The show Downward Dog should be dumb. Its name is taken after a canine yoga pose, it features a talking animal, and it’s a Summer series about happy sadness. Downward Dog should be terrible.
Yet, it very distinctly isn’t. The show is the kind of strange breath of fresh air—a unique entry into television dramedy—that takes so many bad tropes (talking animals, silly CGI, helpless women, hipster culture) and turns it into a touchy sitcom about love.
Downward Dog (God, that title.) follows Nan (Allison Tolman), a bumbling merchandiser marketer for a parodic Anthropologie. She has a lot of problematic men in her life, like on-and-off lovable doof boyfriend Jason (Lucas Neff) and her unbearable bro boss Kevin (Barry Rothbart). She makes it through with the help of girl friend Jenn (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and her dog, Martin, played by a rescue dog named Ned. Martin narrates the show and is voiced by the show’s writer and producer, Samm Hodges.
This show works on many fronts, namely because it is a successful human/dog hybrid that balances the experiences of being a dog owner with being a dog. There are little in-jokes for those who love and have lived with dogs accompanied with moments of the mundane and extraordinary as it relates to pup life. It’s cute, Ned is a terrific dog actor, and it surely is the type of content that reveals shit like A Dog’s Purpose and Marley & Me as true old garbage.
The show is also a scathing critique of millennial culture. Not in the sense of “Hipsters LOL.” but in the sense of our being broke, being overworked, and being unloved as the result of Boomer suppression and stereotypes. The dog is sort of a metaphor for happiness that we often seek in life but are only greeted by dead ends as rich kid placed ceilings stifle the growth of our careers and personal dreams and goals. Life comes at you fast but dogs are there to help us along.
It’s also super well acted and deals with the good and the bad so well, in a way that half hour shows rarely accomplish. With Nan, Tolman is a revelation of sorts, an annoying character on paper who is a vehicle for so many of our problems. She is lonely, she is smothered. She drinks too much, she eats too much. She is a good dog owner, she is a terrible parent. She is creative, she is a stereotype. Tolman has what appears to be a quirky girl, Zooey Deschanel vibe that is quickly shaken off once you realize her folksy, annoying, improv sensibilities are acting shields to hide extreme emotional vulnerability buried into her character. It’s the type of show that flips quickly from LOLs to sobs carried by Tolman’s strong shoulders. This is also very surprising given she is a cat person who is allergic to dogs.
Downward Dog is a gem, a peach, a puppy treat for us all to consume. It’s the rare Summer feel-good show that we need more of, Millennial content with a brain that skewers in all directions. Hodges has created such a well rounded TV item and, as the voice of Martin, he illustrates that talking dogs might actually be the best way to talk about our absurd yet specific problems as a people. Ned, too, is wonderful and the type of dog performer who is so natural and well behaved that you often think these scenes happen when the cameras are hidden, when Ned is just being Ned.
Unfortunately, the show might die soon so please, please, please give it a watch. It sounds dumb and it looks dumb but it isn’t dumb: it’s an open heart waiting for dog lovers to watch, the rare entertainment entry that does everything right. Give it a peek and share the love.