“Living with the Wolfman”
Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Animal Planet

1.5 out of 5 stars

Animal Planet’s latest venture, “Living with the Wolfman,” saps all the excitement out of one of nature’s most haunting creatures. The series follows British wolf expert Shaun Ellis and his girlfriend/assistant Helen Jeffs. While working at the Combe Martin Wildlife Park, Ellis wholeheartedly seized the opportunity to actually join a wolf pack. The show documents his recent efforts to integrate Helen into the pack so she can better understand the wolf species and help Shaun to gain new insights into female wolf culture.

It’s hard not to be a little creeped out by the closeness Ellis has with the wolves. He licks them, eats raw meat with them and even fights with them for dominance. Jeffs also takes some pretty big steps to show off her abilities as a female wolf, including “regurgitating” food. Luckily, she doesn’t actually vomit, but just puts the food in her mouth, chews it, then immediately spits it out. While this all feels a bit too weird to be real, it seems to have worked. Ellis’s knowledge of wolf culture is apparent and impressive, and his explanations of the workings of wolf society are the most engaging moments of the show. Unfortunately, these moments are extremely rare.

The show’s name gives away its principle flaw. For a show on Animal Planet, “Living with the Wolfman” spends way too much time focusing on Ellis and Jeffs. If you’re watching a channel with the word “animal” in its name, that’s probably what you’re tuned in for. But what you get here is some disturbingly public flirtation and repetitious confessionals, maybe with a few sprinkles of actual wolf footage.

The show follows a basic structure: Ellis says something to the camera, Jeffs says the exact same thing to the camera, then a commercial airs and then a recap of what Ellis and Jeffs both just said. In this way, the show stretches roughly five minutes of actual events into a half-hour program. Additionally, the faux-unscripted style can be painful to watch. Ellis and Jeffs try to act naturally, as if the camera wasn’t there, but constantly add awkward and unnecessary explanations. For example, in the second episode, the two decide to try out a human pregnancy test on a female wolf. Every time Ellis or Jeffs use the words “pregnancy test,” the end of the sentence will inevitably be, “but it might not work, because she’s a wolf.” The whole dialogue feels like an unrehearsed middle school drama performance, and sure enough, human pregnancy tests don’t work on wolves. Shocking.

When Jeffs is first introduced to the wolf pack, it’s a little exciting to see whether or not she’ll be accepted. On the other hand, would the show really be airing if the entire experiment failed in the first episode? The physical interactions with the wolves manage to bring some drama to an otherwise tedious show, but in the end, there’s just too much focus put on the man and not enough on the wolf.

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