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Not coming to a TV near you

So Matt asked me to write a review of “Katts and Dog”, a series popular on one of the Russian TV stations. I had never seen the show before, or even heard of it, but Matt’s description was intriguing: “Police officer (Katts) and his K-9 partner (Dog) go about solving absurdly foolish crimes. Bad acting, pretty interesting scenes with the dog. Uzbeks love it.” Given that I’ve never seen the show, this review is based entirely on what I found while researching the show on the web.

I started at the number-one source for movies on the web, IMDB.com. They have listed practically every movie ever made, as well as a full list of every minor character who appeared in every movie ever made. I spend a lot of time at IMDB.com because, briefly put, obscurity fascinates me. There are legions of actors out there who, for some reason or other, have spent their entire careers playing bit parts. Many are only listed in five or six movies before dropping out of sight, and it’s the “out of sight” part of obscurity that grips me so much. I always wonder: what got these people into acting? Why did they leave? Did they ever dream of a career beyond parts like “Asian store clerk #2″? And what are they doing now? I picture them in bars or around the water cooler, boasting to their friends about their achievements: “Yo, look for me in Night of the Radioactive Hedgehog. 1976. I’m the gas station dude who gets eaten in the second scene. Betcha never knew I was an actor, huh?”

As far as obscurity, Katts and Dog were no exception. My first clue that the show was not exactly a household name was that no one could agree on when it had actually existed. IMDB.com said it ended in 1991; tvtome.com said it ended in 1993; and pulpanddagger.com (was there ever a spiffier name for an online TV guide?) said it ended in 1992. The one fact that they did agree on was that “Katts and Dog” was originally from Canada and first aired on the Family Channel in 1988. It’s known to American audiences, somewhat less catchily, as “Rin Tin Tin K-9 Cop”, with the dog named Rinty instead of Rudy. The producers apparently went as far as to go through every episode and dub in “Rinty” over “Rudy” for the American version, because you just know there’s that one fan who’ll be peeved that a series named “Rin Tin Tin” features a dog named Rudy.

The show begins with the lead human character, Hank Katts (played by Jesse Collins), graduating from Police Academy and getting paired up with his canine sidekick, Rudy/Rinty (in real life Rudolph Van Holstein III, a name that owns Rin Tin Tin any day). Together they visit justice upon the forces of evil, or at least as many forces of evil as would be appropriate in a family show. Supporting characters include Katts’ nephew Steve (Andrew Bednarski), who is adopted by Katts after his mother dies, and two others named Alice Davenport (Sharon Acker) and Ron Nakemura (Dennis Akayama), who I assume to be co-workers, love interests, or both.

The initial plotline sounded pretty cheesy to me – family shows where the lead character is an animal/little kid usually are – and pulpanddagger.com agreed, dispassionately stating that “this largely uninspired TV series didn’t quite seem to know what it wanted to be: in style and premise, it seemed kind of juvenile, but it liked to throw in murder and mayhem.¬†Whatever, it didn’t really work.”

This, however, was the last opinion I was to find of Katts and Dog. Additional web searches returned nothing in the way of series reviews. I looked on both Amazon.com and eBay, hoping to find some memorabilia, but I didn’t get back so much as a used VHS. That was when I started to get the impression that this series was on the farther side of obscure popular culture.

It seems the TV series did actually result in a 1991 movie, called “Rin Tin Tin and the Paris Conspiracy”. This was so obscure that even IMDB.com didn’t have it – I found the movie listed on a movie page belonging to the New York Times, of all places. The plot didn’t sound like a major shift upwards: Katts and Dog hit Paris to take on a ruthless paramilitary organization whose objective, as ominously described by the New York Times, is to “overthrow the world”. This movie had 24 results from Google and 51 from Jeeves. Not a blockbuster.

I even attempted to find fan fiction for K&D, reasoning that a show’s social impact can be measured relative effectively by observing how many people are inspired to record their usually prurient fantasies about its characters. Fanfiction.net had fan fiction from the big to the little, right down to no less than six stories about Bill Nye The Science Guy (“bill nye is the king of the atoms and when 100 atoms excape [sic] he must find them all to save the world!!!!”). However, they’d never heard of Katts and Dog.

Ultimately, I did run across a German fan site dedicated to Katts and Dog, which seemed to be more thorough than any of the American sites I’d come across. They had what looked like a full list of episodes, each with short summaries no less, but I don’t speak German. Finding a simple list of episodes in English took more time. A Google search for “Katts and Dog” “episode guide” yielded only 336 results, most of which weren’t useful (by contrast, a search for “X files” “episode guide” returned about 66,000).

I finally did manage to get a list of episodes, though, which piqued anew my interest in the series. The titles ranged from the expected cop-show fare (“Officer Down”, “The Gun”) to the also expected silly (“The Striptease Bank Robber”, “The Grand Hotel Caper”) to the surprisingly grim (“Abused Child”). While not always imaginative, the titles were nonetheless illuminating. I really would have liked to find synopses for these, especially The Striptease Bank Robber. I guess every family show has to get a little racy once in a while to keep its script writers from going stir-crazy.

At long last, I ran across the theme music for the show. In keeping with the general character of the series, it opens with a series of macho blasting guitar riffs, followed by a male singer crooning “You can depend on me” to the accompaniment of saxophones. The final result was an unhappy resemblance to music that I’d expect to grace a commercial for either an SUV manufacturer or the National Guard. Enough said.

About half an hour of searching revealed little more. None of the lead characters even had photos on IMDB.com, and there appeared to be no further reviews, let alone fan sites. The lukewarm review I’d run across on pulpanddagger summed up the show’s quiet demise: Whatever, it didn’t really work..Katts and Dog had its day and then promptly faded into the dusty shadows of TV history, to be revived decades later on the screens of another country. While I doubt I’ll be renting episodes any time soon – I can practically hear the Blockbuster service kid going “Dude, you’re looking for what?” – it’s fun to think that old TV shows, no matter how cheesy, never die: they just move to Uzbekistan.

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