Six Reasons Why Downward Dog is High on my Summer Watch List
Last month during the Guardians of the Galaxy event we had the opportunity to preview two episodes of ABC’s new show Downward Dog. After the screening we sat down with star of the show Allison Tolman and Co-Creator / Executive Producer AND the Voice of “Martin,” the dog Samm Hodges. “Downward Dog” will premiere in a special sneak peek on WEDNESDAY, MAY 17 (9:31–10:00 p.m. EDT), following the season finale of “Modern Family.”
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.
Meet Martin (Ned):
Ned is the name of the hound mix dog that plays Martin on the show. Sam and Allison talked to us about how they found him for the show. Ned is actually a rescue dog they found in a shelter (Paws Chicago) shortly before the pilot was shot. He was five when he was adopted and started training only six weeks before shooting the pilot. When filming first started Ned had rescue dog anxiety, which required Allison to be extra patient with him on set. According to Samm, Ned was the perfect choice since they weren’t looking for a showy dog, but more of a regular dog. You’re going to love Ned in the series.
How’d The Show Get Started
The show has humble roots starting with a webseries. Samm Hodges and Michael Killen who were both commercial directors, while working in Pittsburg created a web series about four years ago. Michael who had done a lot of stuff with talking animals like the Taco Bell Chihuahua knew how to make it look like animals could talk. Samm contributed by writing monologues and that’s how it snowballed into the shorts which you can still view online.
This is a great show, that I absolutely loved. Once we finished watching the second episode I was hooked. I can’t wait for you to discover the show but here’s six reasons why it’s high on my summer watch list.
The Show Focuses on the Dog
I really loved that the show focused on the prepestive of the dog. Although it’s hard to say what dogs are actually thinking, the show does a great job coming up with ideas.
Samm H: 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 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 and he’s there for her in these moments.
It’s Unlike Anything Else on Television
I don’t think they are any other shows like Downward Dog on television. It’s a very unique and quirky show, but it’s one of the things I loved about it the most.
Allison T: I mean 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, for alot of people their relationship with their pet is, is significant. For me it’s like the most significant relationship in my life. And I’ve had my cat for 17 years. Like 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 like transformative power of like 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. And 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.
Samm Hodges Draws From His Life for Inspiration
Samm shared that he currently doesn’t own a dog but gave us insight into how he used his past experiences to find inspiration for the show and writing for Martin.
I grew up with dogs being my only source of solace. You know, as a kid I mean its just like that was what the go to the dog and, and like my dog’s name’s Smiley. I’m crying to her and was like, no one understands but you. And so I think that in Martin’s character is really based on what a dog’s experience is. Like dogs experience a lot of emotion, you know, and a lot of like really profound things they can experience, we just found out recently. But it’s kind of like less asking what is your dog thinking and more saying like what if your dog had human anxiety and existential angst, you know.
It’s a Short Season
The show has a short season for good reason. They wanted to keep it short and sweet. Allison shared some insight into why they wanted to keep it such a short season.
AT: 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.
SH : And we were talking with ABC from the beginning about what would a Netflix or like an Amazon or whatever 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.
Ned (the dog) Adds Input
Working with animals can be very difficult. I was very happy to hear that the cast and crew on Downward Dog lets Ned take the lead when he’s working on set.
SH : There were. 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. And so, when he lays down in front of the door and Nan like pushed the door open? Like that totally changed — he did that so well, that changed that act break for sure.
AT : 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, like very much his own man, is that it is — it’s like being with like a natural talent. Like there’s a lot of Ned in Martin.
And he improvises in a way. And 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.
Ned’s Trainers Are Always Close
I love learning that the trainers are always close to Ned when he’s on set. It added additional peace of mind for me and knowing that Downward Dog puts the needs of the dog in their minds always.
AT : We have amazing trainers, first of all, who are awesome collaborators and I feel like scene partners for me in so many ways, who take great care of him, but we also really didn’t put him positions 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 or anything like that.
So the way that the trainers, their company, works is that all of their animals — they’re a fairly small company, so all of their animals live with trainers within their company. Yeah. So he’s got three trainers that like work with him on the regular, and then he has one trainer that’s like, that’s where his home base is, that’s where he lives.
Be sure to tune in tonight for the premiere of Downward Dog at 9:31 PM/ET following the finale of Modern Family. Then the show 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.