Every parent of a child under the age of eight knows Paw Patrol. Since its debut in 2013, the show has established as a mainstay of kid’s TV despite being profoundly confusing, vaguely dystopian, and possibly a piece of libertarian agitprop. But while parents may be painfully aware of the show’s premise, they are unlikely to be familiar with the intricacies of the universe all those gainfully employed pooches inhabit. It’s worth taking a moment to really dig in — not because it makes the show less annoying, but because it makes more intriguing. It’s like that mound of mash potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It means something.
What’s Paw Patrol About?
Paw Patrol is an animated kid’s show that airs on Nickelodeon. The show revolves around the titular Paw Patrol, a group of talking dogs who each serve an essential function in the mishap-prove town of Adventure Bay. There is Marshall (the Dalmatian and firefighter/mechanic), Chase (the German Shephard and police dog), Rubble (the English bulldog and construction worker), Zuma (the chocolate lab and aquatic expert), Skye (the cockapoo and aviation expert), and Rocky (the mongrel and recycling expert, whatever the hell that means). The squad is led by a human named Ryder, who makes up for not being a dog by also not having any real skills or personality traits. Rider is the one disaster the dogs seem uninterested in fixing, which kind of makes sense. There’s always one guy at work that sucks and it’s normally best to just give him some space.
Each episode follows the Paw Patrol crew as they have to rescue the town from an issue tailor-made for them to solve while also learning some vague lesson about friendship and teamwork. And after they have saved the day, Ryder makes his lone contribution to the group (besides being an unqualified leader) by saying his catchphrase, “Whenever you’re in trouble, just yelp for help!”
Why Is Paw Patrol a Thing?
Short answer: Dogs.
Long answer: Paw Patrol has only been on the air for five years but in that short amount of time, it has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Given its recent success, Paw Patrol doesn’t have the rich history or backstory of other massive franchises, like Sesame Street or Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. However, the show’s rapid ascension into the pop culture zeitgeist is worth examining, as it is rare for a kid’s show to so quickly establish itself as iconic.
The core of Paw Patrol‘s appeal for children seems to stem from its simplicity and strict adherence to formula. Each of the six dogs is a distinct breed and has an equally distinct role in the larger Paw Patrol family. For example, Marshall is a Dalmatian and the town firefighter. This straightforward categorization resonates strongly with kids, as they can quickly identify each character without having to spend half the episode trying to distinguish between Marshall and Skye, the cockapoo who is an expert in aviation.
The episodes themselves are just as reliant on formula, as every episode follows the same clear pattern. The Paw Patrol crew are enjoying their normal lives when suddenly they receive a call letting them know about an emergency that only they can solve. The crew assembles and then creates a plan that involves working together and believing in themselves. They will encounter a few minor obstacles along the way but will ultimately find a way to save the town and once again be heroes. Over 100 episodes in, the formula has not really evolved. For adults, this level of blatant repetition might sound exhausting but for kids, lack of nuance is often a good thing.
On a simpler note, the show works because kids really love dogs and going on adventures. So getting to watch a group of dogs go on adventures and constantly rescue a town from any and all trouble has a very clear appeal for children. Ryder also functions as an effective audience surrogate, as kids can easily project themselves into the action. TL;DR: Paw Patrol is a hit because it gives kids exactly what they want. It gives parents nothing. Well, maybe an opportunity to go to the bathroom in peace.
Is There Anything I Need to Know Before Watching?
The main thing that may confuse parents are the unspoken sociological implications existing underneath the surface of the seemingly joy-filled world of Paw Patrol. While children might just see a fun show about dogs being heroes, a deeper look shows that Ryder, the 10-year-old human leader of Paw Patrol, might actually be a malicious authoritarian who is using his collection of elite canines to slowly accumulate power over the rest of Adventure Bay. It’s not technically necessary information to understanding the show but it’s an underlying theory that is sure to make the viewing experience a bit more enjoyable for parents.
Want to dig in on that? Okay. Ryder exerts more or less dictatorial control of his community, which seems to have very few laws or regulations. A lot of the accidents that occur might be easily avoided with government oversight. There seems to be none. The town of Adventure Bay seems to be, in essence, a colonial outpost governed by an expressionless tot happy to hoard power. It is never implied that the Paw Patrol is running a protection scheme on the side, but the show has that vibe.
Will I Like Paw Patrol?
At first, maybe a little bit. It’s obviously not a show made for adults, but there are far more obnoxious shows out there than Paw Patrol. Unfortunately, every parent is pretty much guaranteed to end up having a love-hate relationship with Paw Patrol because kids simply cannot stop watching and rewatching and rewatching and rewatching. And once a mom or dad is forced to rewatch the same goddam episode seven times in a row, it’s nearly impossible to feel anything but a burning hatred towards these loyal and honor-bound heroes.
There will always be a certain appreciation for Paw Patrol from parents because it has distracted millions of kids for countless hours. However, on a personal level, it’s really hard to imagine any adult watching too many episodes of Paw Patrol without wanting to bang their head against a fucking wall.
Am I Going to Have to Buy Something?
Yes, but nothing awful. The show pushes merch, including toys, sleeping bags, lunch boxes, boogie boards, coloring books, band-aids, jackets, books, and, of course, Pez dispensers. But the show is not a marketing play like G.I. Joe or My Little Pony. It’s subtler than that, which is nice I guess.
Anything Else I Should Know?
- Like most kid’s shows, Paw Patrol is not overly interested in airtight world-building, instead rightly assuming that most 5-year-olds won’t overthink the logistics of the governmental hierarchy of Adventure Bay or the questionable funding of Paw Patrol itself. Fortunately, thinking way too hard about inconsequential pop culture is what the internet does best and Twitter and Reddit are packed with insane conspiracy theories about a show that was created for young children. Is the entire show taking place in Ryder’s head? Or is he secretly a young Bruce Wayne in an alternate universe? Probably neither but it is sure is fun to speculate.
- We need to talk briefly about the Kitten Catastrophe Crew because, holy shit, there is a Kitten Catastrophe Crew and it is exactly what it sounds like: A group of kittens who band together to cause mischief and act as rivals to the Paw Patrol. We would love to get some backstory on these guys, as they seem to exist purely to make life difficult for Paw Patrol. Case in point: Every member of the Kitten Catastrophe Crew serves as a bizarro version of a member of Paw Patrol, to the point where Marshall’s foil is named Cat Marshall and the rest follow the same formula. How did these creatures come to exist? We deserve answers.
- Choosing a favorite dog might be mostly up to personal preference but there is no doubt that Chase, the German Shephard police dog, is the most useful member of Paw Patrol. Chase does most of the heavy lifting for the crew, with nearly every episode hinging on his sleuthing skills to get to the root of the problem in order to save the town.
- Tyler Perry and Jimmy Fallon are right: The theme song is incredibly annoying.