Resident Spinoff pooch and one-time Barkley Manor pupil Stanley gives his verdict.
As told to Alice Neville
I got accepted into Barkley Manor last year, which is kind of a big deal. There’s a massive waiting list; my mum says other dogs would kill to get in there and I’m an ungrateful little bastard because I quit after a few sessions. It was OK I guess, but to be honest I prefer going to my mum’s office and being showered with love and attention by all the people there. Not that that’s happened for a while, weirdly – lately all we seem to do is stay at home while she stares at her laptop for hours on end, occasionally venturing out for a stupid little walk. I don’t even get to hang out under pub tables sniffing around for chips dropped by drunk people any more. Boring.
Anyway, for those who don’t know, Barkley Manor is a doggy daycare place in central Auckland, just around the corner from where I live. When I heard they were making a TV show about Barkley, I admit there was a pang of regret I didn’t stick with it, because I’ve often felt I’m destined for stardom and this could’ve been my big break.
Oh well, it’s nice to see my people represented in mainstream media anyway, so I tuned in to watch the first episode. Barkley Manor has a kind of traditional English boarding school vibe, complete with report cards and dogs separated into houses according to their size and temperament. The show plays this up to great effect, and the clipped vowels of narrator Martin Clunes, who you might know from boomer parent favourite Doc Martin, are the perfect fit.
In the first episode we meet a few Barkley Manor pupils and their humans. First up there’s Sarah Hall, a current affairs journalist you might recognise from TV. She introduces her two schnoodles, Archie and Billie, by saying that Archie is the most handsome dog in New Zealand and she tells him so every day. This is patently untrue – have you met me?? – and I am considering making a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. It’s nice to see a mum express her love so fulsomely, but Archie is clearly the favourite child and I feel a bit sorry for Billie, who Sarah describes as “highly strung and obsessive”.
Max the bulldog is currently on sick leave from Barkley Manor because he injured his leg after jumping off a wharf to find there was no water underneath it. We’ve all been there, Max! Max’s dad Nati didn’t grow up with dogs and was actually a bit scared of them, but that all changed when he met Max. “I didn’t know how deeply in love you can be with your dog,” he says. “It makes me cry when I look into Max’s eyes.” It’s heartwarming stuff. While Max can’t go to Barkley, his dad is paying Max’s grandad $400 a week to look after him. That blew my mind, because I’m pretty sure my grandad would pay $400 for the privilege of spending a week in my company, not the other way around.
Of all the dogs on the show, I most identified with Frank, an eight-month-old pup who’s come into Barkley for his assessment and isn’t settling in that well. He’s getting stressed and snappy at other dogs and honestly, I feel you, Frank – so many unchill pooches getting all up in your grill at that place, what do those humans expect? Like me, Frank is a rescue dog. Yep, you’d be forgiven for presuming I’m posh and expensive on account of my dashing good looks and haughty air, but I’m not ashamed to admit I spent some time in the pound. Don’t forget your roots and all that. Anyway, my point is it’s great to see underdogs like us get a chance to shine on Barkley Manor.
Martin Clunes’ narration really builds the tension as we receive the verdict on Max’s assessment, and I’m on the edge of my mum’s lap. We learn that Max and his two brothers were found in a sorry state under a garage in Te Kuiti, and I get a bit weepy at this point. Barkley owner Krista Strong tells Max’s mum she suspects he might have a bit of staffie or herding dog in him, and says she may want to get him a DNA test to find out for sure, as this can help with understanding behavioural issues. Finally, Krista says Frank will get another chance, and he has a session in the training room where he really bonds with a husky. It turns out Frank has a thing for older females – just like me!
By the end of the episode I’m absolutely hooked and hanging out for next week, when we’ll find out Frank’s true lineage. Paws crossed we’ll see more of Barkley Manor’s grooming salon in coming episodes – I go there for haircuts every once in a while, though last time I was in a shitty mood and they had to put a muzzle on me because I went a bit doughnut* on the groomer. Soz about that guys! I’m also hoping puppy school gets some air time, especially the excitement of graduation day, when each pooch must demonstrate what they’ve learnt in exchange for some treats (and a piece of paper with some letters on – mine said B+, which my mum thinks is quite good considering I declined to do all that sit-stay-lie-down stuff and instead went off to sniff something in a corner).
In sum, Barkley Manor is exactly what we need right now – a heartwarming antidote to that depressing 1pm show my mum’s always watching.
*Ed’s note: While mostly well mannered, Stanley sometimes gets possessed by dark forces. Once he stole a doughnut off a table in The Spinoff offices and when we tried to take it off him, displayed the aforementioned scary behaviour, which was henceforth known as “going doughnut”.
Barkley Manor is on TVNZ1 at 8pm on Mondays or TVNZ On Demand