It’s been a tough August, news-wise. We saw protestors and police clash in Ferguson, the horrible execution of a brave journalist, and more unrest in Ukraine. We need a break from being depressed, if only for two hours. And what better way to do that than veg out on a couch while watching adorable kittens?
Below, the creme de la creme of Netflix’s many animal kingdom documentaries and television shows.
If you could bring a BuzzFeed list to life in the form of a 53-minute documentary, this would be it. This magnificent PBS special features unlikely friendships between a goat and a horse, a deer and a dog, and a dog and a cheetah. They’re friends instead of killing each other, despite what we know about animal instinct! Surprisingly, the producers responsible for this masterpiece also attempted to make it semi-educational, interviewing animal sanctuary owners and biologists about what they’ve learned in the field. Use this as a litmus test to see if someone has a heart. If he’s not making “awww” noises within the first five minutes, he might be a serial killer.
2. Too Cute!
Animal Planet’s Too Cute! series offers barely any valuable information about animals, and exists solely as an excuse to watch tiny, fluffy baby mammals trip and sneak into little crevices. But I’m not complaining.
The kickoff episode follows the litters of a Persian cat named Truly Elegant, a Bengal cat named Madeline, and an Abyssinian named Avalon. We witness maternal rejection, sibling rivalry, and a little bit of slapstick comedy.
The producers clearly got desperate for new titles to what is essentially the same show over and over again, but I’m impressed with what they came up with for the rest of the season, which includes Too Cute! Puppies, Puppies & Ducklings, Kittens & Pocket Pets, Kitten Dolls, Kitton Cottonballs, Super Fluffy Puppies, and last but certainly not least, Pool Puppies.
Think of Scott Lope as the animal kingdom’s Olivia Pope. (No, really. They even play Edwin Starr’s “War” during his show’s opening credits!) Lope is one the premier exotic animal repo men in the American, wrangling groups of bears, monkeys, tigers, wolves, and macaques when they need to be transferred to safer locations.
It’s not necessarily comforting to see how often wild animals are held captive in rotting, shoddy sanctuaries, and the process of getting them out isn’t pleasant, either. But Lope usually manages to swoop in, scoop them up, and drop them off in a wonderful animal paradise. Such is the power of a paycheck from the Discovery Channel.
This is more animal reality TV than documentary. Still, better to watch this than the Kardashians.
I’ve been a longtime fan of A&E’s Hoarders, because I am a shameless rubbernecker of people’s weird problems. That being said, Confessions: Animal Hoarding is sometimes hard for even me to watch. Season 2’s “My Cats or My Daughter?” is a truly disturbing account of a man who must choose between his daughter and his cat-obsessed girlfriend. Episodes like “She Gets My Goat,” a portrait of a woman with too many pit bulls and goats, are more lighthearted, but even the star of this episode is threatened with foreclosure when her addiction gets out of control.
So maybe don’t watch this show expecting to feel better about humanity? But next time you feel like you’re turning into a cat lady, this could very well be the 43 minutes that puts things in perspective.
The last in my series of TLC-esque wildlife show recommendations is Dog Whisperer, which features the unique talents of canine behaviorist Cesar Millan. He travels far and wide, visiting pet owners whose dogs (often rescues) have a particular affliction. Sometimes it can be as precious as the fear of every single noise in a house. Other times, it’s a past demon that causes the dogs to break out in violent bursts. Millan’s approach to pooches, which involves reading their body language and eyes, is mesmerizing. Sometimes he’s so good that I wonder whether he slips them sedatives.
Sure, you can watch a one-hour special about how big cats survive in the wild. But feline fanatics would be wise to opt for Big Cat Diary, a seven-season-long Days of Our Lives for cheetahs, tigers, and lions. Find out what lions do when wildebeests get all up in their territory, the shady stuff the cubs’ baby daddy is up to instead of helping hunt, and how the cheetahs are making ends meet despite East Africa’s scarce resources.
Main characters go missing without warning, natural disasters shift the lives of families, and there are dramatic musical interludes to boot. It’s better than most soap operas.
7. Feeding Time
Though not the most cerebral of the collection, Feeding Time is an investigative look into the lives of zoo animals. (For instance, did you know pandas need to eat 20 to 30 pounds of six different species of bamboo a day?) In this three-episode series we learn how these animals live from their caretakers and get to witness their peculiar eating rituals.
Spoiler: They rarely use forks and knives.
I know what you’re thinking: Ew, eels are gross. In theory, yes. But they are also so elusive that they cannot be ignored. To this day, no biologist knows where eels spawn or how to get them to breed in captivity. Because they are coveted by many a culture, the eel peddling industry is insanely profitable, resulting in an odd criminal subset of eel thieves.
Plus, it’s narrated by bearded writer and naturalist James Prosek, who weirdly uses the eels to paint Yves Klein-esque tableaus.
This is the true story of 1,700 bears who live in one Alaskan ecosystem, work together, and have their lives taped, where we find out what happens when bears stop being polite … and start getting fuzzy.
This bear island is stock full of salmon and forests to roam. It’s almost bear paradise except for when, as the documentary itself says, the bears meet “a bigger bear.”
10. Pig Bomb
My favorite title of the bunch, Pig Bomb is a fear-mongering tale about the proliferation of aggressive wild pigs in America who, according to a narrator’s menacing voice, “have razor sharp teeth and are raging across the countryside.” Sure, this is not necessarily the type of thing you should watch if you want some temporary relief from our dark world. But there is something almost comical about how threatening this Discovery Channel documentary makes these pigs out to be.
An entire segment is dedicated to chronicling the discoveries of 1,200-pound pigs nicknamed Hogzilla, Hog Kong, and Monster Pig. And we also meet a group of hog-killers called the pig squad. The documentary also pitches us the theory that, over time, a new strain of super powerful, aggressive hog has proliferated in the South.
In other words, it has all the elements of a campy sci-fi thriller like Sharknado. Hide your wives and children; the hogs are a-comin’.