Metro Weekly

‘Queer Planet’s’ Animals Are So Gay (Review)

Narrated by Andrew Rannells, Peacock's "Queer Planet" serves up a saucy global search for queerness in the wild.

Courtesy Peacock

Here and queer, and ready to arm gays and lesbians with lively conversation fodder for Fourth of July family picnics, Peacock’s cheeky yet erudite Queer Planet aims to broaden perspectives about sexuality in the natural world.

Narrated by out actor Andrew Rannells, the 90-minute documentary boasts a mostly queer lineup of esteemed scientists who guide the global voyage. Expounding on bighorn bromances in the Rockies, promiscuous pansexual bonobos in the Congo basin, and laidback lesbian macaques in Japan, among others, the show offers an intimate look at a fascinating spectrum of sex and gender, and configurations of family that defy convention.

We’ve heard about gay penguins at the zoo — several zoos, in fact, have discovered same-sex couples among their captive colonies. But penguins are just the tip of the iceberg.

As reported here, queer behaviors and gender presentation have been observed and/or studied in more than 1,500 species. Though discussing only a relatively small portion of the LGBTQ animal kingdom, Queer Planet persuasively shores up one scientist’s assertion that “queerness is abundant in nature.”

It’s certainly abundant in penguin populations. The show checks in on Elmer and Lima, a same-sex pair of Humboldt penguins at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York. Elmer and Lima made it official by nesting together, and then successfully raising an adopted chick together.

Their behavior is echoed in the wild, among King penguins spotted on a Subantarctic island. Having gay couples, who won’t reproduce, adopt orphaned eggs and chicks, benefits the survival of the colony.

Beyond adoption, Queer Planet happily explores myriad other benefits for shacked-up bachelors and bachelorettes. In Africa, we’re introduced to lion coalitions, homosocial groups of males that patrol and defend their range and hunt together.

Some coalitions of males who have aged out of mating with females, or simply show no interest, also keep their sexual fires burning with one another. A frisky threesome in Africa — shown cuddling, nuzzling, and mounting each other — vividly demonstrates their coalition closeness.

The show has a knack for matter-of-factly presenting creatures in compromising positions accompanied by the scientists supplying nuggets of data, and Rannell’s snarky narration. The rhythm and tone get repetitive, though, as Queer Planet develops a routine of the narrator playfully setting up provocative footage, which the scientists, all interviewed in front of bright monotone backgrounds, put into context, before proceeding to the next.

It’s a rapid roulette of gay flamingos and trans fishes, intersex turtles and polyamorous jacanas, with little time spent fleshing out the details. There’s a sense of rushing through subject matter that could have been extended into a more comprehensive package.

Still, the experts — like ornithologist Dr. Martin Stervander and primatologist Dr. Amy Parish — are engaging. And The Boys in the Band star Rannells drives home every entendre and innuendo. He probably should not be held responsible for the jokes veering, at times, past tongue-in-cheek to just corny.

It’s also corny that the show constantly refers to the “plains of Africa” and “jungles of Africa” as if scientists can’t name a single country on the continent. When the subject turns to bonobos, those randy primate cousins of chimpanzees, we hear they’re critically endangered in the wild, but not where in the wild that is (the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The bonobos provide the most sexually explicit footage — definitely a feat in a documentary that features hyenas with enlarged clitorises, and stunning closeups of an entire reef of coral ejaculating en masse.

But the bonobos are in a class by themselves. “Every bonobo has sex with both males and females, of multiple ages, and sometimes, multiple partners at once,” Dr. Parish informs us. The show treats viewers to scenes — stock footage, mostly — of bonobos in a variety of positions, solving their differences, or cementing their agreements.

Their queerness is undeniable, and so too, it seems, is queerness across a diverse array of animal, insect, and plant life. Yet, why, the show asks, are these facts still so rarely discussed, especially as it might pertain to arguments, policies, and hatred lodged against queer human beings?

Perhaps Queer Planet‘s most astute observations are those made about why queerness in the wild is so underexposed. People who know don’t want us to know. Scientists who report on queerness in nature face the same stigma that actual LGTBQ people face in their everyday lives. As Parish says, “They can be ridiculed. They can be ostracized. Their work can be buried.”

They might also bury their own work, the show argues. Darwin, in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, recognized queerness in animals, but, viewing it through the Victorian mores of his time, condemned it as “unnatural” and “utter licentiousness.”

Explorer G. Murray Levick, in 1915, suppressed his own observations of homosexuality in Adelie penguins by switching to the Greek alphabet whenever he discussed queerness in his writings. For whatever reason, Levick resorted to arcane code-making in order to keep penguins in the closet. Queer Planet does its entertaining best to set them free.

Queer Planet (★★★☆☆) is playing exclusively on Peacock. Visit

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