Dog grooming does not make for good television.
I am comfortable making that declaration after watching the more than half of Haute Dog’s episodes, and the premiere of Pooch Perfect. While I love a talent competition between skilled professionals, neither show manages to make interesting the process of washing and shearing and then glueing sparkly doo-dads to a dog’s fur.
I am also comfortable recommending Haute Dog (HBO Max) as an otherwise delightful show, and insisting that you do not waste your time on Pooch Perfect (ABC, Tuesdays at 8).
As a cat person, I’m probably less charmed by the mere presence of dogs, so perhaps the DOGGIES OMG LOOK AT THAT DOGGIE is enough to make both shows worthwhile for you.
Also, my anxiety spiked anytime anyone moved a pair of scissors near a dog. I am aware that professionals do this work every day, and know how to keep dogs safe.
I also really dislike talent competitions where the canvas is a living creature who has not opted to be spray painted and bedazzled.
Haute Dog doesn’t solve these problems, but it succeeds by following the Nailed It! template: it’s a zany party on a set that feels like the child of Holey Moley’s clubhouse, ABC’s reboot of Match Game, and At Home with Amy Sedaris. In many ways, it echoes classic game shows, even though its format is a version of Chopped.
The breakout star of Haute Dog—pronounced just “hot dog,” not oat dog—the flamboyant and unapologetically gay Matt Rogers, who, in the same way that Nicole Byer makes Nailed It! her own, brings the show to life. His witty asides and reactions to what’s happening work as well as the occasional bit.
He also has terrific chemistry with judge Robin Thede (A Black Lady Sketch Show), who’s so hilarious she could easily carry the show herself, and groomer Jess Rona, who is also quite funny and game to play along. They seem to be having just a great time with each other, and do bits with ease.
Pooch Perfect host Rebel Wilson has a far more understated comedic style, and she’s great in some moments with contestants. Its central problem is that its judges are completely useless.
While Haute Dog’s judges gather around grooming stations and examine the work that’s been done, offering specific comments that feel informed by knowledge, Pooch Perfect’s judging is terrible: nonspecific and essentially useless.
If you’re going to show me people judging a craft, I want more than light reactions. Either the editing or the casting of these three judges has reduced the judges’ comments to things like “so beautiful,” “good job,” “well done.” Here is the entirety of comments for one groom: “This is probably one of the most maintenance breeds when it comes to coats”; “I think she looks fantastic.”
The most-specific the judging gets are comments like this, which are a transcript of everything all three judges—Jorge Bendersky, Lisa Vanderpump, and Dr. Callie Harris—said about one dog: “The application was a little sloppy on the collar”; “It wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, yes, I agree with you”; “I really want you to lean in living outside your box and really showcase to America how exceptional you are.”
Pooch Perfect’s marquee judge is Vanderpump Rules star and former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Lisa Vanderpump and her dog, and I think her dog gets more screen time in the premiere than her commentary.
ABC only provided one episode to TV critics, and perhaps she grows into the role, but it’s not clear what kind of judge she is yet. “I love the dog. We disagree,” she says, acting reasonably. “I applaud your energy and your enthusiasm.”
Her best episode-one moment is a weird aside after seeing a dog transformed into a lynx. Without moving her lips, she says, “If I cannot get my hands on that animal…” and then adds, “There’s something wrong with me. I was so attracted to that lynx.” She’s almost whispering this to her fellow judges, as if she doesn’t think this should be part of the show—when this is exactly what we need from a non-expert judge.
Perhaps Pooch Perfect is just biding its time. As a season-long competition between 10 pairs, a groomer and an assistant, with hour-long episodes, it has a lot more time to fill. And in the premiere, it fills it with backstory: so many cutaways to interviews!
Meanwhile, Haute Dog brings in three groomers for two challenges, and then sends one home with $10,000, Chopped-style, in less than 30 minutes.
Both shows have something in common with Netflix’s glass blowing show, Blown Away, in that most of the process gets skipped, and we just see flashes of what’s happened.
Pooch Perfect is based on a format that first aired in 2020 in Australia, which was also hosted by Rebel Wilson and basically tanked; a BBC version, not hosted by Rebel Wilson, just concluded, having generated complaints.
The American Pooch Perfect is barely rising to the level of the most phoned-in Food Network competition. The elements are here, but they don’t congeal, and the show itself doesn’t exude passion or love for its subject matter.
There’s a weird animated house-as-a-dog that is supposed to be the outside of the set, and the narrator is supposed to be Rebel Wilson’s dog’s voice, but it makes no sense. They’ve spent lots of money on a runway, and an audience of stuffed animals, which adds nothing, as there’s no cohesion to all of this.
Worse, it’s full of the kind of lazy editing that tries to create moments of tension out of unrelated reaction shots, like when a contestant says something we’re supposed to find shocking, and then the editing cuts to other teams turning their heads, as if they heard that and are now staring in judgment.
The only thing Pooch Perfect has going for it are more-interesting challenges. It opens, in the one episode ABC offered to TV critics, with a main challenge that asks the groomers to transform their dogs into other animals; later in the season, according to the preview, there will challenges ranging from glow-in-the-dark to the required Disney/ABC synergy challenge.
The first main challenge asks the groomers to change their dogs into other animals, using grooming and supplies that I assume come from a dog-safe version of JOANN Fabric.
The transformations are impressive. One dog is transformed into a peacock, and another into a fire ant. But, like, what are you going to do with a dog that looks like a peacock? Does it wear those feathers for days or weeks?
I worry about all these dogs and what’s been done to them in the name of reality television. But I’d also just like to know more about what’s being done and why it’s safe.
That’s missing, alas. Pooch Perfect fills the gaps with emotional backstory in interviews, and otherwise has nothing to offer, while Haute Dog fills it with energy and joy, making it easily the better of the two shows.
Pooch Perfect: C-
Haute Dog: B+