Dogs are awesome. The United States is awesome (USA! USA! USA!). Television is sometimes awesome. So a television show combining dogs and America is a sure thing, right? So why is America's Greatest Dog, which debuted last night, so unspeakably, almost inconceivably awful? Perhaps because the show sticks so slavishly to the lazy reality show template: hire an incredibly bland host, gather a bunch of exhibitionist freaks together, put them up in a gaudy, tackily appointed mansion, subject them to a punishing gauntlet of stupid stunts, then whittle down the dignity-impaired contestants until only one is left.

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If the success of Marley & Me proves anything, it's that American love dogs. There's a reason "Puppy Bowl" exists and not just because it's damned near impossible to even think the words "Puppy Bowl" without smiling, at least if you're an animal lover. If you're not an animal lover, then America's Greatest Dog has nothing to offer. Alas, if you are an animal lover, then America's Greatest Dog paradoxically has even less to offer. Watching the show, the two most common thoughts going through my mind were, "How did this get on the air?" and "Man, I feel sorry for these dogs. They look miserable."

If I may generalize wildly, there are basically two kinds of dog lovers. There are normal people who love doing normal dog things with their normal dogs: lying around watching TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon, going to the dog park, going for walks, that kind of thing. Then there are crazy dog people. America's Greatest Dog's human freak show understandably tilts heavily towards this second group.

So we're treated to a woman who dresses her dogs in tacky matching outfits, a woman with a tattoo of her dog on her ankle, a woman perverse and sadistic enough to give her little frou frou dog a tiny pink faux-hawk and a man who threw his dog a "Bark Mitzvah" to celebrate turning thirteen in dog years. Oh, and a guy who insists that his bulldog just loves to ride a skateboard. If this all sounds suspiciously Best In Show-like it is. But these aren't the kind of attention-starved freaks and weirdoes found on, I dunno I Love Money (a show I guiltily admit to kind of loving for its utter, transcendent shamelessness). No, these are inexplicably boring, dull freakazoids.

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The worst of the bunch of is a self-professed "stand-up comedian" and "comic actor" who keeps talking about how funny and entertaining he is rather than, you know, do anything funny or entertaining. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a genial, grandfatherly Texan who gives the games the old college try but couldn't be more out of place. Late in the show a judge remarks that the Texan seemed a little nervous performing a Hawaii-themed skit alongside his dog. I couldn't help but think, "He's a fucking seventy-five year old Southerner in a grass skirt and a fake face tattoo dancing around with his dog on national television. Do you really expect him to be overjoyed and preening for the cameras?"

In the finest, worstest reality show tradition, the show offers a soupcon of humiliation to go along with all the stupid pet and human tricks. So after the owner of the skateboarding bulldog wins an incredibly stupid "canine musical chairs" challenge he banishes a suit-clad New Yorker to sleep in a modified "Doghouse" alongside his dog. Later the other contestants take pity on the doghouse-dweller and bring him and his dog treats. But the whole thing seemed mean and pointless, just like the series as a whole.

The final competition was an excruciating train-wreck of television awfulness where three teams all performed "skits" with their dogs in front of glowering, stone-faced judges. They were, in no particular order, Hawaii-themed, disco-themed and high school-themed. You know those skits you performed in Summer camp as a ten-year-old? These were way worse than that.

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In a final grace note of utter humiliation, the stand-up comic, comic actor, all around Entertainer (not to be confused with the kinda-awesome I Love Money contestant, The Entertainer) is the first sent home explicitly for being such a terrible performer. A female judge who wrote a book on dog-training nearly reduces some of the contestants to tears by haranguing them for touching their dogs while trying to get them to do stupid stunts (cause, you know, they're on a fucking reality show all about forcing innocent dogs to do stupid stunts). Apparently this is a giant no-no in the dog-training world.

Then again, maybe the first loser is lucky. At least he doesn't have to suffer through any more of this foolishness, which unwisely puts the emphasis on a bunch of sketchy humans, and not their fantastical canine companions. Besides this whole competition is a little foolish anyway, since everyone knows America's greatest dog is Keith and his wife Stevie's dog Sophie (and I'm not just writing that to be sycophantic). Sophie, if you're somehow reading this, I would just like to say, "Whosa a good girl, whosa good girl? Sophie's a good girl. Sophie's a good girl." Oh, and you might want to stop drooling on the keyboard.

Grade: F Stray Observations– –It pains me to say this, but the dogs themselves didn't seem all that exceptional. Mostly they just seemed embarrassed and confused –Good Lord, where did they find that host? –That skateboarding dog has nothing on the monkey that drinks its own pee. Now there is a real entertainer! –Did any of you actually watch this? –Does it have a future? –Was it just me or did this play like an unintentional parody of bad reality television? –You couldn't pay me to watch this show again –This show made me ashamed to be both a dog-lover and an American

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