Heartwarming and uplifting, Netflix’s new docuseries Dogs explores man’s relationship with his best friend in a way that’s impossible to resist.
I’ve always had pretty strict criteria when it comes to dogs: I want one that could kill a burglar, if the situation called for it. If you’re going to get a dog that can’t do that you’re getting a cat, basically. I’ve already got a cat – and he hates me. But if there’s one thing that watching Netflix’s new six-part anthology docuseries convinced me of, it’s that I don’t really care. I just want a dog.
Dogs debuted today, and it’ll do incredibly well because the concept requires no marketing whatsoever – by definition it’s full of cute dogs. That’s internet marketing 101. It’ll also be critic-proof, but in this case that hardly matters because it’s genuinely excellent anyway. It’s a clever series, packed to the gills with all the Huskies and Labs and mutts and pups you’ll ever require, but it also bothers to explore different dynamics between the dogs and their owners that highlight human struggles. It’s obviously about dogs, but it’s particularly about how they help us cope.
That sounds a bit maudlin, but really it’s just truthful. By bringing in serious non-fiction filmmakers, including Oscar-nominated documentarian Amy Berg, who directs two of the 50-ish-minute episodes and executive produces alongside Glen Zipper, Dogs is able to find not only intimacy in these stories but universal understanding. These animals aren’t just our pets and companions. In many cases, they’re our only emotional anchors in times of extreme crisis, which the series illuminates by staging episodes against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis and a diminished fish population that might force the collapse of a family business. Rory is a medical service dog without whom an 11-year-old epileptic girl wouldn’t be able to get by; he’s not just a pet, but a lifeline. Many people, including a woman in Japan and also, as it happens, my partner, put their pets above their spouses, and in the event of a fire would get the dogs out before their husbands. Okay, that last one isn’t all that sympathetic, but you get the idea.
And it’s the idea that matters. For from cynically stirring sentimentality, Dogs masterfully evokes the connection we feel to these animals that fulfil so many roles in so many of our lives. It manages to locate what attracts man to his best friend: A need to love, and to be loved, just because. As the holidays approach, if you need a reminder about what family is and why it matters, Netflix has you covered.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.