I’ve become a surrogate granddad. And it’s led to discoveries I’d never have made otherwise – like how to keep the kids quiet by distracting them with television. And that’s how I found out about original programming on the Disney channel.
By grownup standards, I mean. Lisa’s grandkids (ages 2, 3 and 6) will sit watching slack-jawed for whole minutes at a time, neither fighting nor crying, truly a precious gift. (In a related story, my sister used to hate Barney the Dinosaur, until her young daughter was up all night with a bad cold, and Barney was the only thing that would stop her crying.)
The point is, kid shows aren’t designed for me to like them. I accept that. Their demographic is people a fraction of my age – a small fraction. None of them hold much appeal to someone entering his 60s.
Except for something called Dog With a Blog.
If you haven’t seen it – which seems likely – it’s about a talking dog who, at the end of each episode, blogs about his experiences. Like Doogie Howser, but with a dog. I’m half-convinced the show’s original title was Doggy Howser. I sat down to watch it, thinking What the hell’s this? and made an astonishing discovery.
I mean, grownup funny. Subversive, irreverent, startling in its frankness. Full of jokes that make me laugh out loud, while the kids sit there uncomprehending. For example, the dog (whose name is Stan) offers this advice: “If you want someone to forgive you, do what I do: drop a dead bird at their feet.” Or this helpful tidbit: “Never drink out of a public toilet after spicy taco coupon night.”
I often watch the show in disbelief, thinking, Do the folks at Disney even know what Stan is saying? Because some of the jokes plainly aren’t for kids. They want to make the grownups laugh, too, which often happens in Disney movies but is virtually unknown in their TV shows. That’s why I’m a fan of DWAB, though I’m at least six times older than their target audience – and a cat person, to boot.
Sadly, I’m compelled to admit that a talking cat isn’t nearly as funny as a talking dog – as the film The Cat From Outer Space demonstrates. Even the film Cats and Dogs features dogs doing comedy and cats being villains. I can only ascribe this to the gleeful enthusiasm typical of canines – something felines don’t share. If cats could talk, they wouldn’t do standup.
Just as well, because Cat With a Blog doesn’t rhyme.
The other thing I admire about DWAB is its easy suspension of disbelief. Yes, I know the dog’s mouth isn’t really moving, it’s all done with CGI in post-production, and the dialogue is looped in later (by character actor Stephen Full). But I defy anyone to watch five minutes of Dog With a Blog without totally buying (at least, until the end credits) that you’re watching a speaking character who just happens to be a dog.
Of course, it wouldn’t work without a strong supporting cast, so I should mention Stan’s two-legged co-stars: G. Hannelius as the Avery, the pint-sized prodigy; Blake Michael as Tyler, her vacuous and hair-obsessed brother; and Francesca Capaldi as Chloe, the middle-schooler who is ironically self-aware. All of them exist to give Stan something to bellyache about, in ways much too sophisticated for your typical after-school viewing audience.
But just right for surrogate granddads.
Here’s what I’ll leave you with, the moment when I knew I loved the series. Stan discovers that, being a dog, he has only nine years left to live. Faced with his own morality, he wonders what kind of legacy he’ll leave behind. But after much soul-searching, Stan realizes that he doesn’t need one – because, as he tells the kids, “Your best legacy is in the hearts of the people who love you.”
To which Tyler asks, “What happens when they die?”
It’s a good question, both funny and disturbing, and one I can’t answer. It’s very Zen, in that the focus isn’t the answer but the nature of the problem. I often think of that scene when I’m feeling reflective, because of the spotlight it casts on the fleeting nature of human experience, and the ongoing riddle of our quest for meaning.
All this from a show about a talking dog.
I wonder what the 6-year-old gets out of it?