No, TV is not going to the dogs; it’s the humans that are screwing things up. As much as people love their pooches, there’s something beyond silly about shoehorning them into a master-mutt reality elimination game, with all the ominous music and strategizing normally associated with “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race.” What should play as a fun summer romp thus feels like old reheated kibble, culminating in the premiere with a painful human-dog talent showcase that’s no threat to David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks.
At the first glimpse of a skateboarding bulldog, well, what’s not to like? But rather than exhibiting a love for pets a la Animal Planet, “Greatest American Dog” follows all the conventions of the reality competition genre, with weird contestants and an imperious British expert (seriously, when will we exhaust the supply of those?) among the trio of judges.
The dogs are mostly fine; it’s the people you can’t stand — from Brandy, who dresses her schnauzer in clothes, to David, who threw his terrier a “bark” mitzvah. Oy. These are the kind of irritating folks that bring rat-sized dogs to the mall in their purses.
Unfortunately, the canine pals can only be front and center so often, and that leaves their owners to trot through all the reality staples, from talking smack about their chances of winning to cohabitating in the requisite mansion to — when Ron sets sight on the attractive “film producer” Laura — acting like he wants to hump her leg. The episode’s big challenge, meanwhile, is essentially a game of musical chairs, which proves every bit as exciting as that sounds.
Given the popularity of dogs — as evidenced by tune-in for the Westminster show and others — this series could still do some reasonable ratings by summer standards, though those viewers that do sit will have very little reason to stay; still, the shame is that the producers took what could have been an amusing lark and initially sucked most of the life out of it by following the same-old unscripted-competition script so closely.