If you’ve had enough of dark, cerebral television shows with intricate plots, damaged characters, and cynical outlooks, that’s understandable. Coupled with the fact that the U.S. remains more politically divided than ever, and winter is, inevitably, coming (or is already here, if you’re in the Northeast and survived yesterday’s snow storm), the idea of watching another episode of Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale can seem like a drag.
Sometimes, you just want a show that will make you feel a little less dead inside, and that’s where Netflix’s latest docuseries, Dogs, comes in. Each episode of the six-part series focuses on an individual dog and their owner(s), and the issues—political, social, health-related, or otherwise—that they’re facing. It’s a premise similar to that of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, but instead of exploring places and problems through food, Dogs examines sociological issues through the eyes of, well, dogs.
The first episode is set in Westchester, Ohio, and takes a poignant look at one family’s struggles to deal with their young daughter Corinne’s recent epilepsy diagnosis; they’ve decided to adopt a service dog from an organization called 4 Paws for Ability who will hopefully help detect Corinne’s seizures and alert family members that they’re happening. “Service dogs have been around for decades and decades,” 4 Paws organizer Jeremy explains in the episode, “but I think we’re just scraping the surface of what dogs can really do.”
The episode, like others in the series, is full of genuinely heartwarming moments, like when Corinne and her family Facetime with her assigned service dog, Rory, before heading to the adoption and training center. Rory is, unsurprisingly, a very good boy, and the bond between him and Corinne is palpable soon after they meet in person. He’s an excellent service dog, but also an excellent antidote to the loneliness and isolation Corinne faces as a child with epilepsy. The end of the episode shows a subdued Corinne laying on the floor with Rory; she closes her eyes in a moment of rest, and Rory tenderly places his paw on her outstretched hands. You’d be forgiven for shedding a tear or two.
Dogs doesn’t limit itself to American canines, and the duo featured in the next episode is just as heartrending as Corinne and Rory, if not more so. Syrian refugee Ayham, residing in Berlin after fleeing the war zone in Damascus, is desperate to be reunited with his adorable husky Zeus, whom he had to leave behind. The videos Ayham has of Zeus show him doing typical husky things like saying “I love you” on command and running in circles; stuck in Syria with Ayham’s close friend, he’s a happy presence in the otherwise bleak, bombed-out streets of Damascus. Ayham’s efforts to bring Zeus to Berlin are relatable to anyone who’s ever had to leave a pet behind; by showing Zeus’s difficult journey to Europe as a refugee, the episode quietly draws attention to the plights of the humans still living in Syria as well.
Other episodes in the series focus on similarly heartwarming stories, like an Italian fisherman’s problems with over-fishing in Lake Como and maintaining a restaurant that’s been in his family for generations, all with his faithful, aging Labrador named Ice at his side. At times, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a show so explicitly about dogs—similar to Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, it’s the human stories that take center stage.
This isn’t to say that the doggos don’t form an important part of the story, because they do. They’re in almost every shot, quietly wagging their tails in the background or gazing adoringly at their humans. For a show about man’s best friend, Dogs is exactly as earnest and heartwarming as you’d expect. There’s no sly message here, no convoluted takeaways about the human condition—only the irrefutable fact that dogs are amazing, and humans are pretty damn lucky to have them.
Dogs is, obviously, not for cat people. It’s a cozy, happy, heartwarming show about the unconditional love doggos have for their humans, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. While it’ll do an excellent job at satisfying the post-Thanksgiving dinner urge to binge something easy and inoffensive on TV with your vehemently conservative older relatives, it’s also just a damn nice break from everything else that’s going on at the moment. At its core, Dogs is a show that will make you feel a little better about everything, at least for an hour or so. And if you don’t have one already, it’ll make you want to go out and pet the nearest good boy you see.
The New York premiere of Dogs was presented by Paw Prints, an animal rescue and adoption organization. You can learn more about it here.