When there are re-runs of Friends on every channel at every time of day from Channel 4 to Comedy Central to 3e it’s disconcerting to come across a slightly more seasoned Chandler in a generic green area in an un-named grey British city attempting to toss his spaniel into the air.
Playhouse Presents is a series commissioned by Sky Arts for quirky one-off dramas written by and starring well-known names in the British arts scene. Starting its latest run last Thursday, and continuing on the same day at 9pm for 6 more weeks, the first installment was written and directed by Jon Ronson. Ronson may not be a household name but you’ll certainly know his work; he has written several books, including that which became the George Clooney fronted movie The Men Who Stare at Goats, and he has co-written the screenplay for upcoming film Frank, based on his experience in the band behind absurdist comedian Frank Sidebottom.
The Dog Thrower was largely dialogue free, the only words for the first ten minutes uttered being commands by two men, one of them Chandler himself, Matthew Perry, to their canine companions as they launch them up and catch them, like one might a small child. Perry’s character begins first and draws a small, curious and ultimately amused crowd; another man played by Tim Key takes note of the attention this strange activity is garnering, particularly by pretty blonde Kimberley Nixon, and follows suit.
A tabloid catches wind of the ritual, which continues day after day in the park to much cheering and encouragement, but the paper decides to take a different approach, demonizing the dog throwing as cruelty resulting in backlash on Internet message boards, the ‘disgusted’ and ‘horrified’ comments coming in their droves. It’s something of a bullying technique or a mob mentality; someone turning against someone else for whatever reason in such a rabid and forceful way as to have everyone else turn on him or her as well.
It’s a funny little short, forgettable at first, as a surreal piece about nothing much at all, but on closer inspection is a commentary on social shaming, which happens to be the subject of Ronson’s next book. The actual throwing of the dog is in fact unimportant – it’s the throwing of insults and dirty looks and beer cans that’s the real cruelty.
Exorcised from society and rejected by his girlfriend, the second dog-throwing man seeks out the first, who is hiding out in a forest. The two then attempt to join forces against the baying horde and win back the girl. Win back the girl they do, with a touch of slapstick here and a touching moment there, but the results in standing up to the townspeople are a little more mixed.
Which is where it doesn’t quite work. It’s an ending played for laughs and somewhat dis-satisfying. If the message is beware of public shaming but the cause of the shaming turns out to have some merit, what lesson has been learned?
Both the closing credits and Sky Arts website are at pains to assure the viewers that the doggies were perfectly safe and having the time of their lives at all times (animal welfare is of great public concern as we all know – remember the Love/Hate cat fiasco?) and so are covering all bases to avoid any public shaming of their own. No animals were physically harmed in the making of this programme, but what of their mental state? To the message boards!
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 8.05.14