I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG

In the time of William Shakespeare, when the plague struck and the nation was put under quarantine, the Bard of Avon famously wrote King Lear, one of the great pillars of achievement in English literature. As for me, I spent my quarantine binging the Disney Channel series Dog with a Blog, a similarly labyrinthine voyage into the dark heart of madness and the death of reason.

Most people don’t know woof about Dog with a Blog — the show’s a fun talking-dog teen sitcom that begs you not to take it too seriously. It ran for three seasons on Disney Channel, from October 2012 to September 2015, nestled within the cockleshell of President Barack Obama’s second term. These were simpler times.

To my sheer delight, the show is actually really good. Most people I told about my binge-watching endeavor didn’t think I’d make it past the first season — the show was not exactly made with me, a recent college graduate and film studies major, in mind. I chose Dog with a Blog mostly for the bit. So imagine my surprise when the show proved not only eminently watchable but also genuinely wholesome and entertaining.

The show never loses the vibe that it was dreamt up in a fugue state, or by someone who took peyote and woke up three days later in a motel room with the words “DOG WITH A BLOG” written in blood on the bathroom mirror. It feels like a concept a couple of failure-prone writers pitched as a joke, never intending to get it produced, much less marketed to children. Yet here we are.

Dog With A Blog Tricked Me

The show Dog with a Blog revolves around neither dog nor blog. It’s a gimmick, to incite idiots like me into watching the show without doing any research. The series is filled with the kind of teen hijinks that are de rigueur for any Disney Channel program. Our protagonist is the 13-year-old Avery (G Hannelius), a sophisticated wannabe-politician to whom the dog, Stan (voiced by Stephen Full), plays second fiddle. In terms of his blog, Stan merely bookends the episodes with his entries, like the video diaries of Disney’s Good Luck Charlie or how Rev Run always capped off his MTV show by texting in his bathtub.

Dog with a Blog concerns the Jennings-James family, who are unified Drake & Josh–style when Avery’s mother, Ellen (Beth Littleford), marries Bennett (Regan Burns), an eminent and somewhat childish child psychologist. Avery butts heads with her stepsiblings, teen chick magnet Tyler (Blake Michael) and pipsqueak puckish redhead Chloe (Francesca Capaldi), and faced with this adversity, their parents adopt a dog to unite the kids.

Unbeknownst to the parents, the dog talks. And blogs. And Avery, Tyler, and Chloe have to keep Stan’s secret from, well, everybody.

Most episodes find the gang facing down standard teen problems. In “Crimes of the Art,” for example, Avery and Tyler battle over whose artwork will win a school competition and rely on Stan for advice, encouragement, and fierce anti-cat rhetoric. And no matter how obtuse the characters get — especially Stan, whose stupidity is a common plot crutch — the dog’s secret stays safe thanks to the Billy Wilder rule of cinematic conversation, whereby anyone outside the frame can’t hear what our characters are saying, even if they’re mere feet away.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

Starting Dog with a Blog’s first episode, I thought the show would be a healthy bit of escapism in these quaran-times. But it’s not, really — Moomins on the Riviera is escapism. You can tell because, in it, the Moomins go to the fucking Riviera. Not dealing with pandemics is a low bar to clear for calling something escapism, so let’s not.

Dog with a Blog is instead more in line with Animal Crossing: New Horizons: Rather than a whimsical retreat, it’s a normalcy simulator, indulging our fantasies of organization, camaraderie, the outdoors, standing too close to each other, and going to the store without worrying you’ll catch a life-threatening respiratory disease.

There are exceptions to the distraction: several gags involve face masks and surgical gloves; there’s an episode where Bennett is sick on the bed for a whole weekend with a 102º fever and chills; and another episode where Avery stresses the importance of “sneezing into your arm to avoid a pandemic.”

A Dog-Blog Of The Plague Year

The day I started the first season, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed 3 million worldwide. The U.S. had over 56,000 deaths, a number that would triple within months. Vietnam and China were overcoming COVID-19; in Europe and especially the U.S., things would only get markedly worse.

And in Dog With a Blog, Stan crashed the family car into a tree because he wanted to be treated like a person.

While the U.S. hit 1 million confirmed cases, in Dog with a Blog, we got the show’s first (and last) semen joke and prison rape joke. The show’s not that risqué again for about 30 episodes until Stan jokes about sexually abusive behavior at “professional” photoshoots.

While not being a particularly good way to pass time, watching Dog with a Blog at least served as a light foil for my morning check of John Hopkins University’s COVID-19 dashboard. Trying to keep up with the show’s bizarre characters and oddball plotting, if for nothing else, at least kept my anxiety at a simmer instead of a boil.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

As the episodes kept coming and I turned to tequila to make it through them, I thought about the ubiquity of children’s problems — the premises of Dog with a Blog are identical to those from the same class of show from 10 years ago: Drake & Josh, Ned’s Declassified, iCarly, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saved by the Bell, etc., which are also just aged-down retreads of I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and every other 1950s sitcom.

Dramatic conceits abound about learning to drive and meeting the sexy new neighbor, house parties and father-son bonding, first crushes, and online gaming. The semantics of Dog with a Blog’s “Guess Who’s a Cheerleader,” in which father, Bennett, and son, Tyler, accidentally seal themselves in the garden shed, are indistinguishable from those of Drake & Josh’s “Treehouse,” which locks the duo in an arboreal prison for a whole episode while they miss a date with twins.

Whether it’s Drake & Josh or Dog with a Blog, each 30-minute block of television desperately tries to fix the growing pains of children and psychologically prepare them for the future. For a world of high school and long-lasting relationships, of college and the world beyond. For finding a career, moving away from our families and our hometowns, and the gradual erosion of our dreams.

The Jennings-James family never acknowledges the world outside its Pasadena bubble — maybe that’s why the show feels like such a departure from 2020. The series barely features any nonwhite characters to speak of — throw in a pandemic and the show would spaghettify and collapse in on itself like a man tossed into a black hole. Dog with a Blog exists in a sideways dimension where problems usually don’t last beyond an episode’s outro and where coronavirus could probably be solved, as most of the characters’ problems are, with a spontaneous, well-choreographed musical number.

Dog With A Blog Made Me Cry My Eyes Out

Dog with a Blog was roundly dismissed by television critics upon its premiere — Variety’s Brian Lowry is one of few who reviewed the show, which he called “low-hanging-biscuit fare.” But Dog with a Blog is far more likely to bow-wow you than consensus seems to indicate; at the very least, it’s smarter than you’d expect.

Entire B-stories in the show are built on references to Bob Fosse and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A pivotal joke in season two, episode nine, “Avery B. Jealous,” requires knowledge of Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement. Season three’s “Murder of the Ornamental Dress,” which puns on Agatha Christie, has an entire B-plot with the parents parodying Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Vertigo as they accuse their neighbors of stealing meat from their meat basket. The shot of a panicked Bennett running in place while the neighbor’s crop duster–like RC plane closes in behind remains one of the series’ greatest visual gags.

At best, these scenarios indicate creators Michael B. Kaplan and Philip Stark put a surprising amount of trust in their audience; at worst, they exemplify a show that just does whatever the hell it wants, as though it’s actively trying to get canceled. But the show certainly can’t be written off as nonsense — no show can be bad if it has an episode whose lesson is that all men are trash and another episode whose action logically builds up to the line “Please, Stan, you gotta tango. It’s our only chance.”

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

The character interplay, too, is usually a joy. Avery, played by the indomitable G Hannelius, resists the easy classification of “Disney Channel star.” She instigates very few of the show’s wacky hijinks, she’s an ardent feminist, and she’s ambitious and cunning, like if Reese Witherspoon’s character in Election lived in Pasadena and didn’t have an Electra complex. Avery even fulfills her Tracy Flick destiny in the season three episode “Guess Who Becomes President,” which is literally a 22-minute adaptation of Election, minus the adultery and testicle-scrubbing.

Hannelius imbues the entire production with joie de vivre akin to Kiernan Shipka or a young Judy Garland. She juggles, stilt-walks, and raps the periodic table of elements, and her main screen partner is a goddamn dog. Where are her Emmys?

Besides Hannelius, the show features a mélange of strong performances by supporting players with keen eyes for comedic timing. Denyse Tontz, who plays the neighbor, Nikki, always complicates and finds vivacity in a character whose traits would otherwise start and end at “cute Latina.” Kaylee Bryant also rocks as Maddie, the Regina George–adjacent leader of the cheer squad; and LJ Benet, despite playing irritable poindexter neighbor Karl Fink, equally shines in all three seasons.

The show saddles Benet especially with a cumbersome role: Karl isn’t only a know-it-all, he’s a Sheldon J. Cooper–esque eugenicist who wants to bang the kids’ mom, and everyone hates him. This is a real plot point — he regularly invites himself over for tea when she’s home alone and surreptitiously sends her expensive gift baskets from a “secret admirer” named Walter Perkins. And that’s a tough image to give a young actor! Benet, thankfully, has since become a minor TikTok celebrity and musician, and he has a pretty good cover of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” on his YouTube channel. And (as shown in the episode “Avery-body Dance Now”) he’s a great dancer!

In season two, we meet Max Edlstein (Danielle Soibelman), a goth girl who’s retconned into being Avery’s second-best friend. Max swaggers into her first episode talking about how much she hates everything, and she instantly becomes the best character on the show. Later, we learn that she collects piñata heads from other people’s birthday parties and intentionally guesses wrong letters at Hangman just to see the stick dude get killed.

The series apex is probably season two’s “The Mutt and the Mogul,” which pits the kids and Stan against an Elon Musk–adjacent billionaire named Tom Fairbanks (Charles Shaughnessy), whose latest claim to fame is basically the stealth suit from that Invisible Man remake. The episode has farcicality coming out of its ears, including a Shawshank Redemption joke and a mistaken identity–filled denouement that would make Oscar Wilde giddy.

The show settles for cutesy antics and dogcentric jokes in order to be as apolitical as possible. Yet season one’s “Stan-ing Guard” is one of its most interesting episodes — not only does it feature a lengthy, elaborate setpiece spoofing 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also serves as a metacritique of the Patriot Act and the surveillance state in which the children have to convince their parents of the value of individual freedom.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

The next episode, “Freaky Fido,” slathers on even more political commentary, capitalizing on the obsessive-compulsive, cockblocking, one-pantsuit-away-from-a-Clinton-allegory Avery. The episode’s narrative thrust is Avery trying to prove that she’s fun after everyone in her family tells her she’s too cold, too controlling, and perhaps should have supported gay marriage sooner if she wanted to draw the millennial vote.

But these are exceptions to the show’s overwhelming disinterest in examining any sociopolitical issues whatsoever. So we get stuff like season two’s “Love Ty-Angle,” an entire episode unwittingly devoted to reinforcing Stan’s anti-cat speciesism. (In season one, he advocates for cat ghettos. In season three, it’s revealed he’s also prejudiced against reptiles.)

This is a ridiculous show with some questionable plotting, yes, but sometimes Dog with a Blog whips out some somber strings-heavy non-diegetic music, and you know shit’s about to get real. After finding out her older sister jettisoned her best friend to pursue a spot on the cheer squad, the 6-year-old Chloe says, “But you’re my big sister, Avery. You’re supposed to do the right thing.” And it’s cute and all, but then Chloe follows it up with a wallop: “I wanted to be like you. In school, I wrote your name for the person that I admire most.” Call me sappy, but I think it’s one of the most tear-inducing moments in the show, next to the episode where the kids tell Stan they’re going to leave him one day, or the episode where Avery tells her mom that she sucks at giving Christmas gifts. Oh, fuck, I’m tearing up again just thinking about it. Where’d I put the tequila?

One episode in particular made me bawl my eyes out. In the first season, there’s an episode where Grandma James (Stephanie Faracy) babysits the kids while the parents have a spa weekend. She inadvertently hears Stan talk, but instead of panicking over a talking dog, she thinks the kids are playing a trick on her. When she punishes them by revoking their privilege to attend a concert, Stan talks again, and the kids decide it’s better to let her believe she’s developing dementia than to risk their concert.

That night, Grandma James and Stan share a quiet conversation on the patio while the kids are out having fun. She’s picking at a bowl of fruit with a spoon. Her pearl necklace and pulled-back, blonde-dyed hair remind me of my own grandmother. Believing that Stan’s merely a projection of her subconscious, Grandma says, “You know what saddens me the most? That I never really got close to my grandkids, and now it’s too late.”

When my grandma tried to recover from a surgery she would never recover from, staying in a rehabilitation center she would never leave, I visited her. I was 14 — about Avery’s age in the first season. We played checkers. Her pieces triple-jumped mine over long distances and moved in straight lines — unlike Grandma James, she was actually starting to develop dementia, and one of the first things to go, I suppose, was the checkers rulebook. But it was OK — maybe it felt bittersweet that, just like when we were 10 years younger and she was babysitting me at home, she was still able to beat me at checkers.

“I know what’s happening,” Grandma James says to the dog. “My mind is telling me it’s my fault I’m not closer to the kids. I’ve got to make it up to them, with the little time that I have left.” When the kids wake up the next morning, Grandma’s got gifts for them, as though she needs to give Tyler the keys to her car to make her grandchildren love her. But of course, giving someone a car isn’t a substitute for affection — as Grandma learns this lesson, the kids realize that, all along, Grandma truly did love them but didn’t know how to show it. All I needed from my grandma was for her to hang out with me and listen to my nonsense, or to be on the couch watching Murder, She Wrote while I fell asleep in her lap. She died a few weeks after our checkers game; my older brother got her car.

At the end of the episode, Avery, Tyler, and Chloe tell Grandma the secret of the talking dog, and that pact is enough to bond them forever. I was sobbing for the last six minutes of the episode, no tequila needed. We never see Grandma again, though, in many ways, the post–“Stan Talks to Gran” series is always trying to bring the children back to her, always trying to reunite them with a world of emotional resonance and thoughtless serendipity, where bad decisions on the part of talking dogs ultimately bring families together instead of tearing them apart.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

So-called “children’s shows,” I think, have such a higher emotional potency because everything is so simple. Everything’s the perfect version of itself, and if something is out of joint, it’s fixed in time for Stan’s sign-off blog post at the end of the episode. The family can’t stand Grandma, then she thinks she’s losing her mind, then she’s closer to her grandkids than ever. Problem, rising action, happy conclusion. Mom and Dad come home still wearing their spa robes, Dad makes a joke about how the Santa Ana winds felt cold blowing against his barely covered balls, and all is resolved. We wish that the problems in our own lives came with such easy, pretty bows put on them.

And as we get older, children’s shows become welcoming cookie jars to return to for some double-chocolate-chip wish fulfillment. To hear parents say the things we wish our parents had told us when we had our first crushes, our first heartbreaks, and our first bouts of depression. And to see our grandparents struggle against time and maybe make amends while they still can.

It’s easy for critics to be snooty and look down their noses at perceived entertainment for children. But being marketed toward a 6- to 12-year-old demographic doesn’t disqualify something from being art, especially if it has clever writing, delightful performances, a thorough awareness of its limitations, and at least one episode that made me cry my fucking eyes out. After all, if we consider something as messy, poorly lit, and emotionally unengaging as Walerian Borowczyk’s 1978 Italian nun erotica Behind Convent Walls to be art, then why not Dog with a Blog?

Oedipus, Fetch

It wouldn’t be a Disney series without romance, and the show’s second season handles these subplots elegantly. Tyler has to choose between Nikki and the tough-girl boss’ daughter, Emily (Kathryn Newton), while Avery trips over herself to win the affections of Wes (Peyton Meyer). Max, Resident Best Character on the Show, says it best: “What does everyone see in this charming, handsome Wes guy? I go for weird. Gimme someone who doesn’t shower and laughs at inappropriate times.”

Wes and Avery’s relationship is a big deal for the series; there were no major boy-crush arcs in season one. But that’s because in that season, you could count the number of sets on two hands: Avery’s room, Bennett’s office, the kitchen, the living room, the park, the classroom, and on occasion, the patio, the car, and the neighbor’s garage. Season two introduces the school commons area and upends the dynamic of the show. Avery and Tyler now worry about academics, popularity, and friend groups instead of just sibling rivalry. This is why the show suddenly shifts to romantic subplots — the kids become characters who go to school instead of just people who sometimes stand in the back of a classroom.

And as her first major romantic arc, Avery’s relationship with Wes is authentic and messy, developed gracefully over 16 episodes. The romance comes to a head in season two, episode 16, “Love, Loss and a Beanbag Toss,” in which Tyler is happily dating Nikki and Wes reveals to Avery that he’s moving. And though Avery’s upset, the episode concludes with an oddly euphoric montage of Avery, Max, and Lindsay dancing around the school carnival and eating Sno-cones — who needs hot guys when you have besties? It’s overwhelmingly saccharine, yes, but that’s also baked into the brand of Dog with a Blog.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

The most intriguing element of the episode, however, is the Oedipal B-story involving the mom, Ellen. She’s tasked with overseeing the school carnival, which she tries to accident-proof in light of eight injuries that occurred the previous year. Yet like Oedipus, who searched high and low for King Laius’ killer only to realize the crime was his own, that he, Oedipus, killed Laius at a crossroads years before, Ellen realizes that due to her own clumsiness, all eight injuries at last year’s carnival happened to her — she herself was the criminal she sought. Ellen neither blinds herself with crochet needles nor kills her father to have sex with her mother — unfortunately — but besides that, it’s basically the plot of Oedipus Rex.

Ellen isn’t the only character afforded more out-of-the-doggie-crate character arcs. By the end of the second season, the show has destroyed most of its archetypal characters: Tyler’s love interests are unceremoniously written out, and Chloe — gasp! — gets something approaching agency. Even Karl gets another classic “Karl wants to bone the kids’ mom” episode where we’re expected to feel sorry for him, then a series-altering storyline in which he finds out Stan can talk. By this point, the show is full-speed-ahead rollicking into its bonkers final season.

Dog With A Blog Goes Full-Tilt Postmodernism

In the series finale of Dog with a Blog, the government abducts the entire family and tries to steal the dog’s ability to speak. And while the entire show, much like everything else released after the 1950s, exemplifies classic traits of postmodern art, the finale, “Stan’s Secret Is Out,” is a delicious bacon-flavored dog biscuit of postmodernism.

The government places Stan and his family in an artificial version of their living room, the same one the show has inhabited for three seasons. But the toilets don’t work, the TV doesn’t have any channels, there’s a forcefield around the place, and they’re being monitored 24/7 by the government and the military. Basically, they’re trapped in a sitcom soundstage wherein the government is the studio audience, and they have nowhere to poop — which begs the questions of how long the government was planning to keep them in there and how they were planning to handle the family’s bowel movements.

Our heroes bang against the forcefield as the characters in our show-within-a-show become fully aware of their predicament. The episode assaults the boundaries between art and spectator and asks audiences to empathize not with the plight of the characters, but with the plight of the actors, trapped in a faux reality and coerced into performing at the whims of the government.

Not only does the finale realize central postmodern tenets like institutional critique, the intertextuality of narratives, and the nature of truth, but it also interrogates the notion of the self. The episode’s arc is one of enlightenment — as the government essentially turns the Jennings-James family into sitcom characters, the finale concerns their self-consciousness, rebellion, and ultimate overthrow of the system.

The question of self-realization is key to Stan’s arc. Amidst all the series’ tomfoolery, we never learn why he talks. And the third season doesn’t just continue this joke but triples down on it — Stan’s lover dog, Princess, who doesn’t talk, gives birth to puppies, who do. (However, season one establishes that Stan is neutered, so whose puppies are those?)

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

The dog’s ability to talk is the creative spark of the whole show, and it represents the magic-realist story engine, which the government is trying to steal, harness, and militarize. (They’re trying to manufacture talking dog soldiers.) Stealing Stan’s speech would not only obliterate the dog’s individuality, but it would also destroy the show’s reason to exist, positioning the government and the military as the enemies of individuality and creative freedom. But Stan, having united the feuding Jennings-James clan, also represents a new understanding of the “nuclear family” concept that was key to most 1950s sitcoms — the government would rip apart the American family, Dog with a Blog postulates, if it only meant militaristic might and the imperialist success of American science and ingenuity. Sounds about right.

Interestingly, when the family rebels and flees the soundstage prison, Stan’s solution is to tell the world his secret. He leads the family to a major awards show, thinking that if he exposes himself talking onstage in front of millions of viewers, the resulting popularity would make him safe. Both Stan’s endgame and the government’s render the entire series pointless. If the government wins, there’s no requisite happy ending, nobody learns anything, and the three seasons of talking dog hijinks end in a crushing defeat that neither Stan nor Avery, nor any other character in the show, could have possibly predicted or prevented.

The government doesn’t win, naturally, and Stan’s power of speech makes him a celebrity the world over. But this, too, nearly renders the show meaningless — besides the government learning of Stan’s secret and trying to experiment on him, as the kids feared it would, only good things come of the big reveal. They could have pulled this shit in season one, episode one, and it would have been a show about a famous talking dog instead of a shut-in.

With his newfound fame, Stan blogs to communicate with his millions of fans around the world, and the show, as most postmodern films and television do, celebrates the power of technology and digital media to bring people together. This is, on a more metatextual level, the aim achieved by the show’s constant film and TV references. The series’ bricolage of film styles and genres uses our common language of audiovisual media to laud the art form it is participating in and contributing to.

Besides in its finale’s inquiry into the nature of the sitcom, the show never questions the humanistic impact of digital and technological culture. Nobody second-guesses the importance of Stan’s blogging, and Stan himself feels like the blog makes him less dog than man, like he’s achieving a form of actualization by sharing his individuality with the world via the blogosphere.

The finale resolves Stan’s tumultuous exploration of the self, but Stan spends the entire show struggling with this conflict. For instance, in the first Halloween episode — season two, episode three, “Howloween,” one of the series’ best episodes, full stop — Stan dresses up as a robot and uses the disguise to speak candidly with his owners, Bennett and Ellen. Of Bennett, Stan asks why he chose him, of all the dogs in the shelter. And of Ellen, Stan wants to know why she hates dogs. It’s animal confronting master — in Prometheus, this plot ended with the Engineer smacking Peter Weyland over the head and killing him with the flailing disembodied head of problematic actor Michael Fassbender.

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

In Dog with a Blog, Stan becomes Moses on the mountain, confronting his God, asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” And Stan realizes his owners are mortal, plagued with mortal problems — childhood traumas, unrealized aspirations, and overwhelming love for their children. The episode does nothing with these revelations, instead ending with a Carrie set piece and a joke about farting into a punchbowl.

It takes three seasons for Stan to learn the answer to that question — who is he? I’m glad we never figure out exactly how Stan learned to talk. Dog with a Blog is not and should not be a show about a wacky experiment gone awry or a magical dog. Subverting audience expectations in this way, the series asks us to evaluate the individuality of other beings, not just ourselves, and to consider the parts we each play in our great cosmic light show.

Ask Not For Whom The Dog Blogs

Watching Dog with a Blog depending on how closely you’re paying attention, as the target audience won’t give a lick — you’re constantly being assaulted with a series of philosophical questions: Who is dog? And why is blog? And perhaps most perplexingly, why does the dog speak rational English when Ludwig Wittgenstein observed in 1953 that language and the common apparatus of logical thought and meaning have limitations?

It’s the famous theory of “If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand him” championed by Karl Pilkington on The Ricky Gervais Show. And also, you know, that Wittgenstein guy. The lion’s experiences would give him a completely alien, but nevertheless true, concept of the world. And as his truths are different from yours or mine, his language would have evolved completely separately from our own. Wittgenstein’s theory of the contingency of language also, as it happens, falls within a pivotal postmodern framework: That morality and truth are relative. Dog with a Blog doesn’t believe in these things.

So why does the dog blog?

The simple answer is that we must accept that Stan blogs for the reasons that we must, say, accept that King Lear wants to divide up his kingdom three equal ways. If you want to watch the madness unfold, there’s a certain degree of madness you need to come to terms with at the outset. He is simply a dog, Disney Channel assures us, and he must blog. Any further study is utterly worthless.

That is, until the season two finale.

In said episode, “The Kids Find Out Stan Blogs,” Stan explains, “I started blogging hoping to reach other talking animals, but there don’t seem to be any.” Since, he has blogged as a means of expressing himself to the outside world, to broadcast his personality and misadventures. His blog, we learn, is wildly popular, but his fans assume it’s a human blogging, pretending to be a dog — kind of like how John Grogan, the blogger responsible for Marley & Me, is a dog pretending to be a man.

The episode recontextualizes Stan’s blogging obsession as an extrovert desperate for social interaction — the internet is his only solace in a world where he can’t exist outside of his home. Sounds a bit familiar. “In these crazy times we live in,” Tyler opts, “don’t we deserve something to believe in?” It’s the perfect coronavirus episode.

But the episode also raises as many questions as it answers. I, for one, think Stan’s blog is dogshit. Stan behaves and speaks exactly like a human — yes, he likes sniffing butts, but he has our same foundations of truth and emotion. There is no alethic relativism to be found in Dog with a Blog because for the story to work, the dog must be able to speak coherent English. He must share our linguistic principles, English semantics, and basic vocabulary. Stan thinks like humans think a dog thinks; so if Stan perceives the world as a human, then his blog isn’t really the world as a dog sees it, right? And if Stan’s blog isn’t accurately conveying the experiences of a dog, then what’s the point?

I Spent My Quarantine Binging DOG WITH A BLOG
source: Disney

John Donne famously wrote in his “Meditation XVII,” “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Stan blogs not for other talking animals, having found none, so his blogs are addressed to us. The series, too, is an extension of this purpose. Dog with a Blog uses Stan’s blog to convert canine experiences into the common tongue of mankind. And if that’s not Stan’s purpose, then who knows — maybe he’s just really into the blogging scene. Even Wittgenstein concedes in Philosophical Investigations that “explanations come to an end somewhere.”

Am I mad that Dog with a Blog doesn’t embrace Wittgenstein’s beliefs of relative truth and the constantly evolving nature of linguistics? Oh, hell yeah. I’m pissed. But in the end, the series is more about encouraging empathy and extolling the virtues of humanism. I’m sure it hardly matters to anyone else that Dog with a Blog is a couple of moral nuances short of a postmodernist masterpiece.

Maybe Dog With A Blog Sucks

In the eighth century, there was a Chinese poet named Po Chii. He mostly wrote about almond blossoms, paralysis, monsters, and war. Apparently, he regularly read his poetry to an elderly peasant woman, and if she found anything the slightest bit confusing, he changed it. That’s Dog with a Blog‘s M.O. too: Simplify everything, and spare nothing.

Sure, the show has its flaws. I could have talked shit about the writing — I’ve already mentioned how dumb Stan is, as though he doesn’t realize that nobody’s supposed to hear him talk. But Ellen is also painfully underwritten. She starts the show a total nutcase and only gains Munchausen’s and a crippling fear of parrots by the series’ end.

But instead, surprisingly, I’d much rather discuss the show in relation to postmodernism, Wittgenstein, and Sophocles, to my grandmother and COVID-19. Binging Dog with a Blog began as a joke, but by the final episode, I found that I had a renewed appreciation for the craft of filmmaking and the power of a good story, however silly its premise.

One of Po‘s more fantastical poems, “The Dragon Of The Black Pool,” describes a dragon and the fanaticism with which the villagers worship it: “A dragon by itself remains a dragon, but men can make it a god./ Prosperity and disaster, rain and drought, plagues and pestilences—/ By the village people were all regarded as the Sacred Dragon’s doing.”

So is Dog with a Blog to me the great holy dragon lurking in the black pool: less than the praise and analysis I’ve heaped upon it, yet nevertheless responsible for the changing seasons and the rhythms of the tide. And I throw suckling pigs and paper money at its shrine — and the foxes of the hills descend and steal the suckling pigs, and the dragon does not care a whit, or even really notice, because the dragon, of course, was always a dragon and was never a god at all.

What do you think of Dog with a Blog, or of alethic relativism, or ancient Chinese poets? Comment below with your thoughts!

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