TV Rewind: The Gentle, Emotional, and Witty Brilliance of Downward Dog

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TV Rewind: The Gentle, Emotional, and Witty Brilliance of <i>Downward Dog</i>

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

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Usually it’s a prerequisite for shows we feature in our TV Rewind column to be included in a streaming service’s lineup, because we’re recommending something to you that we have loved and want to share and want to make it easy to find. But for the unique, gone-too-soon ABC comedy Downward Dog from 2017, I have made an exception because I refuse to let it be forgotten. It is technically streaming through Amazon Prime, but you will need to purchase the episodes. There are 8 of them. Each one is worth it.

The second barrier to diving into Downward Dog is the knowledge that it is about a talking dog. But the dog’s mouth doesn’t actually move, which remains a key point. What we are instead privy to are the inner thoughts of Martin (played by Ned the dog), a philosophical hipster mutt who lives with his loving owner Nan (Allison Tolman) in Pittsburgh, a city that has never looked so lovely. As we learn more about Nan’s soulless job in corporate marketing and meet her co-workers (Barry Rothbart as her exasperated boss and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as her sardonic friend), we also get a view of Nan’s flagging relationship with her sweet but aimless on-again-off-again boyfriend Jason (Lucas Neff), all of which is seen through Martin’s perspective. Martin’s concerns are largely that of any dog (a fascination with mail delivery which Martin claims to “coordinate,” dealing with a rough neighborhood cat, trying to have the perfect nap), but he also observes Nan’s life from a gentle and supportive position—while still going crazy wondering why she just “drives around all day” and leaves him in the house.

Downward Dog takes what could be a broad, silly concept and instead makes it a sharp, earnest commentary on modern life. Based on the web series by Animal Media Group, Samm Hodges (who also voices Martin) and Michael Killen’s show is far deeper than it seems. It’s also excessively charming, and its vision of Pittsburgh in the summertime is lush, verdant, crisp, and full of excellent indie rock needle drops. Nan and Martin are, of course, the beating heart of the series, but the entire cast of Downward Dog, like the show itself, is an absolute joy. The dialogue is playful (“I’m speaking slowly out of fear, not condescension,” Jason says to Nan about a “Voldemort-like” plan she’s hatching at work), expertly crafted and delivered. You immediately care about everyone you meet, all of whom are familiar friend and coworker archetypes elevated through depth, humor, and humanity. For a series starring a talking dog, this is no small thing.

This spiritually-Millennial dog, it should be mentioned, is also full of bon mots. “Sometimes I think that dog culture is just a breeding ground of anti-intellectualism,” he opines at one point. Martin is prone to melancholy and hyperbole and self-doubt, lamenting “I know I’m not food-bag-good-looking anymore … I think my eyes have gotten a little droopy. I know I’m not the same dog she first met,” in one moment and then finding a kind of backhanded strength in the next (“when you’re as flawed as me, choosing to love yourself may be one of the greatest acts of bravery in the history of the world.”) If you feel seen by this dog, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

All of this is perfectly complemented by Martin’s exceptionally bored facial expressions and Hodges’ droll, deadpan narration. Martin takes himself very seriously. And the fact that he’s a dog makes that both hilarious and poignant; his story is about the universality of these emotions, these fears, these small triumphs. It grounds the series in a raw, deep truth that can almost only be told in this roundabout way. How much do we project on our animals, yet how much does that reveal about us?

The legacy of Downward Dog is kindness, gentleness, hope, and love. It’s such a beautiful, unique series that was overlooked at the time and has never had the chance to find a new audience because no streamer has had the wherewithal to pick it up (ABC has a page for it on its own site, but no streaming options). The show deserves better. It’s a resonate gem about the friendship between a dog and its human, as well as the more general purity of love that exists between us and our animals despite a world gone mad. Is there a better time for such a message?

Watch on Amazon Prime



Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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