On CBS’ Greatest American Dog, owners and their pets share the same living quarters and compete in reward competitions, plus a challenge overseen by a panel of three stern judges. At the end of each episode, one pair is sent packing. The formula is simple: It’s Big Brother with flea collars divided by Top Chef with Alpo.
Exec producer R.J. Cutler (The War Room) aims low here, figuratively and literally. There are a lot of dog-POV shots, as the cameras zoom over the grassy surface of the posh Canine Academy, an overdecorated house and grounds replete with topiary clipped to resemble a fire hydrant. (Note: This is the consistent level of humor.) Winners of tedious competitions such as doggie musical chairs receive the coveted Golden Bone (no comment), while the loser and his or her owner are tossed into the Dog House, a small outdoor structure that is Dog‘s version of Big Brother‘s punitive slop-only diet. The judges are fussy celebs-within-their-subculture such as Dog Fancy editor-at-large Allan Reznik, who sniffs the air and singsongs more nasally Ben Stein.
The canines themselves are all that keep Dog from being just another soul-depleting reality show, and doubtless account for its early ratings success; it premiered to 9.5 million viewers, which qualifies as solid in summer-ratings terms. The original dozen dog owners (they’re the ones with the mental capability to understand that they’re competing for $250,000 — and just barely capable, in some cases) are the usual assortment of stereotypes for such a series: a few wacko eccentrics, some muscled hunks, and a crusty but lovable senior citizen. But the dogs…now here are some distinctive characters. Who would not want to pal around with Tillman, a gruff English bulldog with an easygoing manner beneath his beefy, lumbering exterior? And I’d lap up a beer with Star, a purebred Brittany from Texas who possesses the Zen equanimity of Willie Nelson and wears a red bandana around his neck to match.
The show’s villain — a very mild one — is Elvis, a dithering Russell terrier who gave our guy Tillman a mean bite on the snout. As I write, no one has yet nipped at Beth Joy, an appalling egomaniac with a simpering mutt she trusses up in girly outfits. So far, I’m rooting for the under-the-radar pair of Laura and Preston, an L.A. film producer and her Pomeranian who are charming and mannerly. As a reality-show virtue, good manners are refreshing, if — like Dog — rather unexciting. B-