thu 18/04/2024

Star Paws: The Rise of Superstar Pets, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Star Paws: The Rise of Superstar Pets, Channel 4

Star Paws: The Rise of Superstar Pets, Channel 4

Flimsy documentary is one for the feline-minded

Sing it, kitty: star pet Bronte with owner Caroline

Mid-week at 9pm has always struck me as the perfect televisual sweet spot. It’s not so close to the weekend that you’re likely to want to go out, but enough of the week is done that it seems right to put your feet up and relax with a glass of wine and some exciting new drama or challenging documentary. Or, if you’re Channel 4, an hour on the 'professional pets' that the internet has helped launch to viral fame.

Of course, advertisers recognised the purchase power of 'cute' long before Grumpy Cat and her ilk were but a twinkle in YouTube’s eye; with the Andrex Puppy and Dulux mascot being only the most obvious examples. Still, as James Fox solemnly intoned at the start of this perplexing programme, 15% of all internet traffic is cat-related - and so our first stop was to the US, where the world’s most recognisable cat was getting ready to make girls cry. No, not because of her slightly-squashed face (Tardar Sauce, the real-life Grumpy Cat, is, as her millions of fans will tell you, a girl) but because, to them, she’s the kitty equivalent of Justin Bieber. There was a time when, in order to gain internet notoriety, cats had to be able to play the keyboard or have some other talent, but just like in pop music these days it’s more important that you have the right 'look’.

15% of all internet traffic is cat-relatedIt’s true even of the old favourites: vet Richard (below right), the man responsible for casting loo roll firm Andrex’s cuddly golden Labrador puppies for the past 17 years, explained what he was looking for with a precision that smacked slightly of eugenics. He introduced himself as “a cross between Simon Cowell, Cruella Deville and the man from Del Monté”, avoiding any more dubious comparisons, and managed to audition two sets of puppies before lunchtime. The first were too little, tiring too easily, while the second were too wild - or ‘puppylike’, as it used to be known. Luckily one from the younger litter was able to walk onto the set, look straight into the camera and nail the whole thing in one take.

New Andrex puppy Gnasher with vet Richard on Star PawsWith her passing resemblance to Grumpy Cat but slightly harder work ethic, Bronte - the cat from Three’s Sing It Kitty advert - is one of a new generation of star pets. She now earns £300 per public appearance, has her own line of luxury cat collars (although how the photographers managed to get her to sit still for long enough in her baby pink, stud-covered monstrosity is beyond me) and is about to get her face on a range of helium balloons and greetings cards. Owner Caroline, who now manages Bronte’s affairs full time, at first seems gleeful at the prospect - but the idea of her beloved feline friend as a “brand” is now starting to make her uncomfortable. The cat, who presumably must do multiple public appearances a week in order to break even, seems completely unbothered.

The impact of fame on the wellbeing of any of the featured animals is not something that is discussed at any point, although it’s obvious that everybody featured loves animals. Even Chris, a slightly cynical professional animal agent, who jokes that since the online cat craze exploded practically everybody he hears from wants kittens. With impeccable - too impeccable - timing his phone rings: it’s Cosmopolitan magazine, looking for some adorable kittens for a fashion shoot. Despite his protestations, Chris pulls off the assignment so admirably it’s all he can do not to take one home himself.

There will be some convinced that programming of this sort is a symbol of the end times: frankly, nothing I could say in this review would convince you otherwise. For the rest of us, animal lovers and sly forwarders of the occasional cat video alike, it wasn’t a total waste of an hour.

To them, she’s the kitty equivalent of Justin Bieber


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters