I know what you’re thinking, a talking dog? Yeah, that’s gonna be horrible. But what if I told you that you would be wrong? I had the pleasure of watching Downward Dog last month while in LA and I also had the chance to speak with the stars Allison Tolman who plays Nan and director and writer Samm Hodges who also voices Martin the dog.
Downward Dog is based on a web series and follows the day-to-day life of Nan, as told by her increasingly lonely and philosophical dog, Martin. 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.
Downward Dog stars Allison Tolman as Nan, Lucas Neff (Raising Hope) as Jason, Nan’s ex-boyfriend; Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Love) as Jenn, Nan’s best friend and co-worker; and Barry Rothbart (The Wolf of Wall Street) as Kevin, Nan’s boss.
I enjoyed the show and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. I too was under the assumption that a talking dog would be excruciating to watch but that wasn’t the case with Downward Dog. First off, he talks, but it’s well done with CGI, it doesn’t look forced. To be honest, I was too busy listening to what he was saying I didn’t even notice his mouth.
The show is smart and funny and relatable. It was also emotional and makes you take a second look at your pet and how they much feel about certain things. In the end, I feel it taps into that area that most pet owners often wonder about, what our pets are thinking and I think they do it very well.
Downward Dog airs Tuesdays at 8/7 on ABC.
Interview with Allison Tolman and Samm Hodges
What kind of dog is Martin?
Samm Hodges: Martin, whose real name is Ned, is from a shelter in Chicago called Paws Chicago.
Allison Tolman: He is about 5 years old and hadn’t been being trained for more than six weeks or so I had to be patient with him.
Samm Hodges: It was always important for us to have him not be this kind of showy, pure bred. It was important for us that he’s just a regular old dog.
On how the show came about
Samm Hodges: It came from the web shorts Michael Killen and I, are co-creators of the show and we were both commercial directors working in Pittsburg and we created this web series, four years ago just for fun. Michael had done a lot of stuff with talking animals, like the Chihuahua from Taco Bell.
I was a very unlikely collaborator with him, because my writing has always been very different and I kinda looked down on the talking dog things. But one day he was like, just try to write these monologues, so I did. Then when we were trying to cast for the voice and I did a read and then Michael ended up using that read as the dog, and so that’s how I kinda got shoehorned into that role.
Allison Tolman: The shorts are what sold me on the project because when I read the script I was like there sure is a talking dog in this. [LAUGHS] Sure is the star of the show. [LAUGHS] But then I saw the shorts and I was like, oh, I get it. It’s like sweet and down to earth and kind of indie. And then I was really into it. So, that’s kind of how it came about.
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 an 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, because he sees all these moments that no one else was there and he’s there for her in these moments.
What do you hope people will get out of the show?
Allison Tolman: 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. A lot of people, their relationship with their pet is significant. Some people, and for me it’s like the most significant relationship in my life.
I don’t have kids. I’ve had my cat for 17 years and she’s the longest standing relationship of my entire [CHUCKLES] life, and I grew up with her. I’ve had her since I was 19 years old. So, the transformative power of 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 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: Here’s a girl who lives alone [with] her dog in Pittsburg. Martin’s always asking kind of if he matters. Like do I matter? And for us I think it’s about how these little characters outside of where we usually put the spotlight on and how much our lives do matter and how much — there’s so much comedy and reality to that.
Part of that is I think that making the show made me very aware of how oftentimes we can treat our pets in this very consumeristic way and just kinda make them fit in our life.
Where does your inspiration come from when writing for the dog?
Samm Hodges: I grew up with dogs being my only source of solace. You know, as a kid you go to the dog, my dog’s name’s Smiley. I’m crying to her [CHUCKLES] and was like, no one understands but you. I think that Martin’s character is really based on what a dog’s experience is. Like dogs experience a lot of emotion and a lot of really profound things they can experience. It’s less asking what your dog is thinking and more saying like what if your dog had human anxiety and existential angst.
On working with Martin
Allison Tolman: 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 never put him in a position where they felt like he was doing something out of his depth. He’s got three trainers that work with him on the regular, and then he has one trainer that’s where his home base is, that’s where he likes to be.
Samm Hodges: The talking is done in visual effects, but the difference is that usually they’ll kinda replace the entire muzzle, and a lot of the face, with CGI but in this case is done in post-production, ao it’s a lot more naturalistic.
On being the voice of Martin
Samm Hodges: I’m not a voiceover artist. I actually have a stutter and so as a kid I couldn’t speak very well. So, I’m just very far outside of my comfort zone doing the voiceover, but I think that kind of vulnerability for me doing voiceover adds to the character.
Allison Tolman: Really, it was actually a big point for me before I took the job. I think before I even knew it was in our first meeting — I was like I don’t know who voices the dog, but you need to get the same person to voice the dog and he was like it’s me. And I was like, oh, good. Okay, great! [CHUCKLES]
STAY SOCIAL WITH DOWNWARD DOG