Last month, while at the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Press Junket in Los Angeles, we had the fun opportunity to learn more about the new ABC TV show, Downward Dog. We got a sneak peak of the first two episodes, including tonight’s premiere and enjoyed interviewing the stars of the show, Allison Tolman and the voice of Martin, Samm Hodges. If your not watching this show, read on and after you hear about my experience, I bet you will be!
I was never really a fan of dogs. I grew up with miniature poodles and found them fairly snobby & unlovable. But 3 years ago, Jake, our German Shepard, joined our family and I since refer to him as my 4th child. Like seriously, that dog can melt my heart. He is so lovable with a ton of personality. And ever since then, I love dogs.
While in Los Angeles last month, we had the opportunity to learn about the new ABC TV show that starts tonight, Downward Dog and we interviewed the stars of the show, Allison Tolman and the voice of Martin the dog, Samm Hodges. I knew going into it, I was going to LOVE the show just because it has so much from the dog’s perspective.
Downward Dog was Laugh-out-loud funny. Martin is so dry and truthful and I love seeing the world from his perspective. There are so many situations that dog owners can relate and love. I did enjoy that both episodes, though very funny, had deeper meanings and you finish the episode with warm-fuzzies.
Also, I feel the need to let you know that Downward Dog is an adult comedy, that deals with some adult situations you might not want to have to explain to younger children. But I can’t wait to snuggle up on the couch with a glass of wine with my hubby tonight to watch it again.
Allison Tolman & Samm Hodges
As a group of moms, we all loved the show and were really excited to hear from the show’s co-creator and producer, and the voice of Martin the Dog, Samm Hodges. And it was equally as fun to hear from Allison Tolman’s perspective acting in a show where her co-star is a dog. Here are just a few reasons why you are going to want to watch Downward Dog:
“Martin” is a Rescue Dog
We first learned about Martin…..err Ned, the “hound mutt” who was rescued from a shelter in Chicago. He had never been trained before and when starting Downward Dog, had only had a little over 5 weeks of training. Unfortunately, he had been in the shelter for a while which made him a little jumpy.
Samm Hodges: That was always important for us in the dog is to have him not be this like kind of showy, pure bred. And also for his character, he think he’s very important. He thinks he’s the most important being in the world, but it’s important for us that he’s very like just a regular old dog.
Ned Improvises & Likes Hamburgers
With Ned not being a “formally-trained dog”, we wanted to know how he did on set and were there any plot changes that were kind of created by having the dog on set.
Hodges: In Episode 2, I remember they had the script changed. The dog doesn’t always do what you want him to do on set. And so, when he lays down in front of the door and Allison pushed the door open, he didn’t move. He did that so well, that changed that act break for sure.
Allison Tolman: One of the most awesome side effects, I think, of having this dog who was not a well-trained dog when we started shooting is, like very much his own man, is that it is — it’s like being with like a natural talent. There’s a lot of Ned in Martin. And he improvises in a way. And so, even when I don’t have a human partner to work with, I have something to work with because he doesn’t do the same thing every time. He doesn’t do exactly what you want him to do every time. He jumps down off the chair that you put him in and you keep rolling and you see what happens. But we had some really fun stuff happen, because he’s his own dog. He really is his own man.
Hodges: Some of the best moments you’re gonna see if you watch. In Episode 4 they’re at a hamburger stand.
Tolman: I was holding this hamburger and talking and he just went “houuuump.” And just put his whole mouth around it. And I was like I don’t know what to do. I’m lookin’ at the trainer like is he gonna — what should happen? But that made it into the show.
The funniest thing about working with animals is they’re not complicit in what you’re doing. They don’t know why you just made them do the same thing ten times in a row. So he’s like I don’t know why you’ve been waving this hamburger in my face for three hours in the rain, but I’m gonna take a bit of it. Like it seems like you kind of want me to or you wouldn’t keep doing that. You know?
Downward Dog Started As Web Shorts
The show actually started online in a series of web shorts that Hodges did along with Michael Killen.
Hodges: Michael Killen and I, 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, with the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
So, he like was well versed in how to make animals talk and not look like they’re just licking peanut butter off of their faces. I was a very unlikely collaborator with him, because my writing has always been way different. I kinda looked down on the talking dog things. I had a little darker tone. But one day he asked to try to write these monologues. And then I wrote the monologues and we — and then we were trying to cast for the voice and I, I was like — I just did a read not for myself to do it but just to be like something like this.
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 a 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, ’cause he sees all these moments that no one else was there.
There’s No Other Show Like It
Animal lovers are going to connect with it, what do you hope people will get out of the show?
Tolmon: 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. For a lot of people, their relationship with their pet is significant. Some people it’s the most significant relationship in their life.
I don’t have kids. And I’ve had my cat for 17 years. She’s the longest standing relationship of my entire 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 truly has affected the person that I am, because I grew up with this cat. I was a baby when I got 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.
How Do they Get Ned to Talk?
I grew up watching Mr. Ed, and we all know they used peanut butter on his muzzle to get him to “talk”, but we were curious, how do they make Ned talk in Downward Dog?
Hodges: It’s all done in visual effects, they’ll replace the entire muzzle, a lot of the face, with CGI. In this case, it is done in post-production, but it’s a lot more naturalistic.
Tolman: Any time he has a talking head where he’s just there, they would set up the shot and then they would have him sit there and the trainer would be behind the camera and they’d make him look over here. Let’s try to make his ears move. So he stays animated, like when you talk your face moves. And then after the fact, Samm goes into a voiceover booth and puts a mo-cap stuff on his face so they can capture his entire muzzle. So, then they can marry them together. So, it’s Samm’s facial movements speaking on top of Ned’s face.
Hodges: It’s most fun in the edit to like go through these dogs little eye motions and then time it up with a joke. It’s a lotta fun to actually find the dog’s real moments then play with that. And like, I’ll like try to perform to his performance and stuff.
The Pilot Airs Wednesday, May 17, 2017
All-new comedy “Downward Dog” will premiere in a special sneak peek on Wednesday, May 17 (9:31–10:00 p.m. EDT), following the season finale of “Modern Family.”
The series, the first network comedy to have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, will move to its regular time period, Tuesday nights at 8:00–8:30 p.m. EDT, with its second episode, beginning May 23, on The ABC Television Network.
Based on a web series, “Downward Dog” follows the day-to-day life of Nan (Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Allison Tolman, “Fargo”), as told by her increasingly lonely and philosophical dog, Martin (voiced by Samm Hodges). 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.
In the series premiere airing May 17, “Pilot,” Martin battles loneliness and the need for Nan’s unconditional attention, while she struggles with a breakup and Martin’s recent bad behavior as he reacts to her newly busy work schedule.
“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.
Watch The Pilot Tonight on ABC 9:31PM EST/ 8:31PM CST
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Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of the red carpet premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. All opinions are my own.