Dogs In The City

Dogs In The City debuts tonight on CBS at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Although the title suggests a comedy about four fun-loving, sexually adventurous canines in Prada collars on the loose in Manhattan, Dogs in the City is actually a summer reality series about people and their pets, and the “dog guru” who helps solve their problems. It’s not the most original idea in the world—Dog Whisperer has been running for eight seasons now—but if you can’t get enough of man’s best friend, there are worse ways to spend an hour.

Host Justin Silver, the self-proclaimed dog guru, introduces the show by noting that there are over 1.5 million dogs in New York City, which goes a long way toward explaining the peculiar smell in the air. It also presents myriad opportunities for Silver to deal with dysfunctional owner/pet relations for our entertainment. His primary case in the opening episode concerns Beefy the skateboarding bulldog, who has apparently achieved some fame through YouTube. Beefy has a strong relationship with his longtime owner Patrick, but not so much with Patrick’s wife of one year, Erin. Not only does Beefy refuse to willingly go for a walk with Erin—she ends up having to drag him through Riverside Park like a prisoner in irons—but the bulldog also seems to command the lion’s share of Patrick’s attention, leaving Erin feeling like a jealous third wheel.

The problem extends to the couple’s home life, as they are unable to get any sleep, or presumably accomplish any other bed-related activities, due to Beefy’s need for attention. (This leads to an awkward moment where Silver climbs into bed with Patrick and Erin in order to see firsthand how Beefy reacts. This is probably a little bit more of a personal touch than you’d generally want from your dog guru.) It’s up to Justin to save this marriage by creating a little space between Patrick and Beefy, and a stronger bond between Erin and the dog.

The premiere episode also features a couple of subplots, as Silver takes on a pair of less-intensive cases. There’s Charlotte, the super-aggressive pooch belonging to model agency owner Elli, who believes in bringing her dog to work everyday. This isn’t such a great policy, as Charlotte has a tendency to charge and attack anyone coming through the door, and has bitten and drawn blood multiple times. And then there’s Rosie the Burnese Mountain Dog, owned by Greg and his adorably precocious daughter Allie. Greg and Allie are concerned that Rosie is too fat, so Silver accompanies them to the vet’s office, where they...weigh the dog. Yeah, the dog guru seemed entirely superfluous to that particular task, as I would guess most owners concerned about their pet’s weight would eventually realize that weighing the animal should be the first step toward solving the problem. Still, this segment is worthwhile for Allie’s straighfaced declaration, “I don’t take puppy-face.”

“The truth is, when I’m training dogs, I’m training owners,” Silver says early in the episode, and that’s what makes Dogs in the City a modestly entertaining diversion. As cute as the dogs themselves may be, the show is really about the neuroses of pet owners, and the amusing (and sometimes not so amusing) ways in which our dogs make us crazy. Elli’s obstinance when confronted with the notion that it might be bad for business to have her dog trying to chew the faces off her clients may seem ridiculous, but her insistence that Charlotte is actually a sweetheart deep down inside will resonate with anyone who has ever loved a behaviorally-challenged pooch.

With his Queens-bred honk and attitude, not to mention his immaculate coif, Silver initially comes off as vaguely Jersey Shore-ish. But Silver (who also does stand-up comedy) is quick-witted enough to keep the segments lively, and his techniques do seem to be effective (albeit undoubtedly shaped by editing). His claims of being able to speak dog are put to the test in some very silly sequences in which he attempts to reason with his canine clients. Sure, we all talk to our dogs now and then, but most of us would be surprised if they actually answered. (“I can’t tell if you’re nodding or just panting,” Silver quips at one point.) Still, for the most part Dogs in the City steers clear of such foolishness, allowing the alternately charming and baffling relationships between people and their pets to provide the entertainment.

Stray observations:

  • Silver: “My brain is partly human brain, partly dog brain.” I guess that explains why he keeps licking himself.
  • If Silver could convince my beloved Maury the Wonder Chibeagle not to have a meltdown every time I go out to the mailbox or convenience store, I’d truly believe he can speak dog.

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