TV review: Tongue facials and besotted owners in The Secret Life of Dogs

The Planners, BBC2

"The way you see your dog will never be the same again," promised Martin Clunes at the beginning of The Secret Life of Dogs. It sounds grand, doesn't it? But it's easier to achieve than you might think. The other day, our new puppy did something on the rug in my study that significantly changed my perceptions of her for the rest of the day, possibly even longer.

The occasional downsides of dog ownership were not even acknowledged in this film though, which adopted a piously devotional attitude to the species. By the end, we'd learned that dogs are life-saving, lamb-feeding, cancer-detecting miracle machines, so instinctively attuned to our needs that you almost wondered why we don't just hand the National Health Service over to them right now, so they can go about their business of lowering blood pressure and healing the sick.

I expect they sold quite a bit of airtime to dog-food manufacturers for the ad breaks and on transmission it won't always have been easy to tell when they stopped and the programme began, because a lot of it looked like a dog-food commercial: besotted owners getting a tongue facial from their hounds, and slow-motion shots of puppies and pedigree types ostentatiously demonstrating their vigour. I particularly enjoyed the shot of the basset hound shaking itself dry, four dogs' worth of skin moving in loose formation around one dog's worth of body. But there were other surprises too, such as the revelation that dogs bend their tongues backwards when lapping up water.

Anyway, that wasn't really the point. The point was to hymn the beasts and make your heart melt. In my experience, the hearts of dog-lovers tend to have a lower melting point than most people and will liquify in front of virtually anything hairy that maintains eye-contact. But I guess that was the point they were trying to make. The tale of Alan, a Gulf War veteran who'd lost most memories of family life after an injury but was coaxed back into emotional mobility by a large labrador who actually served as his best man when he remarried his wife, was relevant here. "The final gift he gave me was that gift of sadness," said Alan of the dog's eventual death. And now I'm off to yawn in my dog's face, not because I'm bored of her but because if she yawns back it's a sign our relationship has got off on a good footing, despite that unfortunate incident with the rug.

At the beginning of The Planners, Fiona Edwards said, "We're not boring. We're really exciting people," trying to lay to rest a suspicion that I suspect quite a few people will have felt about this observational documentary on the planning process. They're not all that exciting frankly, but The Planners isn't dull, since it's about the hysterical emotions aroused in the average Briton by the prospect of any encroachment on their property rights. Faced with the prospect of a 550-house estate being built on farmland nearby, quite a few residents of Winsford in Cheshire developed a passionate concern for the great crested newt, examples of which proved frustratingly elusive when they investigated a nearby pond.

Meanwhile in Cheltenham, Mary was having trouble convincing the planning officers that her neighbour's proposed extension was going to plunge her living room into sepulchral gloom. Mary's son-in-law had mocked up a facade to simulate the loss of amenity that would result if the extension was built, a device that helpfully established that there was no loss of light at all, though he wasn't happy when the inspectors politely pointed this out. But I'm glad to say that Basil and Rachel won out when they challenged a conservation officer's view that solar panels would blight their particular area of Chester. They hadn't made Geraldine's elementary error, which was to snap at one of the planning councillors on whose vote a final verdict often rests. Geraldine lost her parking space seven votes to six.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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