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‘Dolly Parton’s Pet Gala’ Is Like Taking Drugs That Never Leave Your System

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A blonde smiling woman bends down towards a bandana-wearing dog.
Our Lady of Dolly Parton and Saint Billy, the Boston Terrier.  (Courtesy of Dolly Parton)

Do you like dogs? And Dolly Parton? And watching things that make you feel like your brain might fall out of your ear? Has CBS got a treat for you!

Dolly Parton’s Pet Gala combines dog fashion shows, celebrity cameos, country music, active duty servicemembers, dog puns (“Ruff Lauren,” anyone?) and an uncomfortable amount of canned laughter. It is awkward and unintentionally hilarious and formulaic in an incredibly old-fashioned way. It also contains a segment where Jessica Simpson talks — entirely out of left field — about how large her breasts are. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

In order to fully convey the chaos that is this television production, I have broken down Dolly Parton’s rhinestone-encrusted fever dream into manageable segments. Try and stay with me as this spirals into ever-more-surreal territory.

Here is everything that happens in Dolly Parton’s Pet Gala, premiering on CBS this week.

Dog fashion shows

There are five dog fashion shows peppered throughout this 90-minute special, with surprisingly few references to Dolly’s pet fashion line, Doggy Parton. (Not all of the pet outfits on display tonight are even in the line!)

Sponsored

Each fashion show is narrated by Jane Lynch (Best In Show), who introduces dogs with names like Lucille Ball, La La, Lyra and — my personal favorite — Lieutenant Dan. (And yes, in case you were wondering, that dog is missing two legs.) Lynch offers commentary like “Here’s Lemon, in a nod to heavy metal headbangers everywhere,” and starts the “Patriotic Pups”-themed runway by yelling “Are you ready to party like it’s 1776?” (She finishes it by shouting “Dog bless America!” because of course she does.)

This is, for some reason, genuinely compelling television.

One runway is soundtracked by KC of KC and the Sunshine Band performing “Boogie Shoes.” Another — specifically, the rock ‘n’ roll-themed runway — is soundtracked by teen guitar wizard Grace Bowers. Kelly Osborne wanders on a couple of times. Carson Kressley also shows up to co-commentate with Lynch and, in a subtle-not-subtle moment, tries to Jedi mind-trick middle America by staring directly into the camera and referring to “a beautiful trans …… formation.” All the while, the kid from Young Sheldon sits in the front row chewing the scenery like a starving Rottweiler that’s just found a severed leg.

I can’t not look at all of it.

Dolly sits in for the final runway — a tribute to her most iconic fashion moments. All of a sudden, the doggy outfits come complete with fake boobs, blond wigs and false arms. Outfits from this segment include Dolly’s coat of many colors, some of her festival get-ups and her 9 to 5 lasso outfit. While watching this, I wrote in my notepad: “This runway is my new sleep paralysis demon.” I really, really mean that.

A dog in a costume stands on a runway.
A dog wearing a wig. And also an outfit Dolly Parton wore when she played the Glastonbury Festival in 2014. Just go with it. (CBS)

Country music: Live!

Dolly opens the show with an absolutely preposterous rendition of “Puppy Love” that involves her barking and howling while cameras zoom in on the faces of happy dogs sitting in the audience. It might be the most wonderfully surreal television I have ever seen, with Twin Peaks as the only serious contender.

A country gentleman named Chris Janson shows up next, singing a song that references river banks, cold beers, trucks and Bass Pro Shops. I have never in my life had a bad time in a Bass Pro Shop, so I feel immediate kinship with Mr. Janson. The spell is broken moments later, however, when he performs “Hound Dog” while a literal Bloodhound wearing a tiny top hat lies behind him on an amp, howling. This is a step too far, even for me. (I think it was the top hat that did it.)

A man in a cowboy hat and black country shirt sits at a top hat-wearing Blood Hound.
It’s the top hat, right? The top hat is offensive on some level. (CBS)

Carly Pierce, wearing an incomprehensibly constructed dress, shows up for duets of “9 to 5” and “Jolene” with Dolly. This is, of course, a seamless way to introduce a Dollywood reference into the proceedings, as Pierce apparently started performing there at age 16. (It’s not a Dolly Parton TV special if it doesn’t include flagrant Dollywood promotion!)

Joy Oladokun’s straightforward performance of “If You’ve Got a Problem” is gorgeous, but Lainey Wilson and Dolly performing “I Will Always Love You” is unequivocally the song of the night. Absolute belter, 10 out of 10. No notes if you ignore the outfits, both of which defy description.

Random celebrities, doing the least

Here are some famous people that show up in pre-recorded-at-home videos to talk about and/or to their dogs: Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Bell and Kristin Chenoweth.

Here are some famous-ish people who show up in the studio to awkwardly introduce a segment, even though Entertainment Tonight‘s Rachel Smith is doing most of the hosting: Kristin Cavallari, a musical duo named Tigirlily Gold, and Billy Ray Cyrus and his Australian wife. (Who is named Firerose, by the way. FIREROSE.)

There is even — and I was thoroughly taken aback when this started — an “In Memoriam” section featuring recently deceased dog-lovers. These include Angus Cloud, Tony Bennett, Tina Turner, Sinead O’Connor, tWitch (from The Ellen DeGeneres Show) and many more. This is kind of sweet, but also fairly uncomfortable within the context.

Dogs, doing the most

Dogs that are service dogs. Dogs that are in the military. Dogs that do sports. Movie stunt dogs. Social media dogs. They all get a spotlight of one sort or another during Pet Gala. At one point, Smith introduces a dog named Noodles like she’s just been asked out by Harry Styles, and I remain thoroughly confused hours after watching.

Oh, and Dolly reads a bedtime story to a room full of dogs too, but that’s to be expected, I suppose.

A woman in a rocking chair reads from a book. Scattered around her are dogs lying on blankets. A dalmatian approaches her.
This is one of the more normal things that happens in ‘Dolly Parton’s Pet Gala.’ Just FYI. (CBS)

Takeaways

  1. That this made it onto network television in 2024 is astounding.
  2. Famous people will do literally anything for Dolly Parton.
  3. This might be one of the greatest things I have ever seen on TV.

Sponsored

‘Dolly Parton’s Pet Gala’ airs on CBS and streams on Paramount+ on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 11 p.m. On demand viewing will also be available for Paramount+ Essential and Paramount+ with Showtime subscribers on Feb. 22.

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