What: Flower, the matriarch of the Whiskers family on the Animal Planet series Meerkat Manor:

Why: Meerkat Manor is the most riveting soap opera on TV. It follows the internal machinations of a tribe of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, and its battles with neighboring tribes, its raising of adorable little pups, and the iron-willed dominance of a single female. That female is the tracking-device-wearing powerhouse Flower, who may be the most level-headed leader you’ll ever see. She’s the Captain America of meerkats, coordinating the actions of dozens of followers in a very hostile environment. She has rules, and woe betide any meerkat (especially Flower’s daughter Mozart) who doesn’t follow them. But she keeps the Whiskers alive and prosperous for quite some time. That’s what moms do.

Impact: I can only talk about this behind a spoiler. If you haven’t seen the show, you may not want to click it. Your call.

Life is harsh in the Kalahari, and meerkats die or disappear throughout the show. But when Flower suffered a cobra bite in Season Three, the producers faced a torrent of criticism for not helping her. That’s not really their job, of course. They’re there to document what actually happens in the wild. Nonetheless, everybody wanted them to break the Prime Directive and save Flower’s life, so much so that petitions and even murder conspiracies abounded. I’m not sure any other nature documentary has ever gotten fan mail demanding it bring a character back for next season.

Personal Connection: Since I first saw some in a zoo, I’ve had a thing for meerkats. For a decade, I would often ask Evon if we could own a pair. She flatly refused. When they showed up on TV, I had to concede that having two would lead to having thirty, and that much drama in one spot might be a bit much to handle. So I’m back to asking for a wallaby.

Other Contenders: Julie Kavner voicing Marge Simpson (Hrmmm!); Angela Lansbury as the terrifying Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (major spoilers there); Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story, who has a theory about the likelihood of shooting your eye out; Sigourney Weaver as Newt’s adopted mom Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Happy mother’s day, Mom!