Americas Most Dangerous Pet Owners
Louse Theroux: America’s Most Dangerous Pets (BBC2, SUN), Tintin’s Adventure with Frank Gardner (BBC2, SUN), Misfits (E4, SUN)
Nervousness and naivety are Louis Theroux’s trademarks as a TV presenter, and they’ve served him well. The naivety is usually a put-on but in America’s Most Dangerous Pets, Louis’ nervousness was so real you could smell it.
“We’re thinking we may have what we need,” he told a woman called Jill, who’d just released one of the two chimpanzees she shares her home with from its cage in order to prove to him that the animal is as harmless as a cuddly toy.
The chimp, which clearly hadn’t seen any of Louis’ previous programmes, hurled itself violently against a window, shattering the glass. A visibly shaky Louis, observing from the other side, backed away.
America’s Most Dangerous Pets, which Louis described as “a safari through the suburbs”, should more properly have been called America’s Most Dangerous Pet Owners, because the really dangerous beasts on display here were the humans.
Louis met Joe Exotic (not his real name, as if you didn’t know), a former cop and pet store owner who runs the Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. “Park” is probably stretching it. Joe keeps his collection of 178 tigers and sundry other animals, including ligers, the cross-bred offspring of lions and tigers, caged up.
Most of the tigers were given to him by owners who discovered, rather too late, that a fully-grown man-eater is for life, not just for Christmas. The way Joe sees it, he’s rescuing the animals and running a sanctuary. Others, including animal rights group PETA, have dubbed the place a “scamtuary”.
There might be an over-supply of tigers in America (there are now more of the animals in captivity than in the wild) but demands for Joe’s travelling roadshow have dried up, leaving him in serious financial trouble. He told Louis he’d rather kill the animals himself than give them up.
To be fair to Joe, who’s expanded into breeding animals, he seems more misguided than mad. Another suburban zoo owner, Tim, is way beyond barking — as he proved when he produced a Siberian tiger on a leash.
“I refuse to trust or respect any single human being on this planet,” said Tim, who doesn’t believe animals enjoy being in the wild. “I don’t trust myself.”
Louis, backing away again, didn’t seem to trust Tim either.
One of these days, Louis’ shtick is going to become unstuck. I hope his head doesn’t do the same.
Can Misfits survive without Nathan (who, in the series, has gone to Las Vegas), played by Robert Sheehan (who, in real life, has gone on to make another series of RTE’s wretched Love/Hate)?
Yep. And prosper, probably. Series three kicked off with the introduction of a new character to fill the Nathan/Sheehan-sized hole. His name is Rudy and his special power is that he can divide himself into two people, one very different to the other.
Nathan can always come back from Vegas, I suppose, possibly even with a new face (anything is possible in a series about Asbo teenagers with superpowers), but am I alone in thinking Sheehan has made a mistake quitting probably the cleverest British drama series on the box when it just seems to be getting better and better?
A brief word about Tintin’s Adventure with Frank Gardner. The brief word is “Why?” I’ve never got the fuss about Herge’s weird-looking Belgian boy reporter but a lot of people seem to love the comics.
Gardner, the BBC journalist who was paralysed from the waist down after being shot by al-Qaeda sympathisers in Riyadh in 2004, is one of them. Here he investigated, in minute detail, the story behind Tintin’s first outing, In The Land of the Soviets, an anti-Commie propaganda piece.
Fun for him, I’m sure, but a bit of a slog for the non-believers.
Louis Theroux: America’s Most Dangerous Pets
It’s that time of year again and Louis Theroux is back. Fearing for his nose (“Well it does happen!”) and armed with his unique brand of nervous charm, impertinent questions and remarkably still-wet ears, he embarks upon America’s Most Dangerous Pets – a whirlwind tour of a few of America’s more eccentric collectors.
Minutes in, ‘wildlife’ park meets prison drama as the animals are thrust into “lockdown” in anticipation of impending tornado. “We’re gonna get prepared for the worst” the lackadaisical proclamation from the park’s owner – it’s all in a day’s work.
As the show goes on, one wonders if Theroux was really up for this. Maintaining a safe distance at all times (or trying to) and wincing at each unpredicted movement, he seems a little less than comfortable around the animals. “This is scary!” he squeals, mid-question, as a too affectionate tiger cub is peeled from his face. But, manfully, he battles on in his quest.
And they really are scary. Even with the sweetest temperament and most honourable intentions a full grown Siberian tiger is still a twenty-eight stone bag of muscle with spikes at most ends and a mind of its own. It’s quite a menacing thing to see one strolling along with an air of total nonchalance at the end of a lead.
In retrospect, perhaps his discomfort is more to do with the interviewees’ relationships with their ‘pets’: the need to train one’s animals to kiss people is something I do not understand. Manky dog breath aside, some of these creatures are downright bite-y.
And if the animals themselves amazed and astounded, you should meet the owners. From the man who trusts no-one (but fights wildcats & bathes with his baboon ‘daughter’) to a coven of monkey-lovers at a ‘pet’ care tutorial, they are a distinctly odd lot. But the real star of the show is the mulleted and moustachioed Joe Exotic. The ex-cop/pet store owner-cum-animal park warden and occasional magician is working on a repopulation project to safeguard against Earth’s apparently imminent running out of tigers. Not content with a collection comprising no fewer than 176 of the beasts, one of only a handful of ligers and possibly the world’s only teliger (female liger + male white tiger), Joe is currently trying to bring back the sabre-tooth… More news as this story develops. It’s not all just for show though – Joe’s an educator and, with the help of some hirsute associates, hopes to teach the American public to respect Russia, themselves and tigers, and that no matter who we are (bear, large cat, gonzo journalist ), we can get along.
Levity aside, the show underscored how little ordinary joes (and exotic ones) who keep these creatures actually know about them – as species and their needs in terms of care and nutrition (see chimps with a taste for junk food). Theroux gallantly pursued the classic questions- Are the animals happy? Are they pets for life? And is this ok? – to limited avail. Happy to introduce their novelty ‘neighbours‘, the owners falter at the last and none seemed quite sure of their position. Worryingly, the questions of contentment and quality of life seemed not to have occurred to some.
There’s an old theory that over time pets become more like their owners and vice versa. So what does that say for our hosts tonight? More impulsive? Less civilised? More pragmatic? Hairier? Or simply less compassionate…
Cue contemplative guilt.