There are some things you have to accept if you’re going to watch The Pack, a wildly expensive, wildly absurd and yet wildly – inexplicably even – entertaining reality competition show.
The Pack is basically someone said during a brainstorming session, “What if The Amazing Race, but with dogs?”.
Not that there’s anything basic about it – it’s an over-the-top, extremely American and very showy experience.
Take, for example, the first sequence. It starts with a recreation of the La La Land opener, a shutdown of a Los Angeles highway with hundreds of cars and extras, and ends with three enormous helicopters flying the contestants from one part of LA to another.
That is brazen. That is money.
The budget for those first few minutes alone probably surpassed what one Australian reality series has to spend over two years.
So, you can only imagine the cost of hiring a private plane to ferry all the contestants and their furbabies around the world.
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Destinations include London, Vienna, Florence, Switzerland, Mexico and Costa Rica where the humans and their dogs compete in challenges including abseiling down a waterfall or recreating a piano tune with a renowned boy’s choir.
If you want spectacle, then yes, The Pack has it.
But this is also a reality competition very much for dog lovers. Because what makes The Pack such an enticing proposition is that all that trite reality competition earnestness (“I need to prove to myself I can do this”) is made bearable because the contestants are generally waxing about how much they love their dogs.
Which is something that will melt any dog lover’s heart, and so much less nauseating than when people talk about doing it for their kids.
The Pack doesn’t rewrite the rules or up-end the genre. The format is a very tick-the-boxes deal where teams have to choose between challenges, sprint towards a finish line, anxiously tell taxi drivers who don’t speak English to hurry up and give piece-to-camera testimonials to a fast-beat soundtrack virtually indistinguishable from every other reality show.
It lacks momentum at times because as much as the editing is trying to hint at super close finishes, there are definitely episodes when it’s clear the second-to-last and losing contestants are miles apart.
The show is hosted by US Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn whose own King Charles Cavalier shares the screen. Vonn is a little wooden in the early episodes but eases into the role later in the season.
Despite its flaws, there is something so enticing about The Pack, an unadulterated joy throughout its 10 episodes. Sure, it devotes a high proportion of each episode to just slow-motion footage of dogs running – there’s a shiny retriever, a loyal labrador, an opinionated hound, a sassy rainbow-coloured poodle, a clever border collie and more – but that’s what we’re here for.
When you strip back all the bells and whistles, there’s still this purity to each human contestant’s bond to their fur-friend, and that’s goddamn beautiful. Although, cat people might struggle with all of it.
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Plus, the producers are aware that the audience for The Pack are there for the dogs, so the series is light on scandal and abrasive personalities.
Maybe that won’t satiate reality TV viewers diehards who are, for reasons that many of us will never understand, attracted to the melodrama of wannabe D-listers parading their garbage personalities.
Not pandering to the worst instincts of reality TV is what makes The Pack a much more wholesome, uplifting proposition – and something actually worth watching. At least you’re not going to come away from it with utter contempt for humanity.
So, as it turns out, “What if The Amazing Race but with dogs?” is exactly what we needed.
The Pack is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video
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Originally published as Wildly expensive TV show surprises