Recently, I was watching an intense, suspenseful Belgian crime thriller on Netflix called Undercover. It’s a great series, albeit stressful. But the show I’m really excited about is one I came across while trying to find something to watch after getting through a few heart-pounding episodes of Undercover. I needed a cool-down show.
As I browsed through all the streaming platforms I subscribe to, I paused at a graphic of a little gray bulldog puppy for a show called The Dog House: UK. It looked like it might be insipid, but offered the possibility of cute dog content. In other words: a perfectly appropriate thing to look at while I waited for my brain to reshape itself into a less agitated form.
What I actually found was one of the most satisfying non-fiction shows I’ve seen.
I don’t watch much reality TV. The pacing, the music, the attempts to stoke drama, the endless recapping of events that happened just a few minutes earlier – these are all ingredients that I can’t really abide. That’s why I was one of the many millions who were so charmed and disarmed by The Great British Bake Off (or The Great British Baking Show for those of us in America, where Pillsbury has trademarked the phrase “bake off”). A lot of what I love about GBBO can be found at the heart of The Dog House, and I’d use a lot of the same adjectives: gentle, lovely, charming.
The show is centered around Wood Green, an adoption center for stray dogs, or dogs that can no longer be cared for by their previous owners. Each episode features three sets of people who come in looking for a dog to potentially re-home. The staff tries to find a dog currently in their care that would be well-suited for that person or family, taking into consideration both the household’s needs and the dog’s. It’s a matchmaking show.
Some of the show’s sensibilities are clear right away. The music and voiceover and editing are easy-going, and the staff all radiate warmth and empathy. The prospective dog adopters are presented in a familiar mix of candid, hidden-camera footage and straight-to-the-camera interviews. What became clear only after I’d watched a couple episodes were some of the other, more meaningful choices.
I feel like The Dog House presents people as creatures that are fundamentally incomplete on our own. Everyone has something missing or something broken or something not quite fulfilled in their own life – but if they were to find the right dog, a dog that’s alone and similarly incomplete, then together, as a unit, they would be made whole. We learn the backstories of these people slowly, over the course of watching them go through the process of arriving at Wood Green, talking to the staff, describing what kind of dog they’re looking for, intercut with the more intimate interviews they give to the camera, filmed at another time, on a separate set.
Meanwhile, the dogs have their own individual personalities and quirks and needs, sometimes with sad backstories of their own. But none of this is presented in a way that’s maudlin. Everything about the show feels like it’s stated plainly, simply, not wrung out for maximum emotional saturation. (I love that; it shows a confidence in the material.)
What I really, really love about the show – and what feels distinctly opposite from so much reality TV – is that it is not judgmental. Sometimes it feels like reality TV is just a vehicle for presenting characters to disdain. But on The Dog House, no dog is ever deemed a bad dog. They just need kindness, and understanding, and love. But even more surprisingly, no person is ever deemed a bad person. Even the people who previously had the dogs, who could easily be off-screen villains in a show like this, they’re never described that way. We occasionally see those people dropping their dogs off because they can no longer keep them, and those scenes are sweet, and tender, and sad. But the sadness only lasts a brief moment, because the absence of judgment opens up an enormous window of hope. No dog has to be alone forever, and no home has to be without a dog, if only the right match can be made.
The adoption process doesn’t always work out, and this, too, helps temper the show’s sweetness, and it adds stakes. Will this dog like the family? Will the family like the dog? There’s some dramatic tension built in that gives the whole thing momentum, and you’re rooting for everyone the whole time.
I don’t know neurotransmitters, but I’d guess some mix of oxytocin and dopamine started sloshing around in my brain as I watched. And over the next week and a half, the show went from being my cool-down show to the main event. There are two seasons, each with eight episodes. The production values jump from Season 1 to Season 2, so if you only want to watch one episode, I’d start with Season 2. (The way I chose which episode to watch first was by clicking on whichever dog’s face in the preview graphic was the cutest.) Eventually, I watched them all, and I’ve now watched some episodes twice, as I’ve made other people fall in love with the show.
(Disclaimer: I adopted a rescue dog four years ago, so I’m squarely within this show’s target market. My dog’s name is Watson, and when the more emotional moments on the show would occur, I’d tell him to join me on the couch, and I’d squish him a little, and I’d be grateful for having now fixed some little bit of my life that I hadn’t really known was broken.)
- I have a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite gentle songs I've collected over the years, called NapCaviar. ( Watson is featured on the cover artwork.)