TV Review - Louis Theroux: America's Most Dangerous Pets - BBC2 Sunday
Louis has been getting a bit serious lately. First of all there were stray bullets avoided in his foray into Israel to meet the ultra-Zionists, then back for a return visit to God-Hates-Fags zealots and lastly a trip to Miami Mega Jail to socialise with sociopaths. Fascinating documentaries one and all but hardly a barrel of laughs. Perhaps keen to avoid turning into the thinking man's Ross Kemp, Louis goes back to the light hearted formula that made his Weird Weekends so successful, namely focusing on the incredibly rich seam of eccentric loonies that populate America.
This time Louis looks at America's fascination with killer pets. Tiger and primate ownership is legal in certain states and owners go as far as piercing monkey’s ears and pushing them around in buggies to humanize them. Capturing the zeitgeist, the documentary comes in the wake of the story about a woman in Connecticut who had her face ripped off by a pet chimpanzee and a man in Ohio who killed himself and released his menagerie of tigers and lions as a final "fuck you" to the authorities.
Louis visits the owner of GW Exotic Animal Park, Joe Exotic, a gay redneck (if that is not a contradiction in terms) with a peroxide mullet, handlebar moustache and more tattoos then Amy Winehouse. His heart seems to be in the right place as all his animals are rescued from the growing number of owners who find they can't look after the animals when they grow from cute cubs to 600lb man eaters.
However, money worries and a running battle with PETA about his supposed cruelty to animals, of which we see no evidence, mean he has to supplement his income by breeding some of the animals and taking them on a trashy mall road show. Sad to think that most Americans will only take an interest in nature if there is a Taco Bell within waddling distance.
Despite Louis best attempts to dig up some dirt the worst accusation that Louis can throw at Joe is whether his animals would have a better life in the wild. Well, duh? It's like asking a wheelchair bound war veteran dragged to safety whether his life would be any better if he could walk. Sometimes life is a choice of the lesser of two evils. As Joe pragmatically points out
"Its a choice of a small cage or a smaller box"
If Joe fails the oddness test fellow animal lover Tim was a bit closer to the loony enclosure. In Tim's own private zoo, funded by his extremely patient wife, we see him boxing a mountain lion and casually strolling into his bear enclosure
"I don't care if I don't come back out again"
His bears do seem oddly wary of him like they had been molested on a drunken night out but had subconsciously blanked it out.
"I don't trust or respect any humans...not even my wife"
he declares, in front of his wife. She has a sad air similar to those poor bears in the enclosure.
In a display of machismo that probably hints at some deficiency in the penis department Tim wheels out a massive Siberian tiger on a chain which is way too strong for him and manfully pretends everything is under control
"We should probably have talked this through"
implores Louis retreating to the safety of the house.
There is more discomfort for Louis in a scene reminiscent of The Simpsons when he is given Tatiana, a female baboon to hold with a faraway look in its eye and a bright red arse.
"I don't really want to touch her bum"
Louis seems convinced the baboon is about to bite his nose off as it clings on to him and picks through his chest hair for nits.
"Is it safe?"
whimpers Louis. The assurances he gets aren't very convincing so you can understand his reticence.
Louis caution is at odds with his normally gung-ho attitude to danger and it sounds like he his research has got the better of him. At the start of the programme, Joe gives him some sound advice about not underestimating the chimpanzees
"Chimps will lure you in and get ya!"
Louis visits another family with pet chimps who worryingly seem to be using them as surrogate children feeding them Doritos and Mexican food and having them wash in their shower.
"...to my eyes he seems like a tiny, hairy, energetic child"
Another older chimp is given a pep talk before meeting Louis and is threatened off camera to be shown "the bang bang" a reference to the shock that can be given from his collar. Regardless of the talking to, the adolescent chimp comes bounding out of his enclosure and in his excitement promptly puts his hand throw the patio window that Louis is cowering behind
“I think we have what we need,”
Sadly, Louis is the victim of his own success and whilst still entertaining this wasn't a memorable as his previous efforts. Louis has the knack of uncovering unreported or niche areas that have not had the oxygen of publicity but there are few revelations to be uncovered here. Neither extreme or quirky enough to qualify as whimsy and not enough dirt to qualify as a expose the show hangs limply between the two like a lachrymose orangutan swinging on an old tyre.
You can watch it again today on BBC2 @ 23:30 or on the Iplayer for the next 5 days