National treasure Louis Theroux returns to our screens this weekend for the latest in his series of ever-fascinating specials. Since the conclusion of the BAFTA winning When Louis Met... series, we've seen the filmmaker taking on more serious subject matter that has grown more and more perturbing over the years; with programmes focusing on paedophiles, death row and, most recently, Christian fundamentalism. It may seem a welcome atavism then that Louis' next show is entitled America's Most Dangerous Pets, but don't let the Bravo-esque title fool you, this film sees Louis confront many disturbing issues, undiluted cruelty and a host of idiosyncratic and socially disconnected characters.
The film sees Louis travel to Oklahoma, to visit a man with a collection of over 150 tigers; a woman who breeds chimpanzees; and various owners of exotic, and potentially lethal animals. As usual, Louis uses his trademark avuncular charm and faux-naivety to shed some light on these eccentric private zookeepers and the bizarre "scamtuaries" that now house more tigers than there are in the wild in the whole of Asia. As with this year's excellent documentary Project Nim, we are introduced to the "parents" of two majestic chimpanzees that have reached an age at which they have become too unpredictable and powerful to leave the confines of their cramped cages for the rest of their lives, a sentence that heartbreakingly fails to register with the owners. Things also take a unsettling turn when a park manager reveals the lengths he'd be prepared to go to if his tiger sanctuary were to fall victim to the strain put on it by animal rights activists.
There are some brilliantly funny moments along the way; Louis being groomed by a particularly affectionate baboon is an image that will send you into the new week chuckling, and the usually brave presenter's reaction to getting up close and personal with a Siberian tiger is hilarious albeit completely understandable. Theroux is a preternaturally likable screen presence, and his latest documentary shows (as if we needed reminding) that whether it's chewing the fat with serial killers, deriding rhino hunters, or being seduced by Christine Hamilton, Louis Theroux's unique brand of filmmaking remains essential viewing.
Louis Theroux: America's Most Dangerous Pets is on BBC TWO Sunday, 21:00
Follow Jack Pelling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jrpelling