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Television

Hyena penises. Mating macaques. Quibi’s first nature series isn’t afraid to be ‘cheeky’

A scene from “Fierce Queens.”
A scene from “Fierce Queens.”
(Quibi)

The second chapter in Quibi’s short-form nature show “Fierce Queens” rivals an episode of “Game of Thrones” for explicit sex scenes. Titled “Faking It,” the episode reveals a female barbary macaque who’s able to boost her fertility by making loud noises during coitus. The furry macaque, who is easy to follow thanks to her set of brown freckles, mates with numerous males throughout the episode, which ensures they’ll all chip in with the childcare.

“It’s our most cheeky film in lots of ways,” executive producer Jo Shinner says of the episode, which was filmed in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains last fall. “You have to show as much as you think you can and be tasteful, but this is the reality, this the truth — this is what they do. You don’t want to cut to a bush and imagine they’re behind the bush.”

If it’s a little more sex than you’d expect from a nature series, which also is frank with its portrayal of hunting and — seriously — hyena penises, thank Quibi. “We all have our boundaries in terms of taste and decency for our broadcasters, and no one would ever want to go over that,” Shinner adds. “But it was nice to be able to show the reality. You have to do it with a little smile on your face and an arch in your brow, so it’s a fun thing as well.”

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That sense of levity marks the series’ first seven episodes, which include deep-dive looks at hyenas, ants and cheetahs. Produced and created by BBC Studios Natural History Unit and narrated by Reese Witherspoon, the series is composed of mostly new footage, shot with the help of scientists who have studied the specific species for years (the team tapped Liz Campbell to bring perspective on the barbary macaques in “Faking It”). Each eight-minute episode was pulled together from footage filmed during approximately three weeks of production based on a shooting script — much like a reality show.

“The shooting script is the best story we think we can tell,” Shinner explains. “You need to know what you’re going to shoot before you go. But things change. You have to adapt. They might not do what you expect them to do at that particular time. We honed the script in the edit and worked with Quibi to get the tone. … We wanted to do something that was sassy and cheeky, as well as dramatic and surprising.”

Finding the right animals wasn’t difficult, particularly since a series about female animals is an idea that BBC Studios Natural History Unit has been kicking around for a while. The studio shot 15 total episodes (eight more will come later this year) and wanted to look at species that don’t always get the spotlight. Or, at species whose females are strong in unexpected ways, like the barbary macaques.

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“A lot of the films are about very dominant characters who get their way through sheer power,” Shinner notes of “Faking It.” “And this one is about being smart. Normally, natural history characters try to mate with the strongest male to give their children the best chance in life. And in this case she looks for the guy who’s best at childcare. They’ve worked out a different way of doing it. [And] she’ll carry on mating with multiple partners so no one knows who’s the dad and they all have to help just in case they are the dad.”


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