Meerkat Mania has swept the country and turned Meerkat Manor, the little show that could, into a bona fide hit. And here's where it all started, with season one finally making its debut on DVD. Unfortunately, the presentation leaves a little something to desire. Let's take a closer look.
Meerkat Manor is the story of Flower, a dominant Meerkat female in the Kalihari Desert. She rules over a family that grows every time she gives birth, which is on a fairly regular basis. Each member of the clan have distinct personalities, and each of them thinks for themselves. Sometimes, that's for the benefit of the group. Other times, not so much. Some of the more memorable include Zaphod (Flower's mate) Shakespeare, Mozart, and Tosca.
The show utilizes narration by Sean Astin (he of The Lord of the Rings fame) to give a framework of the goings on in the family. This has the effect of anthropomorphizing the meerkats, allowing the audience to form a close bond with each and every clan member. When Shakespeare is bitten by a highly venomous snake, you truly worry about whether or not he's going to recover.
The family dynamic is equally fascinating. Meerkats can be especially selfless when it comes to taking care of each other, but that doesn't mean they all march in step. One of the show's main conflicts comes from Flower's daughters, who want to remain in the group, but often cannot resist their own hormones. In meerkat society, only the dominant female is allowed to mate. If a subordinate female gets pregnant, she risks banishment (which typically means death) or the murder of her pups once they are born. Mozart and Tosca learn this the hard way.
The whole clan is endlessly interesting. Simple moments like grooming or feeding become so much more in the producer's hands, and Astin's narration ensures that it never gets stale. At times he has a habit of repeating himself, but there's always something new going on to keep things lively. The show does come with a warning that this is real life, and a few times the air of levity that surrounds the group turns dour. In particular, the fate of one of Mozart's pups drives this point home in the bleakest way possible.
For the most part, though, Meerkat Manor is a lot of fun and proves that fiction isn't necessarily any more entertaining than truth.
The episodes on this disc are:
"A Family Affair"
"Love Thy Neighbor"
"Some Like It Hot"
"Boys Will Be Boys"
"The Good, The Bad, and The Desperate"
"An Awfully Big Adventure"
"The Calm Before The Storm"
Genius Products inexplicably has released Meerkat Manor in a non-anamorphic 1.78:1 letterbox transfer. On the whole, this looks better than the original cable broadcasts. The harsh sun of the South African desert highlights the oranges and browns of the meerkats and their environment. I noticed clear artifacting when the meerkats ran quickly, especially around their tails. Combine this with the non-anamorphic nature of the disc and you get a transfer that falls far short of where it could have been.
All we get is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. With all the sounds of the animals and the creatures around them, we really missed out on the opportunity for a spectacular 5.1 track. This mix hinges around Astin's narration, but still feels thin. Not very impressive.
There's a sneak preview for season two, which originally aired almost immediately after season one finished, and should have been released simultaneously, if not in this very set.
There's also a highlight reel from the season, which is utterly redundant.
Meerkat Manor is a ton of fun. Now in its third season, the show is justifiably a hit. Seeing as how it has taken this long to get a DVD of the first season, the poor execution of this disc is really inexcusable. The image isn't even anamorphic, for Pete's sake, and there are no noteworthy extras of any kind. As great as the show is, there is no way this set is worth a purchase. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.