On PBS, 'Parrot Confidential,' on TBS, 'Ground Floor'

Posted: November 14, 2013

* PARROT CONFIDENTIAL. 8 tonight, WHYY12.

* GROUND FLOOR. 10 and 10:35 p.m. tomorrow, TBS.

POLLY, it seems, wants much more than a cracker.

That's the takeaway from "Parrot Confidential," tonight's installment of PBS' "Nature," which makes a compelling case against breeding parrots for pets while offering fascinating glimpses of what it's like to live with highly intelligent creatures whose care can represent more than a lifetime's commitment.

I'm no sucker for nature documentaries - I probably couldn't pick a wildebeest out of a lineup - but who doesn't love a talking bird? Especially one who can tell off a small dog?

"Dolly and [a friend's] dog were in the living room together," Lavanya Michel told reporters at a PBS news conference last summer, to which she'd brought her Moluccan cockatoo, Dolly.

"And she's not crazy about little dogs. So we heard her say something and we couldn't believe it. We went in and she said it again . . . 'You're stupid, stupid, stupid and I don't like you.' "

Charming, yes (except to lovers of small dogs), but unless you're as dedicated a parrot companion as Michel, you're probably better off loving the birds from a safe distance - the one between you and your television screen.

Michel is shown in "Parrot Confidential" walking around her home wearing gun-range ear protection to shield her from the squawking that in the wild would help Dolly keep in touch with other cockatoos, but that here just means she's looking for more attention than Michel already lavishes on her.

Little wonder that Dolly spends a few days each week at a Santa Barbara bird sanctuary so that her human - who, at 74, doesn't expect to outlive a 19-year-old bird that may survive well into its 60s - can get a few things done.

"People will come in and they'll say, 'I want a bird that talks, that's quiet and that doesn't bite.' And that species has not yet been discovered," the woman who runs the bird sanctuary says drily, summing up a problem faced by parrot rescue groups across the country as owners surrender - or abandon - their birds.

"I thought long and hard about how to turn it into a film that wouldn't make you want to slit your wrists by the end of it, because there is hope in this film," said filmmaker Allison Argo.

She's right. There is hope.

Not just in a program she spotlights in Costa Rica that helps re-release rescued macaws into the wild, but in the possibility that in showing us the lives that these birds were meant to live, demand for baby parrots will be lessened and older birds will be adopted by people who actually know what it is they're getting into.

'Ground Floor' on TBS

With a few exceptions - Fox's "Raising Hope," CBS' "Mom" and "2 Broke Girls" and maybe "Mike & Molly" - TV sitcoms tend to feature people for whom money is no object. Even fewer deal with the divide between the haves and the may-never-haves.

But it's class struggle, wrapped up in romantic comedy, that's playing out in TBS' "Ground Floor," which premieres in back-to-back episodes tomorrow.

Skylar Astin stars as Brody, a banker whose fling with Jennifer (Briga Heelan) turns into a problem after he discovers that she's one of the "ground floor" people who keep the building running.

His rich and ridiculously controlling boss (John C. McGinley, of "Scrubs") disapproves and so do the couple's co-workers, to an extent that might seem ridiculous in a society that pretends to be classless.

Still, there must be a reason we watch "Downton Abbey." McGinley is delightfully obnoxious, and the young lovers are quite sweet, but it's the undercurrent of resentment flowing in two directions that raises "Ground Floor," if not to TV comedy's penthouse, at least to its second floor.


Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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