ABC’s ‘Downward Dog’ Peeks Inside The Mind Of Woman’s Best Friend

Downward Dog ABC/Craig Sjodin
Downward Dog stars Ned as Martin and Allison Tolman as Nan.

Animal owners often wonder what goes on inside the minds of their pets, and ABC’s Downward Dog — based on a web series of the same name — offers a glimpse inside Nan’s (Allison Tolman) philosophical pooch, Martin. “I think it’s a talking dog show that’s not about a talking dog,” says Tolman. “It’s about humanity, and it’s about humanity through the eyes of this dog who can look at us and see things that we can’t see, and say things that we can’t say about each other.”

In the series, Martin observes the triumphs and tribulations of millennial Nan, and silently judges her decisions. But he is also a dog, who considers obedience class to be “couples therapy,” and plots against a neighbor’s diabolical cat while pondering his place in the world. “It’s sweet and somber and sad and funny and bittersweet,” shares Tolman.

After Tolman’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated run on Fargo, the actress searched for another convention-defying project. She shares, “I knew as soon as I saw the web series, as soon as I met with these guys, that this is where I wanted to be, and this is where I wanted to spend my time, with this story and this group.” The show’s “group” includes Nan’s sweet but slacker ex-boyfriend (Raising Hope’s Lucas Neff), her pigheaded boss (Barry Rothbart), her BFF/coworker (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and her trusty pooch, Martin.

And Martin the dog — played by canine actor “Ned” and voiced by the series’ co-creator, Samm Hodges — is the show’s breakout star. He’s TV’s most charming dog since Frasier’s Eddie. Ned possesses a human-like gaze, an innate solemnity and acting prowess that costar Neff describes as “like a young ‘Brandog.’” And while this series is about a talking animal, this isn’t the broad humor of Mr. Ed. Martin doesn’t speak to the humans in his life, nor does he chat with the other animals he encounters. He speaks directly to the camera in insightful confessionals. The show’s charm comes from Martin’s pathos — remarkably self-aware, and yet lovably clueless about life.

Downward Dog > ABC > Sneak Peek May 17 at 9:30/8:30c; then Tuesdays 8/7c beginning May 23