That positive verdict might not be what youâd expect for ABCâs Downward Dog (Wednesday, 9:30 ET/PT, then Tuesdays, 8 ET/PT, Â *** out of four), given the circumstances. For one thing, ABC is debuting this new comedy on the next-to-last Wednesday of the season, a move that in times past would have screamed âsummer dump.â Even more troubling, the show is based on a Web series about a talking dog â which immediately calls to mind such other idiotic ABC high-concept ideas as the recently canceled Imaginary Mary.
Get Mary out of your mind. Dog actually turns out to be a delightfully amiable summer companion: smart, funny, charming, with terrificÂ performances from the always wonderful Allison Tolman (Fargo) as NanÂ and the completely irresistibleÂ Ned as her dog, Martin.
Oh, and here’s one more great, smart thing about Dog:Martin doesnât actually talk, at least not to anyone on the show, including other dogs. This isnât Mister Ed; there are no witty exchanges between wise pet and perplexed owner. Instead, Martin (voiced by Samm Hodges, who co-created the show with Michael Killen) speaks only to us, in deadpan direct address, telling us whatâs on his mind.
Even better, Martin’s thoughts, while philosophical, are seldom more than food-bowl deep.Â Heâs a dog, wondering what Nan does all day, complaining when she doesnât remove a dead fly from his water dish (âI just donât feel very respected as a beingâ) and professing his fear and hatred of the neighborâs cat (âNot to be racist, but sheâs, like, a sociopath.â).
In other words, at the risk of anthropomorphizing, Ned sounds like a dog: obsessed with his owner, bitter that sheâs having fun throwing balls at the office without him, convinced that heâs one of the great dog minds of his generation. Or at least he plausibly, humorously expresses what many dog owners might think their dogs are thinking, without ever knowing for sure.
Because while Nan and Martin clearly love each other, they live in two separate worlds â another of the showâs clever choices.Â What Martin sees as proof of his athletic prowess, Nan sees as uncontrolled behavior in need of modification. Their stories in the episodes intersect, but it’s usually by accident, with neither side aware of what the other is really doing.
Martin, of course, is not Nanâs whole life. On the plus side,Â she has a scruffy but lovable ex-boyfriend (Raising HopeâsÂ Lucas Neff) and a fabulous British best friend (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who works with her at a Pittsburgh ad agency. On the downside, she has her boss, Kevin (Barry Rothbart), whose every ad idea is a bad…