Calum Henderson spends an evening with TV One’s Dog Squad and Purina Pound Pups, and explains why you should get amongst these primetime pooches.
TV One’s doggone double-header begins in the familiar ‘authority figures vs lowlifes’ format of reality programming that New Zealanders love so dearly. Despite an admittedly very exciting point of difference (dogs), Dog Squad is exactly the same as the five hundred other shows where bad bastards get taken down a peg or two – whether they actually deserve it or not.
In this episode, our best drug sniffers are doing the rounds of the nation’s prisons and scurrying excitedly from cell to cell in search of contraband. Cocker spaniel Mac is the most successful, uncovering a pipe stashed behind a toilet. What’s a prisoner doing with a pipe? “He would use that … so he could smoke his drugs” Mac’s handler explains.
Elsewhere, a German shepherd tracks down a crying teen who’s crashed his grandad’s van in some weirdly post-apocalyptic night vision footage. At Auckland airport, a beagle sniffs out an apple in the bag of a tourist who is wearing velour sweatpants with ‘Babyphat’ written across the bum. She is fined $400 – whether its for the apple or the bad pants is not made explicitly clear.
On Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars we meet a pair of dogs who would never grass on someone just for having a bit of hash in their handbag. Pepe and Dude are two hard-living chihuahuas who have wound up in dog gaol after living extremely miserable lives being chained up 24/7 (Dude) and being left to wander about on busy roads (Pepe).
The mange-riddled but very cute pups are taken on by benevolent dogfather Mark Vette – an extremely good bugger with a custom bumbag full of dog treats, a highly aspirational accessory for any dog fan. First he takes them to the vet. We learn that Dude is stuffed with renal failure and Pepe has “the most unusual heart [the vet] has ever heard”. Their future looks bloody grim.
After a surreal interlude where one of Mark’s animal trainer mates trains a rook to attack a Nathan Barley lookalike for an ad, we find out that the scrappy pups’ rehabilitation has come along remarkably. They’ve been adopted and Pepe even has a job at a rest home. There are very few things in the world more heartwarming than seeing people being cheered up by the simple joy of patting a dog.
Who’s it for?
Seems like an exceptionally broadly appealing hour of television. What do we love? Watching people who have committed minor indiscretions being punished for them, and people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and making a go of it. How could we build on that? Get dogs involved somehow. Genius. Prime time telly.
I’m genuinely not sure where I stand on Dog Squad. On one hand, if you ignore the dogs it’s basically just the scraps that were too boring for Border Patrol and Motorway Patrol, neither of which sets the bar particularly high in the first place. On the other hand there are dogs, and they all have jobs, and that is bloody delightful… even if their jobs are all essentially massive narcs.
The wonderfully alliterative Purina Pound Pups is an easier proposition to get behind. It’s unspectacular but pleasant viewing which doesn’t feel manipulative or problematic in the ways human transformation shows often do. It’ll just leave you mildly pining for a dog of your own, or maybe just to start walking the streets with a custom bumbag full of Purina to lure dogs into letting you pat them.
Eventually watching men in uniforms tell people off is kind of a bad buzz even if they are being assisted by a dog. Like TAB Trackside’s Dog Zone, Dog Squad fails to live up to the immense promise its name implies.
Ultimately both shows are hampered by the sad fact that dogs can’t talk. If Pepe and Dude had done a talking head at the end of Purina Pound Pups where they said “When Mark found us we had mange and couldn’t stop shitting on our beds – now we’ve got our lives back on track and the future is looking bright,” the show would have been a thousand per cent better and I would have cried for 24 hours straight.
Should I get amongst it?
Yes. While neither of these are particularly great shows, if we don’t watch them they’ll stop putting dogs on the TV altogether. A world with no dogs on TV is a prospect that simply doesn’t bear thinking about.
Dog Squad airs on TV One Tuesdays at 7.30pm, followed by Purina Pound Pups at 8.00pm
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