It doesn’t feel like enough to merely say that Netflix’s new docuseries “Dogs” made me cry. A cheap tearjerker series with a perfunctory focus on the titular animals probably could have accomplished as much. But over the course of its six episodes, it is obvious that this show strives toward something more. “Dogs” emerges as a wonderfully-directed anthology that not only renews our appreciation for our canine partners, but provokes the viewer to reevaluate their understanding of human-pet relationships as a whole.
As something meant to succinctly explain what the series is about, the title of “Dogs” feels rather incomplete and even misleading. The focus is just as much on humankind as it is on dogkind. Each episode devotes itself to exploring narratives where the lives of these two groups intersect to form something greater. The connection displayed clearly between these animals and the people who love them manages to reinvent the usual conception of relationships between a person and a dog by placing the two on equal footing. When a dog takes a seat at the dinner table in the third episode, acting like any other member of his human family, it doesn’t feel bizarre, but natural. “Dogs” refuses to limit its perspective and characterization to just one of the two groups.
With gorgeous cinematography and an atmospheric score, the world of “Dogs” can, at times, feel cinematic to the point of dissociation with the reality it presents. Make no mistake, these stories are often poetic and authentic. In fact, the dedication of “Dogs” to providing comprehensive accounts with no compromise on detail is commendable. Whether it’s through inclusion of the perspective of a young girl who accepts that she cannot foster a relationship with her sister’s service dog or a father’s reflection on the passing of their old family pet before his family rescues a new one, these mini-documentaries feel complete with little in the way of unexplored story threads.
At the heart of the series though, are its subjects. From a refugee and his friends smuggling his dog out of war-torn Syria to an Italian fisherman questioning the future of his business as his canine partner grows older, “Dogs” encompasses a wide range of modern experiences and each one has something to say. The camera often lingers on a close-up of a subject — either canine or human — allowing the viewer to study their eyes and facial expression. This focus on the individual emotion is always at the forefront in “Dogs.” The stories are compelling because the subjects visibly and vocally feel, and the viewer feels right alongside them.
“Dogs” prevails as a strong example of what documentaries are truly capable of. It is thorough, powerful and purposeful in its message. Even if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, at least check out the fifth episode, “Territorio de Zaguates,” an exceptional story that easily moved me to tears numerous times and stands as my favorite of the bunch. And if you have a dog at home, make sure to give them a ton of love the next time you see them. What they give us is inspiring.
Email Ethan Zack at [email protected].