Season 1, Episode 1
This is a First Look Review of Downward Dog starring Allison Tolman, Samm Hodges, Lucas Neff, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Barry Rothbart.
Blah blah blah. Bad dog. Blah blah blah.
Out of the gate, Downward Dog proves itself to be an anomaly. It’s a single camera comedy with talking heads that come from a talking dog. But there’s no magic nor is there an underlying story about why this animal can speak to the audience. It’s a dog that narrates. Viewers just have to accept that. Much to this reviewer’s surprise, it’s not half bad. In fact, it’s an interesting show with a niche enough premise to attract a certain crowd. People love dogs. This dog is cute and funny. That’s a recipe for success.
Allison Tolman stars as Nan, an over worked, under respected woman in a marketing New York marketing firm. She owns a dog named Martin (voiced by creator Samm Hodges) who wants nothing more than to be respected himself. He hates that Nan isn’t as attentive as she used to be and that she doesn’t seem to understand his busy day or sleeping 14 hours is just as rough as hers. But what’s very funny about the premise is the dog giving his reasoning for misbehaving. When Nan gets back with her ex played by Lucas Neff, Martin sees it fit to destroy his owner’s upcoming work project. Since they can’t understand each other, there’s often a miscommunication about their lives.
The writing is muted and the show has a dreary feel to it in the color scheme. Scenes aren’t as bright as they should be. Jokes don’t come in rapid succession. Martin is kind of a downer. But all of that speaks to the show’s intent. It’s not The Office just because it has talking heads. It’s not The Goldbergs because it’s a comedy on ABC. Downward Dog is simply its own self. Hodges and director Michael Killen capture innocence and sadness at once while managing to keep comedy in the perspective.
Direction is simple with narration coming in for a majority of the episode. Killen utilizes many low angles to keep the dog in the spotlight. Long shots of Nan and Martin on the couch that close out the episode are effective in their uncomplicated structure. Having Martin literally look down from the top of the steps as a drunken Nan excuses herself to call up her ex is a delicious parallel. One of the best shots in the show is a POV from Martin’s early years. The angles are low and the color pallet is a bright sepia. The camera moves constantly as a small dog’s head would. Viewers see a closed in – almost claustrophobic – viewpoint that is as constricting as it is engaging. Even though this show comes off as dry, it has heart to it.
Should you watch Downward Dog?
Imaginary Mary did not do ABC any favors and they saw that. But the network had a lot of backing behind Downward Dog as they aired it at festivals, generating hype for the better part of the television season. They were right to do so. This is a great summer series that should have followings like other ABC Tuesday and Wednesday night comedies.