First television gave us a talking horse (Mr. Ed), then a talking roadster (My Mother the Car) and most recently a talking infant (Baby Bob). Now we have talking lions. Where does this madness end?
The new movie Pride (A&E, 8 p.m.) is a treacly affair about a group, or pride, of precocious lions capable of holding extended conversations, just like real people. These particular lions even have lovely and civilized British accents. But the BBC/A&E co-production is unnerving and unpleasant. Although it's clearly aimed at a family viewership, it still manages to be offensive.
The plot of Pride could be summed up as West Side Story on the Serengeti. It involves the young lioness Suki (voiced by Kate Winslet) who falls in love with a cub named Dark (Sean Bean) from another lion tribe. Suki's wise mother Macheeba (Helen Mirren) prophesizes that the pair's forbidden love will cause friction between the two lion tribes, and as it turns out, she's right. Then comes the happy ending and a sunset.
It's not the Pride storyline that rankles, it's the manner in which the movie was filmed and its surreal, too-perfect style. The program blends footage of real lions -- filmed at intense close-range on digital film in a real lion den -- with images of computer-generated talking lions created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, the same company that makes the Muppets.
The combined effect is truly creepy; when the lions are talking, the lip-synching is nearly perfect. It's similar to the movie Babe, except with lions instead of pigs.
The movie simply doesn't look natural. The nature and wildlife genre was probably the last bastion of TV unfettered by overbearing technology and now it's gone. It's just a matter of time before we have similarly conceptualized programs with wisecracking hyenas and monkeys singing a cappella show tunes.
Beyond that, I've always found this public fixation with lions rather irksome. I didn't care for that sappy movie Born Free as a kid; I didn't like The Lion King, the movie or the stage musical, but especially the musical because I sat in the front and some kid actor playing a giraffe kept knocking me in the head with one of his legs.
Don't tell me lions are cute. Lions used to eat us long ago, remember? They're not a threat any more, since we started putting them in zoos, but they remain one of man's natural enemies, don't forget. A hungry lion would eat any of us in a blink. That's why Edgar Rice Burroughs had Tarzan fight a lion in every single chapter of the book series.
And lions aren't very interesting animals. In real nature films, they appear quite content to lie around sleeping in the shade all day, that is, unless they're looking for something to kill and eat. Like us.
Another reason I don't like lions much: A few years back, a network publicist ninny actually showed up unannounced in the lobby here at The Globe and Mail with a huge, 300-pound-plus lion named Bongo in tow to promote some TV show, apparently about lions. And she asked for Mr. D and myself at the front desk. What a snappy promotional idea! It was a big stinking scene, I can tell you.
In five minutes, there were dozens and dozens of properly curious Globe employees gathered around to gawk at the great groggy beast, while Bongo, who was pretty old and also a famous movie lion, sat glassy-eyed. Then Bongo peed all over the lobby floor, and a large security guy picked me up by my ears.
The network publicist had Bongo's handlers hustle him out, slow and loping, to the trailer parked out front. Poor old Bongo.
The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (CBC, APTN, 8 p.m.) are a welcome occasion. This is the annual fete from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, hosted this year by Rita Coolidge and Tom Jackson.
The show pays tribute to Canadian natives who have excelled in music, art or other disciplines. It invariably attracts a standout lineup of performers. Among this year's talent roster: singers Holly McNarland and Andrea Menard and opera notables Minda Forcier, Cathy Newman and Mavis Callihoo. It's a shame the TV version of the show is only an hour long since the packaging necessitates that some of the performances are all too brief.
The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards are also an untainted TV rarity: A Canadian awards show in which all the winners are very deserving, as compared with, say, the Junos, Geminis or Genies, which have evolved into corporate-driven popularity contests. This is the real deal.
Now the bad news: The dreadful reality series Who Wants to Marry My Dad? (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.) returns to the schedule this evening. Best lock up your daughters, er, single mothers.
From all appearances, the second season should be the same as the first. The single dad this time is named Marty, a 50-ish divorcé in Denver who sells potato chips for a living. Marty's three annoying daughters submitted his name for this show and, like any good father, he decided to indulge his little darlings, even if it makes him look desperate.
This means Marty will take his pick from a dozen single women over the next eight weeks and his daughters will be involved in the process. The single women, ranging from coquettish to cougar, are forced to undergo lie-detector tests, "secret tasks" and other silly screening procedures for the honour of dating Marty. All the while Marty looks on from the sidelines, grinning away.
Who Wants to Marry My Dad? is one of those contrived reality efforts that finds a family willing to look foolish on TV and then runs with the concept. There's no question Marty's daughters had good intentions trying to set up the old man, but they chose to do so in the most embarrassing manner imaginable. It would have been easier, and just as valid, if they had gone through a phone book or put names in a hat.
Dates and times may vary across the country. Check listings or visit http://www.globeandmail.com/tv
John Doyle is on assignment
for Globe Sports.