Dog Almighty: TVNZ’s Kiwi canine Ninja Warrior marred by Dance Moms-style drama


REVIEW: It’s described as the first-ever search for the country’s most talented mutt, but, in truth, Dog Almighty (debuting tonight, Monday, 7.30pm on TVNZ2) is simply the latest incarnation of one of New Zealand’s oldest forms of reality television.

From 1977 to 1992, Kiwis were enthralled by the battle of wills between canine and sheep on A Dog’s Show, while Tux Wonder Dogs (and it’s golden labrador co-host Dexter) became an early Saturday evening staple throughout the mid to late-90s.

Dog Almighty certainly has more than a whiff of the latter, with its agility courses and loveable, but slightly disobedient frontmen in comedy duo Jon Pryor and Ben Boyce (now in serious danger of turning into New Zealand’s version of Ant and Dec).

Certainly not afraid to embarrass themselves, the pair trot out as many pooch-related puns as is humanly possibly, while also pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable 7.30pm viewing. “This and Love Island are the only shows where we have to pick up the contestant’s droppings,” Boyce beams.

Jono and Ben have gone to the dogs (and TVNZ) with their new show Dog Almighty.

RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Jono and Ben have gone to the dogs (and TVNZ) with their new show Dog Almighty.

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Looking to take home the $100,000 top prize (and the coveted golden dog bowl) are canines (and their owners) from all over Aotearoa, initially divided into four categories: Micro, Midi, Maxi and Mega. The first step involves an agility course around a specially created Doggy Dome, with the top four from each section making it through to the next round.

Monday’s opening episode focused on the Minis, with French bulldogs, Jack Russells and maltese shih tzus (“can you even say that on television?” Boyce muses) among those taking on the jumps, tunnels, see-saw and bridge crossing. As expected, the drama, delight and comedy comes from their mixed success.

You’ll thrill as nine-year-old socialite spoodle Coco makes short work of the course (perhaps spurred on by her owner Scarlett’s promise of a Wagu beef steak if they win), be spellbound by three-legged Maisy’s doggy derring-do despite her disability and struggle to stifle the guffaws as owners attempt to control and cajole their recalcitrant charges (some even resorting to demonstrating how to go through the tunnels themselves). There’s even a moment of controversy as Jono seemingly gets in the way of one of the competitors, one that had my family shouting at the television in disgust.

Coco and owner Scarlett, the socialites seeking Dog Almighty glory and a Wagu steak.

TVNZ

Coco and owner Scarlett, the socialites seeking Dog Almighty glory and a Wagu steak.

So far, so entertaining. But there’s a modern twist that seriously marred my viewing pleasure. I can see the appeal of us learning all about the contestants’ human handlers. And there are certainly some characters, even just in the Minis, including the poodle-loving sexagenarian Wendy (who travels around the country with four of them in a campervan and whose charge Crystal May has her own pram, which she jealously guards), horse masseuse May and the charming Louie, who we’re led to believe appears to love dog Bo more than his wife.

But did they have to provide the commentary, as well as the initial colour? Listening to their Dance Moms-meets-Googlebox-style stilted encouragement of each other and incessant observations made me yearn for the days of laconic Swanndri-wearing handlers and the measured, dulcet tones of John Gordon. Surely this was where Jono and Ben could have come into their own, allowing them to showcase their freestyling verbal skills, instead of looking awkwardly on from the sidelines and shouting “release the hounds” across the Doggy Dome (a catchphrase not only borrowed from Mr Burns, but also Rebel Wilson’s awful dog grooming competition Pooch Perfect, where the canines looked as miserable as anyone forced to watch it).

SUPPLIED

If you want gripping animal sporting drama with a killer commentary, then check out Farmyard Olympics, now a part of What Now every Sunday.

With its mix of heartwarming tales, unpredictable action and quirky human and canine contestants, this Ninja Warrior-meets-Vet Tales is bound to be a ratings winner. But like all those Got Talent and Idol shows, unless you’re particularly into schadenfreude, I’d recommend waiting until the later outdoor rounds when surely the contestant chorus must lessen.

And, if you want pure animal action without the off-course “drama”, then you should be watching What Now’s Farmyard Olympics every Sunday morning. Listen to Tony Palmer’s brilliant narration – it’s a masterclass in understatement and an exemplar of how good Dog Almighty could have been.