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Critter shows on TV: A sure cure for what ails us

My cat Rita, who is currently on the Prozac, is hard to please when it comes to TV viewing. Meerkats and penguins. That's it.

Many a time and oft have I tried to draw her attention to soccer. Two gangs of 11 guys running up and down a field, chasing a ball. And wearing colourful shirts. You'd think a cat would find that interesting. Especially since Rita will occasionally devote her afternoon to chasing a small ball up and down the stairs.

No such luck. Maybe it's me that puts her off. All that shouting at the screen. "Pass the ball on the ground, you foolish man!" That kind of thing. My man Mick, who passed away recently, was a soccer devotee. He'd join me on Saturday and Sunday mornings. His taste was good. He'd fall asleep during English Premier League games but watch with close attention if FC Barcelona was playing. A Lionel Messi man was Mick.

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Critters. We have to love them. And on TV, it's critters that often provide the most exquisite enjoyment. At this time of year when people tend to be ridiculously uptight and stressed, a while spent watching critters on TV is a tonic.

Last Sunday's Penguins: Waddle All The Way (which I recommended in my Saturday column) was a delight. Even Rita was well pleased. (The show will be repeated on Discovery at some point, but you can see parts of it online.) She was utterly engaged by waddling penguins, big and small, and their adventures on land and in the seas. Her eyes were watching and her ears twitching like mad as the penguins chatted with each other.

This was a relief, since it's hard to find the meerkat series on TV right now. The hottest animal show, by a long way, is Meet The Sloths, which airs on Animal Planet. (There's a Meet The Sloths marathon coming on Jan. 4). A reality show set at a sloth refuge in Costa Rica, it is probably intended to do for the furry sloth what Meerkat Manor did for meerkats. Sloths aren't as cute as meerkats and certainly not as lovely. They don't go in for the soap opera antics of meerkats.

Still, it is extremely restful to watch the sloths. They're cuddly. There's a lot of anthropomorphism, so if you have issues with that, be forewarned. If you don't, you can relax with Buttercup, seen as "the queen" of the sloth sanctuary and has been for years. Buttercup is as lazy as all get out and some repair work to her wicker basket takes a very long time indeed. But, as you watch you can be assured there are no frightening scenes and nothing to distress you in the slightest. Sometimes, that makes for excellent television. As Rita will assert to anyone.

I can also recommend It's Me or the Dog (Friday, Animal Planet, 7 p.m.), which features one Victoria Stilwell intervening to "restore harmony in homes where pets are running riot and the family is in the doghouse." A highly therapeutic show, since you will be relieved to find that your home is nowhere near as chaotic as those of some families featured.

Coming in January on The Nature of Things, look out for The Great Butterfly Hunt, which is about the astonishing monarch migration, the longest insect migration on Earth. It's also about Fred Urquhart, the scientist who spent 40 years trying to discover exactly where the butterflies go when they fly south.

There's some science there, obviously. But the point of many programs about critters is therapy for us. And on that point, why is Rita on Prozac? Well, apparently, she has issues. Abandonment issues or such. A full season of Meerkat Manor might help, I think.

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Airing tonight

A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC, 8 p.m.) is one of those programs that people have to see in order to know the holiday season is here. If that's you, enjoy.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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