Louis Theroux’s work has taken him around the globe but it is his interest in the weird and wonderful subcultures of American society that has truly defined his career. In the past Theroux has always been an Englishman abroad, peeking into a world that seems to perplex him as much as it does us. However, for the production of his latest series of documentaries Theroux uprooted himself and his family to Los Angeles in order to get as close as possible to the font of American culture.
It’s a move that Theroux claims has paid dividends and it’s hard to disagree. The first instalment of his latest series “City of Dogs” investigates the plight of the thousands of stray dogs that wander the streets of Los Angeles. We Brits are known as a nation of shopkeepers and a nation of pet-lovers and so anyone with a heart may find it a particularly harrowing watch.
Contrasting the weaponised dogs of the ghettos of South Los Angeles with the liberal owners from across the city who adopt them, Theroux also comments on social class. The dog pounds of LA, which seem more like prisons than kennels can tell us as much about our own penal systems as those we impose on our dogs. Theroux’s documentary is fascinating and he fashions what should be a documentary about dogs into something entirely more human.
Second only to David Attenborough, Louis Theroux is probably the biggest name in documentary film-making this country has to offer and in truth that alone will probably entice most viewers. However, while Theroux is likely aware that his name is the biggest draw, he is astute enough to never consider making the documentary in any way about him. If anything Theroux’s work is defined by his lack of input, he’s happy for others to lead him along, reserving his input to a few perplexed monosyllables. He never lectures, he never judges. Theroux finds interesting people and fascinating situations and teases out the story with a few incredibly astute observations. At one point seemingly from nowhere, Theroux pinpoints that one man’s sadness over the abandoning of dogs comes from his own abandonment issues brought about by an absent father. It’s simply breath-taking to see a man so aware. Theroux knows how to make the absurd painfully human and often he is as lost as we are, but that’s all part of the fun.
Catch Louis Theroux’s LA Stories on BBC1, Sundays at 9pm or on iPlayer now
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