Let’s be real — it has been a very trying time. For Gen Zennials like myself, our situation often feels bleak in general. So, as much as I appreciate the intensity and social commentary of “Squid Game” and company, it’s “Penguins of Madagascar” that has my heart, even after all this time.
We first saw the iconic foursome — Skipper (Tom McGrath, “The Boss Baby 2: Family Business”), Private (Christopher Knights, “Penguins of Madagascar: the Movie”), Rico (Conrad Vernon, “Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular” and John DiMaggio, “Inside Job”) and Kowalski (Chris Miller, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”) — that inspired the spinoff in the Dreamworks 2005 animated feature “Madagascar.” Skipper delivered what is arguably the franchise’s most dearly remembered line: “Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave.” From that moment on, these wholesome Seal Team 6 wannabes established themselves as No. 1 on the field and No. 1 in my heart, and certainly deserving of their own show — one that was written with humor when so many shows today take themselves too seriously.
They are, simply put, the perfect group. You have Skipper, the boss; Kowalski, the smart one; Private, the sensitive one, and naturally, Rico, the explosive one. Something for everyone! They aren’t trying to stamp out international terrorism, they’re trying to secure popcorn — and I like it that way. It’s nice to have a break from death and destruction while lost in penguin exploits, which are especially funny because they believe their missions and foes to be equally serious. At the first sign of trouble, they snap into position as dramatic music plays and raise their flippers into fighting positions.
Their battles with Alice (Mary Scheer, “iCarly”) bring me a special joy. Zookeeper Alice is the Karen to end all Karens. She doesn’t just want to speak with the manager — she demands it. As the cast identifies in the first episode, for every Alice you destroy, more come in her place. In real life, you have to play nice with Zookeeper Alice. In this magical escape, the penguins play to win and outsmart her at every turn. She’s suspicious of them from day one, forcing the penguins to go to extreme lengths to divert her attention to ensure their secrets don’t become public. When Private accidentally becomes an internet star due to the zoo’s newly installed webcams, there are eyes on the penguin HQ at all times. Luckily, Alice becomes the next overnight sensation when the camera swings towards her instead as she swings her hips to whatever is playing on her iPod.
The penguins aren’t just highly trained agents hardened by their harrowing missions gone wrong. The show is rife with softer moments, such as their protection over an egg that Marlene (Nicole Sullivan, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”) finds and places in their care, although they each have rather different plans for its development. The egg ultimately belongs to a mother duck, but they still have room in their family for the little duckling all the same. The elite force is deeply pure, with goodness in their hearts, as much as they attempt to highlight their status as “trained professionals.”
This is to say nothing of their rivalry with King Julien (Danny Jacobs, “All Hail King Julien”) — semi-affectionately referred to as “Ringtail” — and the lemurs. We all see ourselves in Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer, “The Neighborhood”) these days (read: exhausted), and while Julien is annoying, the show doesn’t try to pass it off as acceptable — we see the penguins lose their minds over their loud, inconsiderate neighbors just like we do ours. At one point, the ambitious penguins literally attempt to vacation on the moon via what seems to be an oversized trash can armed with road flares to escape the lemurs — if only. Regardless, when Julien is in danger, Skipper and the boys still do everything they can to save him.
Of course, no show is without its failures. I feel it’s my journalistic duty to acknowledge the work as a whole, so I mention the racist nature of the zoo’s gorilla characters and Mort’s (Andy Richter, “Elf”) foot fetish, which are, to put it mildly, uncool. Still, “Penguins” is there for you when you most need it. “Bring me your tired, your weary,” it says. “If only for 20 minutes, I will banish the darkness.”
TV Beat Editor Emmy Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.