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Animal Planet's 'Dark Days in Monkey City' is an experimental hit

BY BRIGID KILCOIN
For the Daily
Published March 8, 2009

"Dark Days in Monkey City"
Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Animal Planet

3 out of 5 stars

Wisely focusing on a member of the simian kingdom that is not the overly-studied chimpanzee, "Dark Days in Monkey City" is a 13-part miniseries telling the story of two warring monkey tribes and their struggles to claim power and land. The plot, presented in the style of a grand epic, explores tales of romance, abandonment, hatred and betrayal among primate commoners and royals alike.

"Dark Days" is a drastic departure from a typical animal-centered program — its extensive storyline is composed by comic writers Joe Kelley ("Justice League of America") and Joe Casey ("Uncanny X-Men") and it spotlights several characters, which creates a format more like an hour-long drama than a nature documentary.

The material presented is also far darker than most of Animal Planet's offerings. Opening and closing credits adorned with droplets of blood show illustrate violence is a major component of the show. The menacing voiceover of John Rhys-Davies (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) adds an almost absurd amount of drama to a show about, well, monkeys.

While the premise is promising and the visuals are breathtaking, the storyline is pedestrian. Elements rehashed from all sorts of television dramas are visible all over "Dark Days." The plot is overplayed, as it focuses primarily on illicit romances and long-held grudges between warring monkey families. The large number of characters means just a single trait is assigned to each — Portia is an outsider and Hector is a young upstart looking to overthrow the king. This one-dimensionality means that each character is static and unmemorable.

While not without its flaws, "Dark Days" is a compelling experiment that attempts to redefine animal-centered reality programming. Once it hits its stride, it could serve as the bridge to scripted shows that Animal Planet needs.


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