On BBC2, Sunday the 23rd of March 2014, Louis Theroux triumphantly returned to our screens with a sense of renewed vigour and ambition to interrogate and question people on difficult but quite extraordinary topics. Now, based in Los Angeles with his family after moving in 2012 for a new start and to help familiarise with the city and the lifestyle before he initiated the plan to start his new trio of episodes on the subject of stray dogs, euthanasia and probably the most daunting of them all – sex offenders.
However, to start off the critically-acclaimed journalist’s new series was the programme entitled ‘City of Dogs’, a documentary focusing on Los Angeles’ overwhelming population of dogs and more specifically, abandoned dogs. It seems that over 60,000 dogs are abandoned in Los Angeles and the several dog pounds which are held within the city limits are over-full with dogs of all varieties and sizes with over a tenth of them being euthanized every year to make room for the constant oncoming flow of dogs that are frequently dumped on the streets by their owners.
Louis Theroux is introduced to a man who is locally known as “Dog Man”, dog trainer and catcher of-sorts – Dog Man drives through the streets in his Ford pick-up truck picking up abandoned dogs across the area, ranging from actual stray and lost dogs to disowned dogs that are put out on the front lawn and are visually seen attempting to scramble back into their former home. A scene shows Dog Man putting a stray dog on a leash who immediately drags him back to his owner’s house, yet, the owner refuses and denies the possibility of it being their dog as it claws at the front door trying to get back in.
It’s quite a sad sight to see so many dogs put out on the streets after the owners grow tired and fed up of them, with most cases leading to the street rather than giving them to the dog pounds themselves; although unfortunately, at other times they can end up being killed by their owner on purpose or die due to the poor living conditions, which occasionally are rooms filled with their own feces.
Theroux continues his world-renowned style of inducing a false sense of naivety as he interrogates his topical participants while instilling a vast knowledge of previously-done research to give his interviewees the idea that Theroux is genuinely interested in their answers and every word they say. He adapts to the situation and can mould their words into difficult questions which seems to bring the most hardened of people to tears and tantrum.
Through this returning episode, Louis Theroux goes from strength to strength dealing with dog owners of varying kinds, dog pound staff and also facing a weaponized dog team lead by former gang-banger Malcolm who specializes in turning people’s dogs into personal weapons. He justifies his reasons to do this by stating that if he were to settle his street disputes with a pistol he would most likely land himself some jail time or potentially death, instead, it’s reassuring for him to have his ferocious canine in the passenger seat of his car, “I can ride around with my dog all day long. He’s a pistol at my side”. In most cases he is very much correct and his dog is more than adept at enforcing damage on potential threats and hazards to Malcolm as Louis found out, albeit, through a protective arm guard. As shown, Louis Theroux was almost knocked down by the impact of the dog as its rapid and dangerous jaw clamped down on the side of his arm; as a viewer, you could see that it was a most uncomfortable feeling for Theroux who was adamant that enough was enough.
Surprisingly, Louis Theroux’s anticipated return to British television screens seemed to only capture the sight of just 1.8 million viewers, only 7.8% of the nation’s share of the audience between 9pm and 10pm on Sunday night. Although, like myself, I’m sure a few other viewers caught up on it on BBC iPlayer to view his most recent documentary installment that sent genuine elation down the spines of his fans and followers.
This definitely isn’t one of Louis Theroux’s most explosive or controversial documentaries like past programmes including The Most Hated Family In America or When Louis Met Michael Jackson but City of Dogs appears to have a more tentative but emotional approach focusing on people’s heartwarming but peculiar relationships with their canine companions, which verges on the edge of insanity. This documentary applies to all audiences but is certain to be a keen interest for dog-lovers and dog owners who would like an alternative perspective on the owner-pet relationship; a view from outside looking in on the behaviour of other owners and their dogs. With Theroux’s sense of style and form influencing the progress of the documentary, it’s a kick-start to his new triple episode in the latest series.