not only for its surprising findings about Meerkat intelligence and activity, but for its technological accomplishments. While Meerkats have been captured well in the past in various nature programs, "Meerkat Manor"'s swift camerawork does an astonishing job at moving through the sand and brush as the Meerkats scatter about their three mile-by-three mile world. While I was a little skeptical whether or not the series could extend itself another season, the show still manages to uncover more of the drama, comedy and action of the Meerkat world.
VIDEO: "Meerkat Manor" is presented by Genius Products in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is excellent, with fine sharpness and detail throughout the majority of the show. While some minor instances of softness are seen in the above-ground scenes (and, understandably, in the dark below ground moments), the majority of the show looked crisp and detailed. Some minor shimmering was seen on occasion, but no other concerns were spotted. Colors looked bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack offers crisp, clear narration (from Sean Astin) and Meerkat sounds.
EXTRAS: Unfortunately, nothing. It's too bad, because I'd love to see a real, in-depth look at the making of the show.
Final Thoughts:While Meerkats have been captured well in the past in various nature programs, "Meerkat Manor"'s swift camerawork does an astonishing job at moving through the sand and brush as the Meerkats scatter about their three mile-by-three mile world. While I wasn't sure whether the series could be extended for another season, there's still plenty of drama and the occasional laughs in the world of the Whiskers meerkat family. This is an entertaining, moving, informative and funny series that's highly recommended.