Review: Good Dog 1×1

Canada's surprisingly poor answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm

Good Dog

In Canada: Sundays, 8pm ET/MT, HBO Canada

Never let it be said that “What have you been watching this week?” has no effect. Last Friday, MoreTears pointed out that a new Canadian show called Good Dog had escaped my notice (I was on holiday when it started, to be fair) and I should give it a try. Well, I have, so here’s a review of the first episode at least.

Now Ken Finkleman is probably a name you won’t know unless you’re Canadian. Amongst other things, he was the creator of CBC’s The Newsroom, which first aired in 1996 and was revived nearly a decade later in 2004. A sort of cross between Larry Sanders, The Office and Drop the Dead Donkey, The Newsroom was a darkly satirical show looking at TV news broadcasting and starred Finkleman as a slightly mild-mannered TV producer called George.

Well, George is back – although this might be a different George altogether, even if he is played by Ken Finkleman and is a TV producer who’s obsessed with ratings – in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hang on, it’s not Curb Your Enthusiasm. Maybe it’s Lead Balloon?

Because we have here something that’s suspiciously like both – so suspiciously, that most of the first episode is about how similar the show is to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Because we’re in meta-land here.

See, George the TV producer has this great idea for a reality TV show in which he and his 30-year-old model girlfriend (Lauren Lee Smith – Riley from one season of CSI, as well as things such as The Listener and Mutant X) are the stars. It’ll follow him and her around, doing their thing. And that’s about the extent of his idea.

As a result, the network is worried. They don’t even live together, so how’s that going to work? Of course, she can’t move in because she has kids and he hates kids, which makes the network worry their relationship won’t last. So to get the show on the road, George proposes to his girlfriend and she – and her kids, her dog, her Austrian nanny and her furniture – all move in.

That causes George all manner of grumbles.

If you’re in Canada, you can watch some clips of it over here, but if you’re not, here’s Ken Finkleman talking about the news for 15 minutes, instead.

Award-winning writer and producer Ken Finkleman (The Newsroom) returns to television in Good Dog, his highly anticipated new comedy. Starring Finkleman and Lauren Lee Smith (CSI; The L Word), the sharply ironic series focuses on the life of George, a self-absorbed, neurotic TV producer. After hooking up with Claire, a gorgeous model half his age, George negotiates his new reality dating a younger woman by pitching a reality show about his high concept, highly coveted, seriously volatile life. But when network executives insist that Claire move into his house, George is forced to escalate the relationship and consequently, his fears of commitment. When the pitch and his life go sideways, he frets, vents and reevaluates by soliciting questionable advice from his best friend Doug (Jason Weinberg).

Is it any good?
I’d like to say this was as good as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lead Balloon or even The Newsroom, but it’s not. It’s really not. Now it might be because things kick off in the second episode, given that the first episode is a format-setter, but on the strength of this episode, I’m unlikely to get that far.

You see, despite the fact Ken Finkleman is obviously capable of being very caustic and insightful, George, it seems, is not. The closest he gets to being caustic is constantly mentioning Eva Braun around his girlfriend’s Austrian nanny. Which isn’t caustic, it’s just racist. Not even post-modernly racist or “let’s laugh at this character and his casual racism” racist. It’s not funny enough for that. It’s just racist.

Similarly, although Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm concentrates largely on the mundane, he at least

  1. Identifies things most people get annoyed about
  2. Can rant well

Here we have a character mildly grumbling about carrot puree, people not liking his TV format and people recognising him in the street. These are not things I find irritating in life and mild crotchetiness is not really that funny.

We also have the problem that although it’s not quite as icky as the fact that Scarlett Johansson and Sean Penn are dating (Ew!), the concept of Ken Finkleman and Lauren Lee Smith as a couple is mildly icky. Sorry, but I don’t want to watch these two as a pair.

Indeed, Lauren Lee Smith doesn’t really get to do a lot. She’s defined as A Model, which ‘naturally’ means rich, obsessed with diets, a bit flakey and in need of taking frequent showers. Her one personality trait that takes her away from the stereotype so far is that she likes Neil Young and wants to have a picture of him on the wall. And she locks herself in the bathroom and cries when she can’t. Scratch that – we’re back to A Model territory again, here, aren’t we?

If there’s one area where Good Dog does sort of work, it’s in the TV meta-ness. We have George discussing with his best friend, Doug, whether he can appear in the show – problematically, Doug isn’t a very good ‘concept’ as a person so probably won’t fit on the show. We also have the various ruminations with the network about what’s going to be in the show and how George then tries to adapt his life, just so his show will get the go-ahead.

But all that’s probably about as funny as Episodes, which isn’t exactly a sterling endorsement on my part.

Now, this was shown as a double bill with the second episode, which suggests that the network believed it might take off in the second part. So I might give that a try. But at the moment, all I’m seeing is something that’s too derivative and lacking in edge to be anything other than a poor (Canadian) man’s version of two much better shows.