Meet The Chimps, produced by Nat Geo and streaming on Disney+, is a Jane Lynch-narrated docuseries that films the residents of Chimp Haven, a 200-acre chimpanzee sanctuary in Louisiana. Chimp Haven’s residents largely come from medical research facilities, and there’s been a large influx of residents over the past few years as experiments on chimps have been phased out in the U.S. over the past five years.
Opening Shot: As we see chimps waking up to a new day, Jane Lynch says, “8 AM at Chimp Haven. Breakfast time.”
The Gist: The 300-plus chimps that live at the sanctuary have been split into different “families,” and their hierarchies are pretty strong. If you’re an offspring of the “alpha”, the chimp at the top of the chain, you have more power than an older chimp that’s closer to the bottom of the chain. In the family of a 34-year-old alpha named Sara Soda, we see little two-year-old Carlee, who is trying to figure out how to find more food when feeding time comes, since pretty much everyone above her on the chain grabs food before she can. She’s still learning to be independent and climb to get away from the others grabbing her food. She’s also learning to use tools, like a stick to grab applesauce from inside a termite mound.
In the enclosure that contains the family of an alpha named Sid, the rambunctious Riley tests the other chimps’ patience. But the staff is building a new, larger enclosure for the family; they even call in mountain climbers to test if the chimps will be able to climb out of it. Riley is in the first group from the family to explore the new enclosure; will he test its escapability right away?
Then we see Midge, who is a new resident who is quarantined in the visitor center for her first week at Chimp Haven. The keepers have to figure out which family she’ll fit in, and then integrate her slowly, letting her befriend a few members at a time. Will the Oddballs, a group of, well, oddball chimps, be the right fit?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Disney+ introduced a similar show to Meet The Chimps a few weeks ago, Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While the range of animals the latter show covers is bigger, both shows are behind-the-scenes looks at how massive animal sanctuaries and reserves work.
Our Take: Listen, there isn’t much to complain about with Meet The Chimps, which is produced by NatGeo. It’s a show about chimps, cut to tell the stories of a highlighted few in each of the six episodes. We revisit some chimps through the season, and get introduced to others as the season goes on. Lynch’s jaunty narration shows just how much range she has, considering that in her other current show, Weakest Link, she shows her sardonic side.
We love seeing the chimps interacting with each other, mainly because as fellow primates and evolutionary cousins, they have expressions and movements that aren’t a whole heck of a lot different than our own. Watching them fight each other for food, lounge around their habitats, and utilize their smarts to get what they want kind of makes us jealous that we can’t get away with that behavior as humans.
Speaking of humans, we see a bit too much of them in the first episode. Sure, we like the BTS look at how the sanctuary operates, and we’d imagine it’s cool to tell people that you work at a chimp sanctuary. But, really, we’re here to see the chimps, and be fascinated at their hierarchies and societal customs. The more we see of them, the better.
What Age Group Is This For?: For some reason, Meet The Chimps is rated TV-PG, but we are pretty sure animal-loving kids of all ages will like it.
Parting Shot: As Midge gets used to being around members of the Oddballs, one of the sanctuary’s veterinarians talks about how their goal is to successfully integrate the new chimps that come in so they can live their best chimp life.
Sleeper Star: How could cuddly little Carlee not be the sleeper star of this episode? Seeing her learn how to use tools and be more independent is the highlight of the episode.
Most Pilot-y Line: None that we could see.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Meet The Chimps is a fun way to learn how chimpanzees form societies and get along with each other, and the fact that a place like Chimp Haven exists is just fascinating by itself.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.