During the Guardians of the Galaxy trip, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk to Allison Tolman and Samm Hodges from Downward Dog, a new show airing on ABC Tuesday nights at 8:00 Eastern.
There is a special sneak peek TONIGHT! May 17 at 9:31pm on ABC.
I also got to watch several episodes of the show, and I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first. There are some other talking dog shows that were cute, but more geared towards kids, and I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down.
To my complete and utter surprise, it was amazing. It made me laugh out loud, it gave me the feels, and it 100% made me a better pet owner. Downward Dog isn’t about humans who understand dogs, it’s just a dog’s perspective of his human’s life. Nan doesn’t understand anything Martin the dog is saying, but he understands what’s going on in her life and tells us about it.
It’s so good, so relatable, and so much fun to watch. To give you a better idea of what the sitcom is about, find out below exactly what Downward Dog is and isn’t. Then watch for yourself.
What Downward Dog Isn’t
Allison: We felt like I think one of the things about making a show that felt like a Netflix show or like an Amazon show that we were gonna put on ABC is that we didn’t want to limit ourselves too much adult behavior. So that’s why all that stuff is there, because it is a show about adults. It’s a show about a woman who doesn’t have any kids, so that changes the way you interact with the world. I’m sure when I have children I won’t curse like I do now… You know what I mean?
Samm Hodges: Michael Killen, who is the co-creator of the show and I were commercial writers. He was well versed in how to make animals talk and not look like they’re just licking peanut butter off of their faces. He’s responsible for the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” dog. And the fact that there’s no like skateboarding dog or like a dog opening doors not only means the show feels real natural but also the dog’s not put in any situations where he’s just stressed out by anything.
Allison: We have amazing trainers, first of all, who are awesome collaborators and feel like scene partners for me in so many ways. They take great care of him, but they would never put him in a position where they felt like he was doing something out of his depth. But because of the nature of the show, he’s never like jumping into rivers.
Samm: There’s, there’s no trapeze shots.
Things Downward Dog Is:
Allison Tolman: When I read the script I was like, “There sure is a talking dog in this. Sure is the star of the show.” But then I saw the shorts and I was like, oh, I get it. It’s like sweet and down to earth and kind of indie. And then I was really into it. So, that’s kind of how it came about.
We all talk to our pets like they can understand us. This show is about that, but from the dog’s perspective. He’s there for Nan in the way that my own dogs are here for me. They listen to me and they formulate thoughts in their heads that I cannot hear. The difference is, the audience hears Martin the dog. But our pets are there – they’re there for things our friends aren’t there for, and the point of view from Martin is so real and so relatable.
Samm: in the shorts it was about how a dog’s view of his own life. And then we realized a dog has such a 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, ’cause he sees all these moments that no one else was there
Allison: 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. A lot of people’s relationships with their pets are significant. For me it’s like the most significant relationship in my life.
I’ve had my cat for 17 years. She’s the longest standing relationship of 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, truly has affected the person that I am because I grew up with this cat. I was a baby when I got this cat.
Samm: Martin’s character is really based on what a dog’s experience is. Dogs experience a lot of emotion, and a lot of like really profound things. It’s less asking what is your dog thinking and more saying like what if your dog had human anxiety and existential angst.
…A Love Story
Allison: 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. 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.
Samm: It’s about a girl who lives alone with her dog in Pittsburg, and she’s not a movie star, and Martin’s always asking, kind of, if he matters. It’s about these characters outside of where we usually put the spotlight and how much our lives do matter. There’s so much comedy and reality to that.
He’s like a mutt in the backyard of Pittsburg asking, ‘do I matter?’ And if he matters, then we all kind of matter.
…A Short, Non-Episodic Series
Allison: Yeah, 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. Like we really wanted it to have a nice arc and like explore some like, broader things. And so we were hoping for a short season order.
Samm: And we were talking with ABC from the beginning about what would a Netflix or Amazon style show would 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.
Allison: 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 that it’s like being with like a natural talent. Like there’s a lot of Ned in Martin, and he improvises in a way, so even when I don’t have a human partner to work with, I have something to work with ’cause 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. But we had some really fun stuff happen, because he’s his own dog. He really is his own man.
The series, the first network comedy to have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, 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.
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 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.
“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, 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.
“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.