Penguin Town Review 2021 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
Yes, it’s a bit cheeky to demand that an animal documentary feature more humans. But Penguin Town gave me no choice.
The Netflix series is set in Simon’s Town, South Africa, where every summer a colony of African penguins rock up, mate, and raise their young; laying their eggs in bushes, wandering down the street, and clambering into back gardens.
Yet the series’ first episode was devoted to rather bog-standard penguin activities, such as walking around on the beach, swimming in the sea, and eating sardines. This was accompanied by an irritating, anthropomorphising voice-over by comedian Patton Oswalt, who chirped things like “It’s a nice day for a black and white wedding!” and “Hit the road, Jack – this nest is taken!”
The humans’ acceptance of this annual invasion was hardly discussed – the voice-over simply assured us that “nothing is off-limits” for the birds, and that they’ve worked out that by living near humans, they’re safer from predators.
But what do locals think? Is everyone welcoming? Are they a part of the town’s culture? How do you stop your dog from chasing them? Do penguins know how to cross the road? A documentary about two species living in unusually close proximity feels a little half-hearted if one of them barely features.
The access and camerawork of documentaries like Blue Planet have raised the bar for nature programmes, and to put it bluntly, some penguins going about their usual business doesn’t really cut it – especially when a more interesting story seemed to be lurking beyond the frame.