May 18, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Downward Dog”


DOWNWARD DOG:  Tuesday 8PM on ABC – If Nothing Else Is On…

Television may have undergone a revolution over the past few years, but one thing hasn’t changed:  broadcast networks don’t air their A-level material during the summer.  ABC’s odd gimmick comedy DOWNWARD DOG is premiering a pair of episodes at the very tail end of the regular season, but the bulk of its run will take place when the competition is a lot thinner, although perhaps not thin enough.

It’s easy to see why the network decided that Downward Dog wouldn’t mesh with its more high-powered family comedies.  Based on an online series created by Samm Hodges and Michael Killen, it has the kind of low-key tone associated these days with platforms like FXX or Amazon, but it’s still burdened by a broadcast sort of basic conservatism.  The concept is a grabby one:  we watch the life of singleton Nan (Allison Tolman, from Season 1 of Fargo) largely through the eyes of her dog Martin (voiced by Hodges, although only we and not Nan can hear his narrated observations).  Martin can’t imagine what Nan does between the time she leaves the house in the morning and her return at night, he doesn’t know what’s up with her feckless ex-boyfriend Jason (Lucas Neff, all grown up from Raising Hope) but he’s possessive enough not to like it, and he thinks obedience school is couples therapy.  It’s an amusing idea, explored in a much more commercial fashion in last year’s Secret Life of Pets.

Here, though, our focal point is a morose hound whose self-involved monologues are the kind you’d hope not to hear while on line at a high-end coffee establishment.  Martin’s neuroses provide a clever conceit to the question of What is that dog really thinking?, but not one that’s worth a lot of time.  And Nan herself is a very conventional sitcom character, struggling at work with obnoxious boss Kevin (Barry Rothbart), and with her inability to keep Jason out of her life.  Tolman is enormously likable, but in the pilot, written by Hodges and Killen and directed by Killen, she doesn’t have much to work with.  For a show with such an imaginative premise, it’s too often content with the familiar.

Downward Dog deserves some credit for originality, and it’s good to see ABC experimenting with comedies that play with tone and focus.  But it doesn’t seem as though the show has learned enough tricks to fetch much audience interest.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."