Using nature footage of macaques, the producers have cobbled together a dramatic narrative that’s a little-too-brazenly modeled after the visual style of "300," down to the comicbook lettering, dramatic music and foreboding, thunder-filled clouds.
“Dark Days in Monkey City” is a strange animal, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Using nature footage of macaques, the producers have cobbled together a dramatic narrative that’s a little-too-brazenly modeled after the visual style of “300,” down to the comicbook lettering, dramatic music and foreboding, thunder-filled clouds. For all that, this series “inspired by macaque behavior” still delivers insight into the animals’ social interaction despite its exaggerated look and feel. It’s not perfect, certainly, but does provide additional proof that when it comes to altering its image, Animal Planet isn’t monkeying around.
John Rhys-Davies delivers the rumbling narration, which — as constructed by comicbook scribes Joe Kelley and Joe Casey, along with Ian McGee — includes the queen monkey Gemini (yes, there is such a thing) abusing a downtrodden outcast, while scheming males bearing the scars of past battles vie for access to females and plot possible warfare against a competing troop.
The action, alas, isn’t nearly as stylish as the graphic-novel-modeled script and narration seek to portray, but it’s nevertheless an interesting attempt to mold documentary footage into what amounts to a comicbook soap opera. And at least these primates don’t engage in cheek-puffing direct-to-camera interviews like, say, the ones on “Survivor.”
Purists will doubtless question whether such elaborate window dressing is really necessary, and that’s a legitimate issue. Yet as long as there’s a place for serious nature documentaries, there ought to be room for this sort of cheeky experiment as well. Besides, things have gotten so crowded in TV city that the hairless apes overseeing matters will try anything — which includes engineering this sort of docu-soap hybrid — in order to get attention.
Presented as back-to-back half-hours, “Monkey City” isn’t a bad place to visit. The one disclaimer is that you kind of worry about what escapes from the lab next if this works.