Louis Theroux's LA Stories: City of Dogs, BBC Two, TV review
Is the acclaimed documentary maker running out of interesting material?
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Monday 24 March 2014
Louis Theroux is responsible for some of the most squirm-inducing moments in TV history – and I mean that as a compliment.
Remember when Christine Hamilton got flirty in When Louis Met... the Hamiltons? Now he’s back with Louis Theroux’s LA Stories (Sun BBC2), a new three-part, Los Angeles-based series, but was the topic of this first episode – people and their pets – a sign that he’s run out of interesting material?
LA is renowned as the dog-lovers capital of the world, but Theroux wasn’t interested in pampered Beverly Hills pooches. His subjects were the eccentrics – canine and human – living in South LA’s poorer neighbourhoods.
There was Cornelius “Dogman” Austin, a renegade dog rescuer who could probably do with a bit more human company; Malcolm, the ex-gang banger who now trains dogs as weapons; and Max and Nancy, a hipster couple having second thoughts about the new addition to their family.
You might say that they’d bitten off more than they could chew, but rescue dog Casper was doing enough biting and chewing for everyone.
The sight of a wimpy, bespectacled Brit in South Central LA would once have been incongruous, but by this point in Theroux’s career, it isn’t. He’s spent so much time hanging around on similar street corners, you wouldn’t be surprised if the local hoodlums greeted him with a friendly fist bump.
What was surprising was when one neglectful dog owner refused Theroux’s interview request by telling him, “Take your bitch-ass back to London.” Didn’t he know that Louis has been a Los Angeles resident since early 2013?
Theroux’s vast experience of American subcultures did enable him to provide context. When the kennel supervisor at the city dog pound demonstrated her dog discipline technique, she also explained the underlying power dynamic: “I don’t want that animal to think he can punk me, y’know?” Theroux looked alarmed. “That’s, like, prison slang,” he said. He must have picked that up in Louis Theroux: Behind Bars, or perhaps Louis Theroux: Miami Mega Jail.
The downside of this worldliness was that it rather gave the lie to Theroux’s innocent-abroad schtick. His voiceovers still sounded parodic in tone – “I was going deeper into the world of South LA dogs and their owners” – but this time it was not the pretensions of his subjects being parodied, it was his own over-familiar format.
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