Every once in awhile a new show comes to television that is unique and makes me laugh out loud. Tonight (May 17th), you’ll want to tune into Downward Dog’s special premiere is Wednesday 9:30|8:30c on ABC, following the season finale of Modern Family, because your morning routine has nothing on your dog’s.
Downward Dog is so unique that it’s the first network comedy to have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
Following the special premiere tonight, Downward Dog will move to its regular time period, Tuesday nights at 8:00–8:30 p.m. EDT, with its second episode, beginning May 23, on The ABC Television Network. *A word of caution on episode 2, those with small children may want to watch this in advance to see if it’s suitable for your young children.
I was fortunate to see the first two episodes while in Los Angeles during a visit to ABC Network. I found them to be very relatable and humorous.
Following our screening, in walked Downward Dog‘s Allison Tolman and Samm Hodges.
Both Tolman and Hodges have larger than life personalities. They have great banter between them. I think it’s part of what makes Downward Dog a great show.
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).
Martin, the dog, is actually a rescue dog from a shelter in Chicago called Paws Chicago. When he’s not acting, he goes by Ned.
One of the challenges to filming Tolman explains,
“When we filmed the pilot he had just been rescued and had just started to be trained. I was very patient. Ned was jumpy. I mean, he was a rescue dog and had rescue dog anxiety.”
“Ned had been there for a long time. He’d been in the shelter for a long time. What was always important for us is to have him not be this showy, pure bred. It doesn’t match his character. Martin thinks he is the most important being in the world, but it’s important for us that he’s very much a regular old dog. Nothing special.”
And then they are asked how old Ned is and they light up the room with their banter:
Hodges implies Ned is five, maybe six years old.
That’s all it takes.
“Don’t quote me on that.”
“I think that’s right. I think he’s like six.”
“I might be wrong.”
Tolman matter-of-factly states:
“Usually the trainers are here with us.”
“What could the consequence be if I’m wrong about Ned’s age?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know. I’m nervous.”
“Lie about his age. You know, you’re shaving years off; it’s fine. I think.”
Tolman shrugs and caps it off with,
“All actors like that. He’s like 21, 22. He’s just getting started.”
Hodges who is the voice of Martin the dog, is also the co-creator of the show. He and Michael Killen, the other co-creator, both were commercial directors, working in Pittsburgh.
“We created this web series, maybe four years ago. It was just for fun. Michael had done a lot of stuff with talking animals; the chihuahua–the Taco Bell Chihuahua.”
Tolman can’t resist:
“Yo quiero Taco Bell”
Hodges doesn’t miss a beat.
“That’s Michael. He was well-versed in how to make animals talk and not look like they’re just licking peanut butter off their face.”
“I was a very unlikely collaborator with him because my writing has always been more…just very different brands. I looked down on the talking dog thing.”
“One day Michael told me to just try and write these monologues. I wrote them and we were trying to cast for the voice and I just did a read–not for myself to do it, just to be something to give the idea. Michael ended up using that read as the dog and that’s how I got shoehorned into being the voice of Martin.”
Tolman was hard to sell on the project. She confesses,
“When I read the script, I was like, ‘There sure is a talking dog in this’. Then I saw the shorts and I got it. It’s sweet and down to earth and kind of indie.”
About Downward Dog
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 airing May 17, “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.
Guest starring Mo Collins as Kim, Maria Bamford as Pepper, DaJuan Johnson as Tristen, Rachna Katau as Gwen, and Ned as Martin.
“Pilot” is written by Michael Killen & Samm Hodges and directed by Michael Killen.
Connect with Downward Dog through these Social Media Channels
Hodges continues talking about how the show has progressed.
“I think in the shorts it was about how a dog’s view of his own life. And then we realized a dog has such an intimate view of the life of the owner; So it became much more about the character of Nan and him as an angle on her life, because he sees all these moments that no one else was there and he’s there for her in these moments of her being just very alone and to wrestle with it.
Tolman discusses what she finds so special about this sitcom.
“I think that this is a really special show, because I don’t feel like there’s a lot of, if any, TV shows that really focus on this relationship which for a lot of people their relationship with their pet is, is significant. For me it’s like the most significant relationship in my life.”
“I don’t have kids.”
“I’ve had my cat for 17 years. She’s the longest standing relationship in my entire life, and I grew up with her. I’ve had her since I was 19 years old. So, the transformative power of loving an animal and being in charge of this little life, like truly, truly has affected the person that I am, because I grew up with this cat. I was a baby when I got this cat.”
“I think that’s what really special about it is that it’s a love story that I think is universal for a lot of people, because a lot of people are pet owners and love their animals but it’s not something that we really focus on. We focus on romantic love or familial love, but nobody really talks about what a profound thing it is to love an animal.”
Hodges, backs up Tolman:
“I think to choose a focus in this very like small thing about here’s a girl who lives alone, with her dog in Pittsburg. And…she’s not a movie star.”
Tolman doesn’t miss a beat,
“But I am a movie star.”
“She is. But Martin’s always asking kind of if he matters. And for us I think it’s about how these little characters outside of where we usually put the spotlight on and how much our lives do matter and how much — there’s so much comedy and reality to that. But he’s always a character to me. He’s a mutt in the backyard of Pittsburg asking do I matter. And if he matters, then we all kind of matter. You know, that’s something about that I like.”
While Hodges admits at the moment, living life between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, he doesn’t have a dog, he does share his inspiration for the series,
“I grew up with dogs being my only source of solace. My dog’s name’s Smiley. As a kid, I’d go to her. I’m crying to her and was like, no one understands but you. I think that in Martin’s character is really based on what a dog’s experience is. Dogs experience a lot of emotion, and a lot of really profound things. It’s less asking what is your dog thinking and more saying what if your dog had human anxiety and existential angst; What would that look like?“
Downward Dog has Eight episodes this season. It’s a well-thought out plan, Tolman explains:
“We wanted a short season, because we didn’t want to have the show become too episodic and too like this week Martin catches a squirrel. We really wanted it to have a nice arc and explore broader things. “
“We were talking with ABC from the beginning about what would a Netflix or an Amazon style show look like on ABC. And part of that was having a short season where you feel like each episode is strong and separate and small and leaves you wanting more.”
Then the conversation comes full circles as we explore how the plot points change by having a dog on set.
Hodges takes the lead,So, in, in Episode 2 I remember they had the script changed. The dog doesn’t always do what you want him to do on set.
“So, in Episode 2 I remember they had the script changed. The dog doesn’t always do what you want him to do on set.”
Tolman confirms this.
Then Hodges gives us an example leaning towards Tolman:
“And so, when he lays down in front of the door and you like pushed the door open? That totally changed. He did that so well, that changed the act break for sure.”
Tolman who works intimately with Marting the Dog, shares her own perspective:
“One of the most awesome side effects, I think, of having this dog who was not a well-trained dog when we started shooting is, he is very much his own man; it’s like being with like a natural talent. Like there’s a lot of Ned in Martin.”
“He improvises in a way. Even when I don’t have a human partner to work with, I have something to work with because he doesn’t do the same thing every time. He doesn’t do exactly what you want him to do every time. He jumps down off the chair that you put him in and you keep rolling and you see what happens. We had some really fun stuff happen, because he’s his own dog. He really is his own man.”
“Some of the best moments you’re going to see if you keep watching the show. In Episode 4 they’re at a hot dog or a hamburger stand.”
He turns to Tolman and asks, “You were holding it right?”
It’s now Tolman’s story to tell,
“I was holding this hamburger and talking and he just went ‘chomp’ and just put his whole mouth around it. And I was like I don’t know what to do. I’m kind of looking at the trainer with– what should happen? It into the show.
The funniest thing about working with animals is they’re not complicit in what you’re doing. They don’t know why you just made them do the same thing ten times in a row. Ned was like, ‘I don’t know why you’ve been waving this hamburger in my face for three hours in the rain, but I’m gonna take a bite of it. It seems like you want me to or you wouldn’t keep doing it.’.”
Downward Dog also has a cat. In real life her name is Pepper. Maria Bamford is the voice of the cat.
Tolman brings up the cat:
“The cat is a very well trained commercial cat. The cat is like a pro.”
Hodges explains more:
“They put little marks down and the cat just goes.It’s very bizarre to watch a cat behave as commanded, because they’re just like so against everything.”
Downward Dog is a great show. Keep in mind it’s more like a Netflix or Amazon original series, where it’s geared around an adult’s life. Some material may not be suitable for children, so proceed with this in mind.