Warning: This review contains spoilers
We’ve met the Tiger King. Now Netflix brings us the Dog Emperor, aka Gunther the Alsatian, aka the richest canine that has ever lived.
That, at least, is the starting premise of Gunther’s Millions (streaming on Netflix), a four-part series that wants so badly to be the new Tiger King you can almost see its hairs standing on end.
The story is that a wealthy but eccentric Austrian heiress left her $400 million fortune to her beloved pet Gunther. His reward for his steadfastness is a lifetime pass to doggy heaven. He has a private yacht. A personal chef prepares his food. His Miami mansion previously belonged to Madonna. He’s a material cur living in a material world.
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Dog lovers will already smell a rat. Countess Karlotta Liebenstein died some 30 years ago. How can her beloved pooch still be living on the hog? He is not. Liebenstein’s will specifies that the loot must be passed on in perpetuity to Gunther’s descendants. Behold a canine bloodline bathed in bling.
Just as on Tiger King, the animals are a sideshow. The real menagerie here is the crew of weirdos who help Gunther spend his fortune. Chief among them is Maurizio Mian, who looks like an Italian porn star from the 1970s (a comparison which Italian porn stars from the 1970s might take as an insult). He’s an outrageously peculiar individual who has manoeuvred “present day” Gunther (the sixth of his name) into a cavalcade of intrigue.
Mian attempts to parlay Gunther’s fame into a Eurotrash pop project (and is shocked when it fails). The Miami mansion is meanwhile transformed into the HQ of “the Burgundians”, a troupe of beautiful young people recruited by Mian, who resemble a cross between a reluctant sex cult and S Club 7.
It’s impossible to take seriously. Then comes a twist confirming that, despite its opening promise that everything we see is true, someone has been telling us poochie porky pies. Gunther is real, but Mian, the heir to an Italian pharmaceutical fortune, appears to have invented the story of the dog’s fortune to help his family avoid taxes. Much of the tale we’ve been spun is a web of untruths. In fact it’s also Aurelien Leturgie, the programme’s director, who has been yanking our chain all along: Gunther’s Millions is an extravagant act of audience gaslighting.
The tale sketched out by Tiger King, in 2020, was so unhinged it could only be true. Imagine if we’d watched it only to be told that Joe Exotic was an actor pretending to be an unhinged hillbilly. That’s essentially what happens in the final third of this chintzy caper that chases its tail and then collapses in an anticlimactic heap.