Hank Stuever
Hank Stuever
Critic

‘Must Love Cats’: Hello again, kitty

It’s good to be a cat these days, thanks in no small part to Internet culture. Besides revolutionizing porn, news and teenage gossip, the Internet reversed a long-held ambivalence toward felines, amounting to hours and hours of cat videos.

Cat humor has changed, too: The LOLcats era is predicated on “kitteh” intelligence and companionable superiority, as opposed to the eons of cat-bashing that preceded it. (A mere three decades ago, “101 Uses for a Dead Cat” was on the bestseller list.)

Hank Stuever

Hank Stuever is The Washington Post’s TV critic and author of two books, “Tinsel” and “Off Ramp.”

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  • ( ANIMAL PLANET / ANIMAL PLANET ) - John Fulton of “Must Love Cats” playing his guitar at the Tam Train station.
  • ( ANIMAL PLANET / ANIMAL PLANET ) - John Fulton at the Calico Cat Cafe.

( ANIMAL PLANET / ANIMAL PLANET ) - John Fulton of “Must Love Cats” playing his guitar at the Tam Train station.

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The appealingly nerdy “Must Love Cats,” returning for a new season Saturday night on Animal Planet, capitalizes on this new cat order. It’s an hour filled with purring, snuggling, clever kitties of note. Some are featured because of some strange mishap (one survived a 20-story plunge from a Manhattan apartment window with barely a bruise) or a heartwarming story (cats whose presence calms the inmates in a Nebraska jail).

It’s too bad the word “adorkability” has been appropriated to describe Fox sitcom star Zooey Deschanel (aackpht, sorry — hairball), because John Fulton, the guitar-strumming yo-bro host of “Most Love Cats,” is adorkable in his own right.

Fulton travels from place to place to meet people and their cats, then writes and sings impromptu ballads about them — with no dis­cern­ible irony or attitude. Only once in a while will Fulton make the slightest reference to his own masculinity while cuddling up to a cat; “Must Love Cats” operates in a post-Labrador world where dog ownership no longer defines pure manliness.

Fulton — whom Animal Planet discovered in the background of someone else’s audition tape — is a cat lover but only recently acquired two cats of his own. (He sort of had to, right?) When women and gay men answer the door to greet him, they almost seem to forget he’s there mainly to interview their cats.

The second season begins with a trip to Japan, where the host visits a shrine to the good-luck cat god Maneki Neko (sort of the original Hello Kitty) and goes to Tokyo’s “cat cafes,” where customers who live in no-pets apartments can drop by to commune with kittens and cats at an hourly rate.

For something stronger, Animal Planet also has “My Cat From Hell” (currently in repeats), in which an animal behaviorist and part-time rock musician who calls himself Jackson Galaxy visits the homes of miscreant cats. It’s a show filled with biting, scratching, hissing and faux-hip-itude.

With its “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” vibe, “Must Love Cats” can by contrast seem too tame. It’s one of those shows you long to see expletive-laced blooper outtakes from, especially when Fulton visits a cat-litter laboratory and is asked to take a whiff of weeks-old cat-urine sludge. He puts his nose right to the vial. And he does it with the enthusiasm of a man who has stumbled into the best gig of his life.

Must Love Cats

(one hour) returns Saturday at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet.

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