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The Animal Families of the 'Serengeti' on Discovery
August 4, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Add Discovery to the channels sending out the message that, while life in the wilds of Africa may be endlessly fascinating, we should not get sentimental about it.

Serengeti, a six-part series that premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Discovery, follows several wildlife families around the plains, giving us some remarkable film footage along the way. 

Plot-wise, Serengeti joins the trend toward framing wildlife shows as a mirror of human stories, emphasizing how closely wildlife instincts and actions mirror those of humans in areas like parenting and social behavior.

The narration here by Lupita Nyong'o, who is best known for her role in 12 Years a Slave, takes that concept and runs with it, telling the stories of the animals as "us," not "them."

Each episode follows several families, explaining their moves along the way as necessary and logical steps to find food, or secure shelter, or avoid danger.

The first episode is filmed in the immediate aftermath of the rainy season when the flora is lush, and food is abundant, at least for the vegetarians. This is also the season of newborns, so almost every family includes adorable and playful miniatures. 

Lest this start to sound like Wild Kingdom The Sitcom, however, nature's life cycle doesn't free anyone to relax. 

Our first family is Carli the lioness and her four cubs, and we learn right away that Carli has a problem. 

These four cubs were fathered by a lion from outside her pack, and the male lions inside the pack do not take this sort of infidelity lightly. Were Carli to bring the cubs back into the pack, the non-fathers would kill them. 

So Carli has to go the single-mother route, meaning she must find food for herself and the cubs with no support system. When she brings down a zebra, she and the cubs haven't even taken their first bite when a pack of hyenas moves in and claims it. If she were part of a pack, that wouldn't happen. On her own, she can't stop them. 

And speaking of hyenas, they're the bad guys in almost every wildlife film – nasty-tempered scavengers. Here, they get fleshed out a bit. While they won't replace teddy bears as plush toys, we get to know their families in a sympathetic light. In particular, we see a matriarch prepare her daughter to take over the leadership role. 

Elsewhere we see a pack of elephants helping show a newborn how to become an elephant – a process that's charmingly comical in some ways, but also isn't risk-free. Grown elephants don't have many predator enemies. Infant elephants are vulnerable. 

The baboon family's story plays like a soap opera, complete with a love triangle. The male baboons here behave in ways not unlike those of human guys, with a similar mix of resolve and puzzlement. 

Serengeti may stretch things occasionally, shaping the narration to fit the film footage and perhaps ascribing motives that, while plausible, aren't always totally provable. 

It's still engaging to watch – though a word of caution is in order. Discovery bills this series as a "family event," meaning families of humans can watch it together, and that's true. But it does acknowledge the harsh reality of life in a place where some of the players survive by eating other players. 

So there are places where small children will feel sad, and though the death scenes are not graphic, they're part of the story. They remind us that whatever feelings and emotions may share with us, sentimentality is a rare luxury.  

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Carole quimby
Not just small children will feel bad, I had to shut it down as soon as I saw the male lion charge the baby cubs... can’t handle it.. ??????
Aug 6, 2019   |  Reply
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