In its opening scene, Canadian dramedy Good Dog directly references Curb Your Enthusiasm. Its lead character, neurotic TV producer George (Ken Finkleman), is planning an unnecessary trip to Los Angeles to get Larry David’s blessing to use the title “Embrace Your Enthusiasm” for a planned fly-on-the-wall series about his life. It feels like a move intended to undercut criticism that Good Dog‘s a “Canadian Curb“, but one that doesn’t work. If anything, it just draws additionally attention to the fact this is a poor man’s version of the Emmy-winning Curb, and possible the worst comedy pilot I’ve seen in years.
It doesn’t help that I had no idea who Ken Finkleman was, and therefore no opinion of him to subvert. He’s an award-winning writer-producer-actor, who created and starred in a hit Canadian TV series called The Newsroom in the ’90s, amongst other things, Wikipedia informs me. I guess Newsroom was his Seinfeld, to continue the Larry David analogy. But if the intention was to embrace the meta possibilities of Finkleman playing “himself” in a TV show inspired by a US equivalent, why has he chosen to give his character the same name as his character from The Newsroom? The joke would surely make more sense if Good Dog was about “the real Ken Finkleman”? Which it kind of is… yet isn’t.
The concept of Good Dog (or it’s pilot, at least) involves George realizing that his pitch for a reality TV show based on his life will be more attractive to viewers if his 30-year-old girlfriend Claire (Lauren Lee Smith) moves in with him. George is unsure because of his commitment issues, but decides to go ahead; taking their relationship to the next level as preparation for TV show success. Consequently, Claire moves in with her two kids from a psycho ex-boyfriend, an enormous Neil Young painting, and a growling Rottweiler — forcing George to bite his tongue as he loses his independence for selfish business needs.
Nothing about Good Dog worked for me, on every meaningful level. There was zero chemistry between Finkleman and Smith as lovers (which gave the whole show a weird, detached feel), and it made no sense that George would believe anyone would be interested in watching his life on TV. I mean, seriously, what precedent is there for people wanting to watch the daily routine of a miserable, middle-aged writer-actor? People typically want to watch vapid glamour models and hunky popstars.
Even the little touches to Good Dog needled me throughout; like how George almost constantly wears dark shades, which meant Finkleman was stuck performing without making meaningful eye contact for 90% of the episode. It just made his character feel alienating and distant, which was arguably the intention, but still a poor creative decision. You really need to get an immediate connection with characters in pilot episodes, but George just felt psychologically remote throughout. And who decided to end almost every scene with an arty title card, to split the half-hour into pointless “chapters”?
Fundamentally with comedy, you can forgive a multitude of problems if everything’s flat-out hilarious, but Good Dog barely raised a smile. George and Claire aren’t funny characters in the slightest, George’s friend Doug (Jason Weinberg) was nothing but a sounding board, and there were no memorable jokes or comic situations. Seeing George avoid a growling dog in a narrow hallway was probably the only moment that raised a flicker of a smile.
If Curb Your Enthusiasm was such a notable influence, it’s frustrating that Good Dog has none of the wit and intelligence of its American muse. There’s even a German nanny who reminded me of the Eastern European Magda from Lead Balloon, the UK’s own Curb-like comedy-drama. Is Finkleman simply drawing together the best ideas from various misanthropic comedies and hoping his Tom Wilkinson-as-Woody-Allen impression would create gold? It sure felt that way.
Admittedly, I went into Good Dog with zero knowledge of Ken Finkleman, so there’s perhaps a pop-culture subtext I’m incapable of appreciating because I’m not Canadian. I don’t know what Finkleman’s showbiz persona is, so maybe Good Dog is delivering a brilliantly self-deprecating performance from him. However, I also didn’t have much knowledge of Larry David when Curb Your Enthusiasm began (having never really warmed to Seinfeld), but that show still managed to make me laugh. Good Dog should be able to work on its own merits, from the start, but instead it was a fumbled drag. The prospect of spending more time with narcissist George, his boring girlfriend, and her two young kids, just doesn’t appeal in the slightest.
WRITER & DIRECTOR: Ken Finkleman
CAST: Ken Finkleman, Lauren Lee Smith, Jason Weinberg, Ieva Lucs, Noah Danby, Marley Roos, Richard Davis, Steven McCarthy & Sam Moses
TRANSMISSION: 6 March 2011, HBO Canada
This article was first posted on March 29, 2011