Life is Wild

Todd R. Ramlow

While Life is Wild is structured as a sort of fishes-out-of-water tale, it is more accurately described as a neo-colonial fantasy.

Life Is Wild

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm ET
Cast: D.W. Moffett, Stephanie Niznik, Leah Pipes, Andrew St. John, Calvin Goldspink, Atandwa Kani, K'Sun Ray, Mary Matilyn Mouser
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: The CW
US release date: 2007-10-07

In Life is Wild, mild-mannered veterinarian Danny Clarke (D.W. Moffett) has brought together teenaged Katie (Leah Pipes) and tweenaged Chase (K'Sun Ray) with his new wife, high-power lawyer type Jo (Stephanie Niznik), and her similarly aged children, Jesse (Andrew St. John) and Mia (Mary Matilyn Mouser). New Yorkers by history and disposition, the Clarkes find their precarious family life troubled by Jesse's acting out. A skateboarder recently kicked out of his Manhattan prep school, he's sullen and snarky, and spends most of the premiere episode trying to find procure illicit hooch.

What to do? Well, considering that Danny's saintly first wife hailed from South Africa, dad decides that a year working on her estranged father Art's (David Butler) game reserve, named "The Blue Antelope," will be just the thing to bring the new family together. And voila: world-weary Westerners will be healed by the exoticism of Africa.

While Life is Wild is structured as a sort of fishes-out-of-water tale, it is more accurately described as a neocolonial masturbatory fantasy. Still, it's not exactly old school: it does at least acknowledge the realities of contemporary South Africa, namely, systemic poverty and wealth inequalities, ongoing legacies of apartheid and racism.

When the Clarkes visit the nearby Mara game reserve, they find it filled to the gills with white westerners lounging by pools and sipping cocktails whilst gazing on the animal-filled savannah. The owner remarks, "People love Africa, the Continent, the fantasy. The secret is to give them both." I'm sorry, did you say "Continent," as in the "Dark Continent"? The comment condenses all the myriad cultures and nations of Africa into one massive Other. The specifics of African nations and cities, and their many peoples apparently do not interest people." Neither do they interest Life is Wild.

The show does make nearly hysterical efforts to distance itself and us from such prejudices and presumptions. The lodge owner who espouses this estimation of "Africa's" value in Western eyes is clearly delimited as the "bad" guy. Some time later, Katie pins her newly met grandpa down about what drove him and her mother apart. Guess what: it was apartheid. She was always against it, from the time she was a little girl, and her answer was to run away to America, land of the "free," at least of racial prejudice (little could she know). It turns out that Art wasn't so antipathetic to apartheid. But now he's reformed: "Times have changed, South Africa's changed," he announces, "We believed funny things back then."

Dismissing the violence and injustice of apartheid as "funny things" is callous in the extreme, but necessary to maintain the show's fiction of Africa. All that racism was just a little something in the past, it's gone now, and we can enjoy the exotic locale seemingly guilt-free.

Well, not entirely guilt-free, as Katie learns quickly. A local boy, Tumelo (Attandwa Kani), wants to be a vet like her father and tells her, when she suggests he watch her father treat an abandoned lion cub at the Mara reserve's clinic, that he "can't go there" and that "it's complicated." Not so complicated really: the vestiges of apartheid still adhere, and Westerners still want Africa without black Africans. Like Katie, we are supposed to be surprised and outraged by this.

But Life is Wild doesn't spend too much time on such troubles. Rather, scenes like this feel obligatory acknowledgements of ongoing colonialism and racism, and they're quickly shuffled offstage for imagery that directly calls out to a conventional Western imagination. Majestic giraffes, funny baboons, and maternal hippos are set against the background of sunset veldt and natural beauty.

Even worse, Life is Wild shows absolutely no self-consciousness about including parallel storylines in which both Katie and Jesse go "native." Presented with two age-appropriate heterosexual suitors, Tumelo and white boy Oliver (Calvin Goldspink), Katie is clearly going to choose Tumelo. And Jesse will be similarly attracted to Mbali (Precious Kofi), instead of Oliver's sister Emily (Tiffany Mulheron).

This is not to say that interracial romance couldn't or wouldn't happen, or that it shouldn't be represented. When it is circumscribed by such obvious Orientalism, however, it becomes one more instance of that most pernicious of colonial representations, the Westerner's sexual congress with the "native" as metaphor for the West's continuing and various exploitations of the Other.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.