So, apparently there’s just a ton of penguins in South Africa, but also not enough.
If there’s a show that is perfect for ending lockdown, it’s probably this. It’s light, it’s colorful (although the main characters are black and white), it’s in an exotic location, it involves social interaction, and it’s got adorable animals. It almost works as a show to help bring you back to the real world, in the sense that it makes you want to go places and do things again. Penguins are pretty much the poster animal for light-hearted documentaries ranging from March of the Penguins to the Disney Nature special to a huge number of BBC documentaries. They look like fancy gentlemen, but they also spend most of their time (on land) waddling and bumbling like drunks heading home from the bar. The fact that these are tiny South African penguins rather than the giant Emperor penguins that these specials often focus on doesn’t change any of that, except that now they’re tiny fancy gentlemen falling down.
Patton Oswalt was a great choice of narrator, because he’s such a natural storyteller that you get caught up in him building up the relationships between many of the penguins. They dramatize several of the characters, primarily a pair of “married” penguins that perennially meet under an ornamental thorn bush which are dubbed, after the bush, the Bougainvilleas. We get elaborate descriptions of the attempts of others to take their spot and it’s put in terms of social climbing, despite the fact that, again, these are mostly just penguins trying to get out of the heat. We’re anthropomorphizing the hell out of them, but… I mean, they’re adorable and the storylines are usually pretty funny, particularly when Oswalt delivers them. He’s like the opposite of a normal wildlife narrator, because he’s never trying to give us a sense of wonder or awe at the majesty of nature. Instead, it’s mostly just corny jokes.
I realize it may turn a lot of people off, but this is just so bingeable. It’s low-stakes, it’s got cute animals, and it almost always avoids actual bad news. Rather than the image of a cheetah’s cubs being eaten by hyenas in the night, it’s usually something about babies being rescued (ignoring that some of the eggs might have gotten smashed). It also benefits from the fact that it’s not in the “wild.” There are people here. The penguins only started showing up in 1985, so it’s not like mankind intruded upon them, they showed up and started using our stuff. Sometimes people help them, much of the time they just ignore them. Now, the sad side of things is that these animals are still endangered. Even though they’re a tourist attraction, they are not doing great. Hopefully this documentary series might change that.
Overall, still a fun series. Not gonna change your life, but sometimes you just want to watch happy little animals fall down harmlessly.