the pack the quarantine stream

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: The Pack

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: It’s The Amazing Race, but with dogs!

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: How can you say no to a series full of majestic dogs running all over the globe, helping their owners (or partners, as the show calls them) complete some silly tasks, all in the name of winning cash and raising money for animal charities?

I’ve never seen The Amazing Race, and honestly don’t know much about it, but the minute I started watching The Pack, I thought, “Oh, this is like The Amazing Race for dogs, isn’t it?” Just through sheer osmosis, I realized that was what the series was going for. In the series, 12 dogs and their human companions jet around the world completing various challenges. There are two teams, and the teams are competing against each other. Episode after episode, contestants are eliminated. The ultimate winner scores a $500,000 prize, with an additional $250,000 going to a charity of their choice.

I don’t care much about reality TV competitions. But I do care about dogs. I get funny looks when I admit this, but screw it, here goes – I like dogs more than humans. Human beings are frequently cruel and often terrible. Dogs are not. (Side note: Yes, I know there are violent, even dangerous dogs, but the violent behavior is usually a result of coming from a cruel human environment, so again, my point stands – humans suck.)

So I sat down to watch The Pack with little interest beyond seeing some good dogs. And the show is loaded with them! Ace the Border Collie, who is good at seemingly everything, kind of like every annoying overachiever you’ve ever encountered; Dixie the Bluetick Coonhound, who will not stop howling; Kepo the
Texas Blue Lacy, which is a dog breed I confess I’ve never even heard of before; Chance, the Chihuahua and Miniature Pinscher mix, who is very tiny but trying, damn it! And so on. You know the drill: they’re good dogs.

But The Pack isn’t exactly captivating from the get-go. The first episode takes a long time to set itself up, going kind of overboard with explaining the rules and how this all works. On top of that, there’s a very weird, way-too-long recreation of the opening freeway dance number from La La Land, but with humans and dogs. It’s a fun idea, in theory, but the execution is lacking. And then there’s the host – Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn, who seems like a nice person but is a little too stiff in her line-reading to be hosting a TV show.

And yet, after the first episode passed, it became almost impossible to not love The Pack. The challenges can range from easy (the dogs have to pull an empty sled through the snow!) to ridiculously complicated (the dogs have to dress as waiters to serve a plate of spaghetti Velcroed to a vest they’re wearing and not drop it!). Along the way, the dogs bond with each other – and the humans do, too. Brian Calvert, Dixie’s owner, starts the show by admitting he feels kind of like an outsider and doesn’t know how to connect with his fellow contestants. A few episodes later, he’s giving everyone hugs and getting choked up about teamwork.

It’s sweet, harmless stuff, and incredibly endearing. When the show arrived there was some protesting from PETA, who claimed that The Pack was using the dogs as props and putting them in needless danger. But if you watch the show you’d see how unfounded those protests are. There are dog safety experts on hand and nearly every episode stops to have these experts pop-up on screen to explain how much effort was put into making sure the dogs were safe and enjoying themselves. In fact, the show’s safety is so well-policed that one contestant even gets sent home early because he briefly breaks protocol.

Executive producer Jay Bienstock told Variety that the dog safety experts had “absolute power,” adding: “If dog safety said, ‘Stop this,’ we would stop. We gave them a pass at everything because, what are we missing here? Like in the first show in Los Angeles on the beach, I’ve gone to the beach with my dog a zillion times without a leash, but they said if there’s no leash, you need a fence, so we built a fence. Their input was so valuable.”

And yet, The Pack has already been canceled, and therefore won’t be returning for a second season, with some citing the cancelation as a direct result of the PETA complaints  – and I find that kind of heartbreaking. Having watched The Pack I am confident in my belief the dogs were completely safe – I wouldn’t have watched the show otherwise. I have zero tolerance for any sort of animal mistreatment. Watching The Pack, I felt as if I had found my favorite new show, and now it’s already been taken away from me. #BringBackThePack, damn it.

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