The show's comedy stems mainly from its outsized focus on and exaggeration of dog owner culture. Malcolm takes Bruno, and caring for him, very seriously and everyone else in his world seems to share that point of view. His local pet store is just as central to his community as the nearby bodega or the park. In one storyline, he is thoroughly humiliated when Bruno becomes the face of the pet store's brand of pills for dogs that eat their own poop. Nearly everyone Malcolm associates with, including a woman who dates men only to steal their dogs, centers their lives around canines. This is particularly true of Malcolm's neighborhood rival Harvey (Rob Morgan), whose dog is, for a time, better-trained and more locally beloved than Bruno. Their brief interactions are some of the series' funniest.
Despite being the catalyst for all of the show's action and plot points, little Bruno remains endearingly, well, a dog. He doesn't talk, as the dog at the center of Wilfred, an Australian show with an American remake starring Elijah Wood that also takes an off-kilter look at the relationship between a man and his dog. And unlike the king of dogs on television, Lassie, Bruno never has to go above and beyond reasonable expectations for a pet in a matter of life or death. The most humanized Bruno gets is in quick cuts to his silent reactions to dialogue. And, of course, in Malcolm's ever admiring eyes.
Otherwise, Bruno's unobtrusive dogness only enhances the show's strangely relatable absurdist premises. In one scene, Malcolm yells at a neighbor for petting Bruno without permission. He tries to demonstrate the slight by petting the neighbor's granddaughter on the head. It's an outsized response, but one that speaks to the deep, illogical love most people truly have for their dogs. Whereas many of us treat our dogs like our children, Malcolm fiercely wears that devotion on his sleeve. At one point, I laughed at the shot of Malcolm's apartment walls covered with three portraits of Bruno, only to remember I was sitting beneath a similar portrait of my own dog in my own home. Dog owners are absolutely obsessed, the show acknowledges, but it also seems to suggest that that obsession nurtures the best in us. An otherwise wholesome show, Malcolm plunges into a life of risky drug use and mindless partying when Bruno is kidnapped, briefly ruining his life. When Bruno returns, Malcolm is back to his healthy, if mildly grouchy, self.