The Boyfriend of the Week

July 3, 2006

This week's Boyfriend is an ANIMAL, ladies. Mrrrrrowl, an ANIMAL, let me tell you!

No, seriously, I didn't mean that metaphorically -- he's actually an animal. A meerkat named Shakespeare, to be exact. And he's one of the stars of the fascinating and ridiculously entertaining new Animal Planet show, Meerkat Manor.

I've always had a thing for meerkats -- I should confess that right now. Their cute little faces. Their pretty fur. Their sweet little noses. The way they stand up on their hind legs while on sentry duty. Heck, the fact they have "sentry duty" in the first place. Just cute. Beyond cute. Unbearably cute.

But I didn't know much about them, in terms of their social networks and whatnot, so I never really felt moved to develop a solid crush on a meerkat until now. I mean, I've seen them at zoos (in fact, in Hawaii, I was thrilled to be able to get up really close to the meerkats -- close enough that I could've reached down and petted one, had I not been worried it might cost me a finger or two. Having been attacked by a pelican at Sea World on my twelfth birthday -- seriously! -- I take no risks when it comes to aggravating zoo animals). But despite years of thinking they were darn adorable, for some reason, I never actually bothered to learn anything much about them. They were just another pretty face to me. Nothing more, nothing less.

And then one day a few weeks ago, my Mom emailed to say she'd read about this new show on Animal Planet that was going to be all about meerkats. And, even better, it was going to be narrated by none other than SAMWISE GAMGEE (also known as Sean Astin). My hero!

The show, which is on Friday evenings (check your local schedule), follows a single family of meerkats, the Whiskers, through their daily lives. The footage is from a ten-year study by Cambridge University that involved setting up multiple cameras in the Whisker family's territory and recording all their movements for a decade.

But this is not your standard nature show. This is a soap opera, plain and simple. Or wait, maybe it's an after-school special (mother cringes when she discovers BOTH her teenaged daughters are pregnant -- where has she gone wrong?!). Or wait, maybe it's a coming-of-age story (baby meerkats brave the outdoors and learn the importance of personal responsibility!). Or wait, maybe it's science fiction (meerkat dropped on head awakens from coma able to see the future, convinced war with a group of Cylon meerkats is imminent!). Or wait, maybe it's a romance (young meerkat girl falls in love with Carlos, a meerkat from the "other side of the tracks"!). Or wait, maybe it's horror (meerkat bitten by sociopathic chainsaw-wielding snake develops horrific leg-eating disease!). Or wait, it's TOTALLY West Side Story! (Jets and Sharks battle to the death over territory, but do it in a lyrical, leaping-and-pirouetting sort of way. Meanwhile, the aforementioned young meerkat girl and Carlos are having secret trysts they know their families will never approve of -- "I feel furry, oh so furry!").

Whatever. It's damn entertaining, is what I'm saying!

This week's Boyfriend, Shakespeare, is the meerkat bitten by the aforementioned sociopathic snake. But it wasn't just that event that led to the development of my ridiculously anthropomorphic crush on him. I was in love with Shakespeare from the first time I laid eyes on him. For one thing, he not only appears to be one of the more intelligent members of the Whiskers family (and what's sexier than brains, I ask you?), he's also extremely sensitive and caring. As it turns out, meerkats are very devoted to their families, which isn't something I really knew until I watched this show. And what's more, Shakespeare inspires that devotion in his siblings in return. He rescues them when they've been forgotten or left behind, braving solo crosses across treacherous desert lands to find them and carry them to safety. He pulls his own weight, and then some, when it comes to doing chores and staying up for sentry duty. He's just all around dependable -- he's a solid meerkat. A good meerkat. The kind of meerkat you'd want to bring home to your mother.

And the snake bite thing -- well, that was simply incredible. A group of the Whiskers meerkats had discovered that a huge puff adder snake had moved into one of their burrows, which they like to keep open and ready for fleeing to, should danger arise at HQ. Clearly, the snake needed to go. And who was at the forefront of the action, trying to do the right thing for the family, damn the risk? Yep, brave little Shakespeare! He badgered! He pestered! He tried to annoy that snake right out of that burrow! But instead, ptew! ptew! The snake zapped him twice!

Many a lesser meerkat would have just collapsed on site, wallowing in pain and misery, begging the others to carry him back home to die. But not Shakey. The others take off without him (survival of the fittest in action, and boy, that Charles Darwin guy was one cruel bastard, wasn't he?) and Shakespeare doesn't say word one in complaint. Instead, he slowly begins to drag his injured, toxic body back home. The long walk nearly finishes him off, but he makes it, collapsing outside the burrow in an agonizing puddle of near-dead-meerkatness. He can't even take the last few steps to get safely inside.

For days, he lingers there outside the burrow. And though the dose of venom would've been enough to kill a PERSON, our little Shakespeare has a will to live! And live he does!

Man, it's totally like Brian's Song, except with a happier ending!

My favorite part about this story, though, is that his sister, upon realizing the fact that Shakes is injured, decides if he ain't sleepin' indoors, SHE ain't sleepin' indoors. She comes out of the burrow and then stays out there with him for days until he's better enough to go get himself something to eat. Never leaves his side. You know a boy is good husband material when he inspires that level of devotion in his little sister, know what I mean?

But despite his awesomeness, Shakespeare isn't the only cool little fella' in the Whiskers family. His mom and dad, Flower and Zaphod, are tough and clever -- as all parents should be. He also has a crazy brother, Youssarian, who was dropped on his head by a bird of prey and has been a little batty ever since. And then there's Tosca, the pregnant teenager -- oh my. Ooh, and you know what else? Half a dozen utterly adorable little meerkat babies! And their extremely scattered-brained babysitters, who are endlessly amusing in their own way.

Of course, there are a few minor, yet extremely significant things I feel would make dating Shakespeare somewhat of a challenge, and it's only fair to point them out in the interest of full disclosure.

First off, there's the obvious language barrier. And then, there are -- and I'm ashamed to say this, but here it is anyway -- serious height-related issues. Not his fault he was born so short, I know, I know. But still, I can't help but think we'd look mighty ridiculous on the dance floor, you know what I mean? You thought Tom and Nicole looked silly next to each other? Just imagine me with a 12-inch boyfriend!

Of course, then there's the fact he lives in the desert. I'm too pale-skinned for that kind of year-round sun exposure. Hello, malignant melanoma! However, probably the strongest thing standing in the way of my truly being able to consider going out with Shakespeare is the simple fact that he eats scorpions and millipedes. Seriously, honestly -- it would be like living with an episode of Fear Factor made flesh 24-7. Just ain't no way. God, could you at least KILL it first, and then maybe saute it with a little butter? Do you have to be so obvious about the fact you like to EAT BUGS? What would my friends say?

However, if someday one of us dies and is reincarnated in the other's species, I'm sure we'll find each other and fall madly in love for real. Because despite his flaws and incompatibilities, he's still the sweetest li'l guy in my world these days.

Anyway, folks, this show is, hands-down, one of the most wholly entertaining programs I have ever had the pleasure of watching. So, if you haven't been tuning into Meerkat Manor on Friday nights, get your act together! You're missing out on something pretty darn great. It's perfect for kids, it's perfect for adults, it's perfect for fans of Fear Factor, it's perfect for all those who worship Samwise Gamgee, it's even perfect for guys (that Tosca, she's a hottie!). And you, ladies -- see if you can watch even ten minutes without falling head-over-heels with brave little Shakespeare. I dare you!

MacGyver Factor Score: 92.629%. Okay, so, deduction of points for the variety of reasons related above. But to be honest, if Shakespeare came a'knockin' on my door tomorrow and asked me out, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to say yes.

Of course, if that actually happened, it would mean I was delusional, since I'd be carrying on conversation with a foot-long African feline-like thingamajigger. That does sort of complicate things. But anyway, Fridays! Animal Planet! Be there, or be a slowly digested millipede in a little meerkat belly, baby!

Boyfriend-Related Links

Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor page
Review of Meerkat Manor in USA Today
All About Meerkats!
All About Samwise Gamgee!

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