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Twenty-five-year old orangutan Budi interacts with children outside her enclosure at the Toronto Zoo, Aug. 23, 2012. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)
Twenty-five-year old orangutan Budi interacts with children outside her enclosure at the Toronto Zoo, Aug. 23, 2012. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)

JOHN DOYLE

In the future: No zoo for you! Add to ...

‘Mommy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow/Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow/Mommy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow/We can stay all day.”

Well, no, you bloody well can’t. Going to the zoo to gape at the poor animals is, you know, outré. Listen kid, animals have needs. Do you know the animals’ needs? No, you don’t, so you’re not bloody well going to the zoo and staying all day.

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Believe me, in the not too distant future, the lyrics of Raffi’s charming song about going to the zoo could well be banned. The zoo, like so many of life’s pleasures, is under attack. Like hard liquor, salt on your fries or drinking 14 pints in the pub (those were days, my friends), the zoo is frowned upon. By some people, anyway.

Zoo Revolution (CBC, Thursday 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) is a terrific and thought-provoking trip into the debate about zoos in the 21st century. It’s an important debate, and it is not just about the welfare of some cute critters. Zoos are big business. As we’re told in the first few minutes, “In North America, annual attendance at zoos exceeds all the major sports franchises combined.”

It is put to us that the core issue is the contradictory human impulse of, “Wanting to worship nature and at the same time, dominate it.” Indeedy. And it’s fair to say that the zoo’s problem starts with the Victorians. As it is explained to us, zoos became a popular attraction just after people could no longer go to insane asylums to gawk at the unfortunate inmates. The zoo followed as the popular freak show attraction of the day.

And today there is a growing movement that insists that while zoos are no longer comprised of animals in cages to be gawked at, they are an insult to nature itself. No matter how creative the zoo industry has become, it’s still about captivity and that is morally wrong. Some zoos we see in the program are spectacular. There’s a fabulous place in Leipzig, Germany, a depressing city I know well. Watching this doc I was caused to wonder if the same two punks are still hanging around, bumming cigarettes outside the local Hauptbahnhof. If they’re not, they could be enjoying a vast enclosure where thousands of lions and hundreds of Siberian tigers have been bred in an environment that is advertised as being as close to the animal’s natural one as possible.

Meanwhile in England there are people who say that no matter how humane the zoo, the premise of the zoo itself is wrong. “We have failed a species,” a man says on the matter of putting any animals in captivity.

The upshot of the doc (made by Geoff D’Eon) is that you might want to enjoy the zoo-going experience now. In the future, if some people have their way, there will no zoos at all. It might seem awfully cruel to children to deprive them of zoos, but that won’t stop the fanatics.

Also airing tonight

Played (CTV, 10 p.m.) is a new Canadian crime show that looks good and has some fine performances, but on the evidence of the first two episodes, lacks substance.

It’s set among the cops who are the CIU (Covert Investigations Unit) in Toronto. They go undercover, often at short notice, to infiltrate and shut down criminal organizations. Thus, a key part of the dramatic tension is the obligation of the cops to switch roles quickly and easily as part of “the play.” Some are experts at it while others buckle under the stress of constant lying and keeping track of the multiple personae they inhabit.

What the viewer sees, then, is what looks like a series of capers that could go terribly wrong. There’s a lot of muttering into cellphones while cops back at HQ bark into microphones and, of course, criminals get suspicious that their new friend is actually the long arm of the law.

There’s fair entertainment value in this, and often the “plays” are well-executed. Vincent Walsh is terrific as Detective John Moreland, a guy with phenomenal undercover skills. There is some tension with the new boss of the unit, Rebecca, played by Chandra West. But exactly what emotional heft this tension carries is hard to fathom.

Played was created by Greg Nelson, who worked on Saving Hope and Rookie Blue. It’s as slick as those shows and Toronto looks sleek and sexy, but there’s a deflating conventionality to it. Twists are telegraphed; as if there was some worry that the viewer isn’t bright enough to follow along. For all its fast pace and action, Played has the feel of a cop show made by committee in search of a propulsive but empty-headed cop show.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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