sat 20/07/2024

Louis Theroux's LA Stories: City of Dogs, BBC Two / Mr Selfridge, Series 2 Finale, ITV | reviews, news & interviews

Louis Theroux's LA Stories: City of Dogs, BBC Two / Mr Selfridge, Series 2 Finale, ITV

Louis Theroux's LA Stories: City of Dogs, BBC Two / Mr Selfridge, Series 2 Finale, ITV

A canine crisis in Los Angeles, and what Mr Selfridge did during the war

Louis Theroux (left) with Cornelius the Dog Man

In the same week that ITV was rounding up Britain's dangerous dogs, the Beeb aired Louis Theroux's report [****] on the unwanted canines roaming the streets of gang-infested South Los Angeles. LA has six dog pounds (we learned), through which 35,000 ownerless dogs pass annually. A lot of them, even healthy ones, end up being euthanised because it's impossible to find homes for them all.

However, Theroux's film suggested that this wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the city's dog-lovers, who appeared in many colourful guises. Louis spent some time riding around the sullen, menacing streets with Cornelius Austin, whose zeal to be dog-kind's best friend has earned him the nickname Dog Man.

Cornelius's pain at the sight of abused and abandoned dogs was palpable. "I love animals, man, and a dog can't help herself," he said. "If a dog could talk it would have a lot to say." This all seemed to be bound up with Cornelius's troubled past and the death of his parents, as though he wanted to spare the animals the anguish he'd suffered. As part of his mission to redress the dog-man balance, Cornelius runs a Sunday morning school where dog owners can learn how to handle their adopted strays.

Despite the litany of neglected animals (many of them pit bulls), the film evoked a surprisingly powerful sense of the bond humans can form with animals, so much so that Theroux found himself turning down his customary tone of patronising concealed mockery. One of his interviewees, a reformed gangbanger who now trains dogs as canine bodyguards for the boys in the 'hood, called Theroux's bluff when he shrewdly accused him of putting on a facade of smiley-faced chumminess. The dogs will see right through it, he warned.

The investment some people were willing to put into their relationships with their pets seemed limitless, and not just the chic French woman who got rid of her Jaguar (the car, that is) after her dog had enthusiastically mauled the upholstery. "I keep the dog, I lose the car," she laughed.

Then there was Angela, who had adopted a frantically hyperactive German Shepherd called Burger, but even though he was driving her nuts she swore she'd never get rid of him. She took him to a dog-therapist called Brandon, who, merely by sitting on him in a man-to-man sort of way, transformed Burger into a cheerful, well-adjusted pet. It seemed so miraculous you wondered if they'd edited out three years of round-the-clock therapy. "If I could thank my dogs a thousand times a day for everything they've taught me, it would not be enough," said Brandon.

The First World War has been taking its toll on Mr Selfridge [****]. Agnes Towler's brother George has survived being lost in action, but soon they'll be sending him back to the front. To compound Agnes's woes, just as her husband-to-be Victor has belatedly accepted that Henri Leclair is her one true love, the charmant Henri is off to join the French army. Sacrebleu! Meanwhile Mrs Selfridge is fatally ill...

Mr Selfridge has quietly blossomed into another jewel in ITV's crown, and (like Downton) demonstrates the value of getting behind an idea and giving it time and space to develop. It may be nostalgic and dramatically conventional, but the writers give the characters opportunities to show off some hidden depths (particularly Amanda Abbington's Miss Mardle in her affair with a young Belgian violinist), while synchronising the action with the Great War centenary has added much-needed pace and energy. Jeremy Piven (pictured above on the shop floor), who's both star and producer, is one smart guy.


what a remarkable film Theroux made of his second LA story, on the terminally ill. really I did not think he had it in him to create such a powerful documentary, absolutely up there with the best in the field. five stars by any standards. why it was positioned second in the series, after the dogs, surely does beggar belief?

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