The Next Generation
Hot and Bothered
Lost and Found
Beyond the Nest
Learning to Fly
Back in 2005, a quirky nature documentary series filmed a family of meerkats with dramatic narration, a whole fleshed out story and lots of ensuing drama. Meerkat Manor was a really engaging and interesting docu-series, delivering educational content in a fun and accessible way. It also offered an eye-opening examination of a group of animals largely unexplored up until that time.
Since then, quirky nature documentaries have come in all shapes and sizes with Apple TV+’s Tiny World the more recent arrival in this field. Now, we’ve got Netflix’s Penguin Town.
Armed with the narration of Patton Oswald (we’ll get to that) and some close-up action, Penguin Town takes place in a picturesque South African town called Simon’s Town. We’re told through narration that penguins descend here for 6 months of the year, starting in November, but doing some research it actually seems like they’re there all year round.
As one would expect from such flippant narration, this is the sort of show that completely anthropomorphizes its penguins, giving each of the characters we follow entire backstories and journeys across the season. There’s the obligatory “bad guys” which are predators, while plenty of musical cut-aways and amusing montages are used to make these cutesy penguins more accessible.
In essence, Penguin Town is more Happy Feet than March of the Penguins. That’s absolutely fine of course, but those expecting the sort of hard-hitting, factual docus we’ve been seeing a lot lately will be left disappointed.
However, given the “cute and cuddly” treatment these penguins are given, we’re left in the dark over what the locals really think. What do they think about these penguins waltzing into town? What has it done for tourism? Are there any health detriments to them being there? None of this is included here, of course, and instead the show disregards any sort of objective viewpoints in this documentary.
The narration from Patton Oswald is also an acquired taste. For me, it adds absolutely nothing to the show and the constant one-liners are more an annoyance than a quirky inclusion. There are dramatic moments that help to set the tone, especially late on in the show when more predators show up, but that’s a rarity.
What we’re left with then is a series that’s the docu-series equivalent of junk food. While it’s fine unto itself, it does absolutely nothing to whet the appetite for nature enthusiasts. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, while the show fails to capitalize on its picturesque setting and offer an objective view of penguins.
It’s not a bad show per-se, but it’s not a great one either. Your mileage with this will most certainly vary.