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‘Downward Dog’ S1 finale review: All you need is love


Every once in a while a show comes along that touches people’s hearts. ‘Downward Dog’ is one of those magical shows. We meet a cast of colorful characters that we can relate to. They draw us in and make us feel like we’re not alone in this chaotic world. Everyone has issues, insecurities, fears, uncertainties, regrets, frustrations, misconceptions, hopes…you get the picture. One thing we never expected is that we’d relate to a dog on such a profound level. Over the course of eight masterfully crafted episodes, Martin became an honest and reflective voice in a time when society desperately needs guidance and comfort.

The show has been a critical darling and the ratings have been solid. Nonetheless, ABC decided to cancel ‘Downward Dog’ last week and aired the last two episodes back-to-back in a new 10 p.m. time-slot on Tuesday night. The irony here is that the moment ABC cancelled ‘Downward Dog,’ the fans let their voices be heard louder than ever before. An outpouring of love has flooded Twitter with images of pets pleading for #MoreDD (and/or #SaveDD), messages of solidarity with #IAmMartin, and countless reasons as to how this show has become the highlight of each viewer’s week.

It is rare to see art imitating life and then to see life imitating that artwork months later. All season long Nan has been working on an advertising campaign for Clark & Bow. The message is to embrace yourself for who you are and know that you are beautiful no matter what. The goal is to unite people across the country to celebrate a positive message by posting selfies with the tag #BeautifulMe. ‘Downward Dog’ achieved Nan’s fictional goal in the real world. For seven weeks, people gathered to watch this show, connect with fellow fans on Twitter and celebrate the beauty of ‘Downward Dog’ with the brilliant writers and actors that made it all possible. #DownwardDog became #BeautifulMe because we see ourselves in Martin and Nan.

Given all the love there is for ‘Downward Dog,’ I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we’ll commune together and enjoy Martin’s Musings. So I’m penning this review with great hope, love and appreciation. (And with a box of tissues on my desk because I’m about to bawl all over again.) Here we go…

In the penultimate episode, “Getting What You Always Wanted,” Nan is frantically putting the final touches on her display hours before its nationwide launch. She’s been freaking out and working overtime. While perfecting her campaign, she’s been neglecting her self-care and Martin is worried. The multiple screens, fury legs and talking to herself are all red flags. He expected snuggle-crying, but she’s been at work all the time. He just wants to help her out. He pleads, “Help me, help you.” And then he sees a sign pointing him in the right direction. When serial killer Pepper leaves another death threat on their doorstep, Martin knows it’s time to step up and protect Nan.

It’s going to be a long day, so she takes Martin to work with her. He thinks he’s there to protect Nan and Jason from Pepper because they’re obviously terrified by the evil cat next door. Martin’s delusions are downright hilarious. While Nan is busy dealing with a technical glitch, Martin starts training for his epic take-down. He needs to prove he can save Nan and Jason, so he begins by ripping Gwen’s Cuddle Cats to shreds. Stuffing has never looked so gory.

Nan has double the damage control to deal with now. Gwen needs to stay focused on fixing the algorithm so peen picks don’t pop-up in the middle of Times Square. Martin is too much of a liability, so she has Keira take him home. Of course, Martin takes this as a sign of Nan’s confidence in his ability to protect their home. Today he’s going to kill that cat.

Naturally, Martin looks at Pepper sweetly sitting in her littler box and wusses out. When he hesitates to attack, Pepper scratches the crap out of him. Martin admits, “I’m a whiny little pussy cat.” Oh Martin…Sigh. Everything is still a hot mess at work when Nan gets the call about Martin’s injury.

We learn a lot about Nan in this moment of crisis. She is a perfectionist. If she doesn’t do something herself, then it won’t get done right. She needs to stay at the office and see her vision through. Jenn hired Jason to help out with the launch and he’s been giving Nan the cold shoulder all day long, uttering a maximum of three words. Nan asks Jason to take Martin to the vet for her because she can’t leave. This request crosses the line.

Jason snaps at Nan and calls her out for being so critical of him. Martin should be prioritized over work. The stupid launch pales in comparison. He’s her dog. Somebody else can take care of the launch, but no, that won’t be good enough for her. Nan needs everything to be perfect, including her inadequate boyfriend. Yikes, he is really letting it all out. Nan gets it, but this is not the time for a talking-to. She has no choice but to take care of Martin herself and micro-manage her co-workers (including poor Jenn, who’s such a good friend for dealing with frantic Nan and crazy Kevin) over the phone.

Nan’s sitting in the waiting room with Martin’s sweet face resting on her lap when she gets the news that all of the submitted photos have been lost. Uh-oh. She looks at Martin and remembers why she pitched this campaign to begin with. She doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s okay for the whole world to see the real Nan. She tells Gwen to post her personal G-rated photos. It’s better than nothing. Plus, it reinforces the message of #BeautifulMe.

Once Martin is taken care of, she returns to the office. Nan apologizes to Jason for how she’s been treating him. She sets impossible standards for everyone, including herself. She now realizes that everything does not have to be perfect. She’s also inspired others to feel the same way. The staff pitched in and shared their personal photos in solidarity with Nan’s message. Her campaign is officially catching on. Awww, how sweet! Of course, Martin learned a lesson in all of this too.

Martin realizes that Nan doesn’t need him to be a stereotypical guard dog. He doesn’t need to physically protect her because he’s there for her emotionally. And this is when Martin makes me cry (again). Killing a cat won’t make him a hero. Martin believes, “In a 100 years…they will remember the tenacity of my love…I love this woman more than anybody has ever loved anybody else, like, ever. Maybe love is the greatest protection there is.”

Playing David Bowie’s “Heroes” over this scene makes it even more moving. Maybe all it really takes to be a hero is to love and be loved in return. (Anyone else starting to get a bit of ‘Moulin Rouge!’ deja vu?)

I know the point is not to dwell on being perfect, but this moment is pure perfection:

On a silly and kind of sad note: Kevin is having a rough day. His wife left him and whatever chill pill he’s on has made him loopy. Still, he believes he’s the hero of the day and expects praise for Nan’s successful campaign. Unfortunately, things are about to get worse for him in the next episode.

Nan and Martin are figuratively and literally “Getting Lost” in the season finale. Nan has been offered Kevin’s job and doesn’t know what she should do. She takes Martin on a road trip to clear her head and plans to briefly stop by her dad’s place on the way. Martin is similarly re-evaluating his role in life. He is sick and tired of Nan treating him like a baby. He’s a wolf, dammit, and it’s time Nan sees that side of him.

Before heading out, Nan checks-in with Jason to make sure they’re all good, which they thankfully are. Finally! I hated seeing these two apart. She tells him her plans and hits the road with Martin.

From the very first conversation we watch Nan have with her father, Wade, we can understand why she hasn’t seen him for three years. He calls her Annie, he’s putting the house up for sale without telling her about it and he demeans her professional competency. She’s opening up to him about her promotion and he tells her not to pretend to be something she’s not. Seriously, dude? He also says she can clean out her room since she’s there. What part of pit-stop does he not understand? Nan has a right to be peeved. He gives Nan some space by taking Martin on a walk.

Wade takes Martin off-leash and lets him freely roam through the woods. Nooo! Martin is loving every second of his newfound freedom. He makes the case for the theory that “if you love something, you’re supposed to let it go.” At first, he has fun running wild and munching on food bags he stumbles upon. Being a wolf is easy, he barely notices he’s alone…until it gets dark.

Martin realizes that he’s officially lost. There’s no one there to turn on the lights or fluff his pillows. (Geesh, Martin is even more domesticated than I thought.) Creepy creatures are making sounds and he can’t hear Nan calling him anymore. He’s starting to freak out. It’s like Nan said, Martin is a city dog and doesn’t know how to survive in the wild. He’ll die out there!

Nan tearfully searches for Martin and eventually calls Jason for help, but we aren’t even sure if her message went through. Just as Nan is about to break down and lose hope, Jason appears. Phew! He rushed over the second he heard her message. He gives her a big comforting hug as tears stream down her cheeks. She already lost Jason, she can’t lose Martin too. Awww, this is breaking my heart! Jason assures her that he isn’t going anywhere. She hasn’t lost him and they’re going to find Martin. Everything is going to be okay.

Soon enough, Wade finds Martin and brings him over to them. Thank God! Martin feels trapped between two worlds and has conflicting desires. He wants to be a wolf and he wants to share snuggles with Nan. Awww, we feel your pain buddy…sort of. He’s going to have to learn to find a balance between the two because he sure isn’t cut out for the wolf life. Then again, maybe he’s happy just being Nan’s little guy.

At the end of the day, Nan, Martin, Jason and their friends gather around the fire pit in celebration. Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. While Nan’s been freaking out over Martin, she never once thought about work or the job offer. Kevin, on the other, had a day-long meltdown at the office. That is until he found out Nan was offered his job. He’s come over because he knows she is a good person and will make the right decision. Yeah, sure she will. She closes the door and he pleads through the window, “Please don’t make you my boss!” Sigh…Classic Kevin!

Nan returns back to snuggle between Jason and Martin. As they cozy up, Jason wants to show-off Martin’s pirate costume. Yup, the same adorable one he was griping about earlier that day. Just like Nan did the day before, Martin embraces his true self. He’s a silly little dog and that’s okay. He doesn’t have to be a wolf because he makes people happy and that’s what matters.

As the season comes to a close, Nan has one of Martin’s philosophical musings with Jason:

Nan: “Nobody really knows how life works, do they?

Jason: “Nope, no one ever, anywhere. There’s no guidebooks. Everyone is hopelessly confused.”

Nan: “That’s optimistic. But I guess that means we can do whatever we want.”

Jason: “That’s what I do.”

We all feel lost in life. That’s why we try making the most of it when we can. We cherish the good times and try to be fully present in those moments. We need to know that it’s okay to be confused and make mistakes because it’s all part of living. You never know when something good can come out of a bad experience…like getting lost. Martin says it best, “I might never understand who I am or — what life means, but in this one, single moment…I know where I belong.” In the end, what truly matters is being with who you love and knowing you are where you belong. 

It also helps if you embrace yourself for who you are. Sometimes you need to be able to accept yourself before you can accept or appreciate others. Yeah, it sounds like a joke when Martin talks about being called a narcissist and then praises himself for being self-aware enough to acknowledge his egotistical tendencies (“Just shut up.”) But, he makes a valid point. Self-awareness leads to the awareness of others. Just like Sparkles and Jeff, Jason called Nan out on her crap. Once Nan let go of her ridiculous ideals for the way Jason should be and recognized how amazing he already is, that’s the moment we knew these two were going to make it. It may not be easy, but at least they’re in this together with Martin by their side.

Thank you for ‘Downward Dog’

Thank you to Samm Hodges and Michael Killen for creating ‘Downward Dog’ and fighting for your vision. You overcame great obstacles to tell your truth and this show is all the better for it.

Show-runners, Kat Likkel and John Hoberg, thank you for protecting the heart and soul of this show. It would not have been the same in anyone else’s hands. You captured lightening in bottle for the second time.

To the writers, (most of whom are women woohoo!) who shared their stories to breathe life into Nan and Martin, thank you for your honesty. You all made these characters so incredibly relatable that they provide fans with a sense of comfort in knowing that we are not alone when times get tough and everything feels like it’s falling apart.

Lastly, thank you to the charismatic and talented cast: Allison Tolman (Nan), Lucas Neff (Jason), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Jenn), and Barry Rothbart (Kevin). You portrayed these characters with a vulnerability that drew the viewers in. We felt and fell for each and every one of you (even Kevin). It is difficult to deliver such nuanced performances in your usual sitcom, but then again, that’s why ‘Downward Dog’ is so special and unique. 

Kevin wasn’t clueless to be funny, he was hurting and lost. Jenn didn’t superficially gal-pal around with Nan, she turned to her as a trusted confident and didn’t hesitate to give her a boob punch to snap her out of it. Jason is like so many dudes just trying to find their way and following their heart. In this case, his heart leads him to Nan and Martin. Nan is every woman. She’s like the female version Tom Hanks because you find yourself cheering for her even if she might do the wrong thing on occasion. You can’t help but like her.

Thank you to ABC for taking a chance on this wonderful show. The executives genuinely love ‘Downward Dog’ and believe in its message. Please do not lose sight of that. I know show business is tricky, but follow your hearts instead of caving into Hollywood pressures. Please do not let this show go. You will look back and regret it if you do. We need ‘Downward Dog’ because it doesn’t just enable us to escape as viewers, it inspires to reflect on our lives and ourselves. We’ll be all the better for it in the end.

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Martin’s Musings

  • “Honestly, I’m a little worried about Nan. I’m just catching some red flags. She’s not sleeping. She’s been talking to herself, like, all the time. An, like, I want to say this sensitively, but, like, I’ve kind of noticed that she’s letting her legs get furry. And usually when Nan’s self-care starts slipping, it’s, like, a sure sign that we’ll be spending lots of time together in bed, like, snuggle-crying. But this past month she’s barely been home.”
  • “I just want to help…I can tell that something’s wrong…Help me, help you. Let me know what’s going on.”
  • “I saw that Pepper had let one more of her psychotic death threats on the porch…Now I’m, like, Oh my God, that’s why Nan’s so stressed.”
  • “I am the only one who can save us now.”
  • “Everything I do, I do for love.”
  • “If I get killed, there will be parades in my honor…and maybe one of those trophies Nan keeps on her shelf.”
  • “I know I have the tendency to exaggerate.” (That’s an understatement.)
  • “For a moment, all that fear fell away and everything made sense. I was free. I was brave.”
  • “She has retractable blades, like in her hand.” (Chill Martin, Pepper is not Wolverine.)
  • “I’m not even like a real dog. I’m an emotional whiny little pussy cat.”
  • “Maybe love is the greatest protection there is.”
  • “We’ve strayed a long, long ways from what a dog’s life is supposed to be.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re so low-key desperate for a baby but don’t dump all that maternal sadness onto me.”
  • “As long as they kept scratching us, feeding us, and snuggling us, we didn’t murder them in their sleep.”
  • “They mistook that love for domestication.”
  • “I think it’s time I showed her my wolf.”
  • “I was lit from head to toe with smells and grit and danger. I could tell how awesome I looked.”
  • “I had the darkest moment of my life…I’m not a wild animal. Where do I belong?”
  • “I have so many conflicting desires and so many big questions. Sometimes I feel like I don’t understand anything.”
  • “Because, honestly, part of me thinks I’ve been kind of lying to myself  about wanting to be seen as this big, tough, wild, animal anyway.”
  • “…deep down, maybe I am kind of silly…Like, I’m making everyone happy.”
  • “I kind of feel like it all worked out. I mean, sure, I made a series of wildly irresponsible choices…Like, I even threatened to rip Nan’s throat out,  which is like a really crazy thing to say.”
  • “Maybe life isn’t about making all the right decisions because here we are, around a fire like it’s been for tens of thousands of years. There’s Nan and Jason, a bunch of friends, and a weird little dog, like, this dysfunctional pack of lonely, confused, cuddly little animals. But you know what? This is what drew wolves to humans in the first place. And I might never understand who I am or — what life means, but in this one, single moment…I know where I belong.”
  • After Sprinkles and Jeff refer to Martin as a narcissist: “…at first I was super defensive, but, like, the more I think about it, I kind of think, maybe, they’re right. Like, I talk about myself, like, all the time. Like, maybe I just need to, like, shut up for once, just, like, shut up.”
  • “Anyway, I’m pretty proud of myself for just kind of, like, having this self-awareness to have that thought, you know? Like, I think I’m making some pretty big strides.”

We hope you never shut up, Martin…never.

 

 

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