Much like the documentary “Grizzly Man,” “Living With the Wolfman” is less about majestic animals than the peculiar breed of hairless ape that would choose to live with them — the main focus here being the extremes to which somebody will go in the name of love. Helen Jeffs is so enamored of British wolf expert Shaun Ellis that she agrees to join him as an embedded member of a wolf pack, even if that means sucking down raw liver and kidneys so she’ll smell like one. The cheeky horror-pic title notwithstanding, it’s strangely compelling stuff.
Ellis muses near the outset that he always assumed his passion for wolves would cause him to become an old, solitary hermit, and given the ordeal Jeffs must endure to be with him, that’s still probably not a bad idea. Then again, try thinking of this as a more exaggerated version of couples on display at Comic-Con, where one adopts the other’s passions — stomping around in a Stormtrooper outfit so her spouse doesn’t have to march alone. Viewed that way it’s kind of sweet, if no less nerdy.
As the overseer of captive wolves at a British wildlife park, Ellis already can move into the enclosure with impunity, playing and even roughhousing with the dangerous beasts. The premiere (a brisk half-hour) finds Jeffs uncomfortably adjusting to an all-meat diet so she can join him — the reason being that in wolf hierarchy, you are what you eat, which means she has to pass on drizzle cake and start wolfing down internal organs.
Helen’s fear and reluctance, balanced by her obvious hunger to be with Shaun, combine to make this somehow relatable. At times, the pair — both in their 40s — come across as two odd souls who found each other (“Tarzan and Jane,” as one friend calls them); at other moments, Helen reminds you of those love-starved women who begin corresponding with death-row inmates.
Whatever judgments viewers make (and let’s face it, judging the zoo exhibits is the principal attraction to watching a show like this), there’s an addictive quality to “Wolfman” that grows in the second episode, when Helen must practice regurgitating food to hungry wolf pups. The experience leaves her bloodied — even those tiny fangs are sharp — but proud.
Zealotry can be as fascinating as it is repellent, whatever the endeavor, although this one has the added educational advantage of showcasing the wolves, which even in captivity are hard not to admire in their power and beauty.
Still, the animals you can’t take your eyes off here are the ones padding around on two feet.