tv review

Must Love Dogs

Photo: Netflix

If you’re looking for something to watch with your relatives over Thanksgiving, suspend that search right now because Netflix has the solution.

This Friday, the streaming platform will unveil Dogs, an anthology docuseries about the many virtues of man and woman’s best friend that is so heartwarming, your heart will need a post-binge-watch ice bath to cool down. If you thought Queer Eye was an uplifting weeper, your tear ducts should do some calisthenics to get ready for the verklempt-a-thon that is about to be thrown at them. People who love or even mildly appreciate the canine species will be charmed and moved by Dogs. If you can somehow watch Dogs without experiencing a single moment of delight, you might be a sociopath who lacks all capacity for empathy or love. Wait, scratch that: You are definitely a sociopath who lacks all capacity for empathy or love.

A show called Dogs is pretty much required to feature tons of images of loyal, cuddly, adorable pups, and this documentary does not disappoint. It is filled to the brim with such good boys and girls. Over six stand-alone episodes, each of which examines a different dynamic involving humans and their furry companions, we meet, among others: Rory, a sweet and obedient medical service dog newly matched with an epileptic 11-year-old girl named Corrine; Zeus, a beautiful Siberian Husky separated from his owner, Ayham, a Syrian refugee living in Berlin; Ice, a stalwart Lab who accompanies an Italian fisherman and restaurant owner every morning as he combs Lake Como for fresh fish; and Justin Timberlake, a dewy-eyed mutt among a group of 30 dogs rescued from an overtaxed shelter in Dallas and brought to New York City so he can be adopted. There are also tiny puppies no bigger than your hand, Japanese purse hounds dressed as their owners’ identical twins, and literally hundreds of scrappy tail-waggers who race around a Costa Rican sanctuary for abandoned and neglected dogs. If the series’ sole ambition was to create the longest, most irresistible internet dog video of all time, it would achieve that with high honors.

But Dogs, executive-produced by Glen Zipper and Oscar-nominated documentarian Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil), who directs two of the episodes, does something more profound. Each roughly 50-minute piece uses the human-dog connection to illuminate social issues, cultural differences, personal suffering, and how our doggos help us understand and overcome them. In “Bravo, Zeus,” Berg traces the extensive efforts undertaken to reunite that aforementioned Siberian Husky with Ayham and, in the process, reveals in vivid fashion the desperation behind the Syrian refugee crisis. “Ice on the Water,” directed by Richard Hankin, is certainly about the bond between Ice and Alessandro, that San Giovanni seafood seeker. But it’s also about how that Labrador retriever is the one constant in Alessandro’s life as he faces a diminished local fish population and the possibility that his children may opt not to take over his family business. “Scissors Down,” directed by Life Animated’s Roger Ross Williams, the most meme-worthy of the lot, could just as easily have been called Best in Show: Unconscious Bias edition, as it follows two successful Japanese dog groomers to compete at Groom Expo West, a Pasadena convention where they encounter American judges who literally and figuratively don’t quite understand them.

In other words, Dogs is about dogs, but it’s really about the beauty and struggle of life. The directors, also including T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay, and Heidi Ewing of Jesus Camp fame, are serious documentarians who are skilled not only at photographing their subjects — the close-ups of the animals are so intimate, you can practically peer straight into their doggy souls — but also at unearthing the universal significance of their stories.

The series displays indisputable proof that dogs are integral members of our families, no matter where your family came from or currently lives, and does so with moments that are all the more tear-jerking because of their subtlety. In “The Kid With a Dog,” Ewing captures the sight of Rory placing a paw on Corinne’s hand, a gesture that tells us he’s there for her even when she’s calm and seizure-free. In episode three, “Ice on the Water,” Hankin trains the camera on the dining room table where Ice regularly joins Alessandro, his wife, and their children by sitting in an actual chair, a tableau that makes him look like the family’s real elder statesman. In episode six, “Second Changes,” Berg is there to document the moment when the face of a young New York City girl turns completely aglow as she meets Jimmy Buffett, the black-and-white pup she and her family plan to adopt mere months after losing a beloved pet. (Again, I must reiterate: You are going to cry your eyes all the way out during this series.)

There are lighter moments, too: In “Scissors Down,” we get to witness a dog birthday party attended by a group of Japanese women, each holding their dogs in their laps as if they are their babies. That’s because, to these women, many of whom do not have children, they are. “If there were a fire in my house, I’d save Kotaro before my husband,” says one of the party attendees about her dog. She does not seem to be kidding. “Kotaro comes first and my husband is in, like, third place.”

It’s a funny thing to say. But while watching this lovely series, especially if you happen to own a dog yourself, you won’t necessarily shake your head at that comment. You’ll nod and say, “Yeah, that’s a little extreme. But it also makes total sense.”

Want to know what’s new on Netflix? Check out Vulture’s streaming guide.

Must Love Dogs