A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Mighty Underdogs is a family-friendly reality show about kids learning how to be competitive dog handlers. There's a bit of language with mild curse words like "crap" and cursing-adjacent words like "frickin." One character makes a joke about their dog Kraken being a "crackhead." There's some slightly aggressive language towards competitors (joking about engaging in Tonya Harding-esque sabotage) but it's clear it's meant in jest. Parents of sensitive dog-loving kids should know that one storyline involves a kid being upset that her dog is sick and may die. Otherwise, the series provides an upbeat look into the lives of kids in the world of competitive dog showing.
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What's the story?
The Mighty Underdogs is a reality documentary series that follows kids ages 11-16 striving to be the top-ranked dog handlers in the United States. All of the featured kids are being trained by Jody Davidson, an elite dog handler who pushes the kids to excel with a tough love philosophy. At the Junior Showmanship level the kids compete in, the judges are actually scoring the kids' dog handling abilities instead of the actual dogs themselves. Accordingly, Davidson is extremely particular about the way the kids run with the dogs and keep control of them in the ring. Outside of the competitions and training, several of the kids are dealing with challenges in their personal lives. Sixteen-year-old Turner is coming to terms with his parent Nik's recent gender transition, and also faces competing against his girlfriend Emma who also shows dogs. Thirteen-year-old Lily got into showing dogs as a way to deal with crippling social anxiety, and while it has helped tremendously she still struggles with anxiety triggers. Several of the kids have to navigate having "dog show moms," parents that are hyper-competitive and super invested in their child's dog showing performance. With all this going on in the background, Davidson is doing her best to qualify as many of her accolytes as possible for the most high-profile dog shows like Westminster or the AKC National Championship. Can any of the kids rise to the challenge in this uber-competitive field?
Is it any good?
The Mighty Underdogs is a reality show that many kids and grown-ups will find compelling. Yes, the world of competitive dog handling is very niche and strange to outsiders (which the very adult mockumentary Best in Show explored at great length). Yes, it absolutely is a very white and wealthy hobby. With those caveats, the show itself is super entertaining. It's always interesting for kids to see other kids excelling at something, and this series is no exception. Their coach Jody Davidson is a hoot -- she is extremely nitpicky and calls kids out but it's clear she is coming from a place of love. The kids very easily articulate their feelings, both the good (how much they love their dogs and like winning) and the bad (how their parents seem to care more than they do sometimes). The show also admirably handles sensitive issues like a parent's gender transition and a kid's struggle with mental illness. As this is a reality show, there is some drama, but it's not over the top and the show is definitely sensitive to the fact that its subjects are children. The Mighty Underdogs is a fun show to watch with the whole family, especially if you're a family of canine-lovers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the kids' self-control. They have to have a lot of discipline to be in such a competitive hobby, and a lot of what they're judged on during competitions is their own self-control. Do you think you'd have what it takes to do well as a dog handler?
Some of the kids' parents seem to be more competitive than the kids themselves. Do you think it's okay for parents to be so intense about their kids' hobbies? What are the pros and cons of having parents that are so involved?
Part of why these kids love dog handling is being a team with their dog. Do you think you'd ever want to compete in something with a pet?
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