‘Downward Dog’ advanced review: A heartwarming humanization of man’s best friend

DOWNWARD DOG – ABC’s “Downward Dog” stars Ned as Martin and Allison Tolman as Nan. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Advance Review

‘Downward Dog,’ ABC’s quirky new comedy, delivers a heartwarming humanization of man’s best friend. Show-runners Kat Likkel and John Hoberg (‘Galavant‘) and creators Samm Hodges and Michael Killen have crafted a unique series that offers a fun, refreshing and surprisingly existential take on the confessional-style narrative (i.e. ‘The Office’ and ‘Modern Family’). What sets this show apart from the others is that the seemingly silly talking dog, Martin (portrayed by Ned and voiced by Hodges), is profoundly introspective and endearingly relatable.

Martin is a normal dog. We see him doing typical dog activities with Nan and Jason. The only time he speaks is when he addresses the camera and the visual effects are eerily realistic. Bottom line: Don’t expect any goofy gimmicks just because he’s a talking dog.

This show is full of heart and humor. It makes you laugh out loud and tugs on your heartstrings until you start unapologetically weeping (especially if you’ve ever had a dog and even moreso if you’ve lost one). Each episode cleverly plays on dog-centric dilemmas that turn out to be very human.

In the pilot (co-written by Hodges and Killen), Martin resents his owner, Nan (Allison Tolman), for ignoring him. Martin is pissed and feels like Nan placed him on the back-burner because she is preoccupied with work and blows off steam with her slacker ex-boyfriend, Jason (Lucas Neff). Martin decides to teach her lesson and lashes-out, leading to some hilarious scenarios that suddenly take a tender turn. 

Every episode focuses on a theme inspired by Martin’s current emotional crisis, which is reflected in the title. “Pilot” is the exception, but you quickly catch on that the episode is about Martin’s separation anxiety. The following three episodes offer Martin’s musings on “Boundaries,” “Loyalty” (both written by Hodges), and “Acceptance.” (The season will air a total of 8 episodes and we’re excited to see where his future thoughts will take us.)

The cool thing about this structure is the juxtaposition of Martin and Nan’s individual growth throughout the course of the episode. Although the dog offers his insights and shares his own deep thoughts, we see his revelations reflected in Nan’s life as well.

Martin and Nan both set boundaries for themselves, explore the importance of loyalty and learn to accept themselves for who they truly are. The audience is busy having so much fun that they probably won’t even realize the life lessons they’ve been exploring over the course of the past half hour.

It is no wonder that ‘Downward Dog’ received critical praise from the start. It even set a new precedent as the first network TV series to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. That is very impressive (check out this article for details).

Catch the special sneak peek premiere of ‘Downward Dog’ on Wednesday, May 17 at 9:30 – 10:00 p.m. The show will then air in it’s regular time-slot on Tuesday nights at 8:00 – 8:30 beginning on May 23. (Be sure to set your DVRs too!)

UPDATE: Now you can watch the ‘Donward Dog’ pilot for free: http://watchdownwarddog.com/

Meet the Cast

“Downward Dog” stars Allison Tolman as Nan, Lucas Neff (“Raising Hope”) as Jason, Nan’s ex-boyfriend; Kirby Howell-Baptiste (“Love”) as Jenn, Nan’s best friend and co-worker; and Barry Rothbart (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) as Kevin, Nan’s boss.

Guest starring Mo Collins as Kim, Maria Bamford as Pepper (Martin’s feline foe), DaJuan Johnson as Tristen, Rachna Katau as Gwen, and Ned as Martin.

‘Galavant’ and ‘Psych’ will be excited to know that Tim Omundson guest stars as Eric in Episode 4!

ABC’s official synopsis

Based on a web series, “Downward Dog” follows the day-to-day life of Nan (Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Allison Tolman, “Fargo”), as told by her increasingly lonely and philosophical dog, Martin (voiced by Samm Hodges). Nan attempts to juggle her tumultuous personal life with a stressful career, unjustly supervised by her self-obsessed boss. Having her story told from the canine perspective provides a uniquely unfiltered point of view that helps us laugh and cry about what it means to be a human being in the twenty-first century. It’s a show about a dog and the girl he adores, and even at their worst, Nan and Martin just might be best for one another.

In the series premiere, “Pilot,” Martin battles loneliness and the need for Nan’s unconditional attention, while she struggles with a breakup and Martin’s recent bad behavior as he reacts to her newly busy work schedule.

“Pilot” is written by Michael Killen & Samm Hodges and directed by Michael Killen.

“Downward Dog” series creators Michael Killen and Samm Hodges executive produce with Mosaic’s Jimmy Miller and Sam Hansen, and Animal Media’s Kathy Dzubiek. Showrunners Kat Likkel and John Hoberg also executive produce. The series is produced by Legendary Television and ABC Studios.

Enjoy a slideshow of images from “Pilot”:

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Follow ‘Downward Dog’ on social media

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DownwardDogABC

Twitter: @DownwardDog_ABC

Instagram: @DownwardDog_ABC

Hashtag: #DownwardDog

UPDATE #2: I had the pleasure of interviewing  ‘Downward Dog’ creators, Samm Hodges and Michael Killen. Enjoy our conversation in my first Talk TV with Tiffany Podcast…


What is your first impression? Will you be tuning in? Share your thoughts below.

Stay tuned for more scoop on ‘Downward Dog’!

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