TV has gone to the dogs, thanks to ABC’s new show Downward Dog. And although it seems risky to create a show around a real-life dog named Ned, a previously homeless rescue pup, the reviewers are giving the dog, along with his co-stars Allison Tolman and Lucas Neff, five paws up when it comes to Downward Dog‘s charm.
Downward Dog features the inner voice of Martin, the breakout canine star of ABC’s new situation comedy. Allison plays his dog mommy, while Lucas plays her boyfriend. The dog’s monologue reveals what dogs really think about their humans, noted the Chicago Tribune.
“We used to go on walks. Like, actual walks.”
Now, mourns Martin, his human “just kind of, like, shoves me out in this little prison yard [the backyard] and acts like that somehow counts as connection time.” But despite the dog’s concern about the lack of time that he gets to spend with his beloved human, Downward Dog also shows the bond between people and their pets.
Incorporating the use of CGI for the talking dog elements, the rest of the performance is up to the dog and the actors. Martin’s owner is cheerful but worried Nan, perkily played by Allison Tolman, known for Fargo, and Nan’s boyfriend is the relaxed Jason, soothingly portrayed by Lucas Neff of Raising Hope fame.
Based on an adorable web series from creators and executive producers Samm Hodges and Michael Killen, Downward Dog has given a rescue dog named Ned a life-changing opportunity. Ned is from the PAWS Chicago animal shelter, and Tolman revealed that the human actors and crew do everything they can to help Ned be a happy doggy star.
“The way we worked is that we would set everything up as much as we possibly could (before shooting a scene) and then the dog would come in at the last minute,” explained Allison.
“So [the dog is] really the star — he comes in at the last second, just in time to roll.”
As for how they manage to do rehearsals, Downward Dog uses a stand-in in the form of a stuffed animal named Stuffy. Ned apparently is not a fan of his laid-back stuffed counterpart.
“The dog hates his stand-in — er, stuffed-in. So they had to make sure, the last thing they would say (before “Action!”) was, “All right, we’re good, we’re lit, Allison’s here — take Stuffy out!” revealed Tolman.
Neff praised Downward Dog for the way that it gives its fictional canine star “bits of humanity” woven with “dog behavior, which is kind of being morose and a little melancholic.” He also revealed how he knows so much about dogs.
“I have four dogs and some of them, all they want are belly rubs — 24/7, 365 — gimme that rub, on the belly.”
As for Ned the dog, both actors noted that he’s smart when it comes to taking direction.
“I think he’s smart enough to be like, ‘Well, I know what they want, I’m going to do this thing for them, they clearly need it for whatever reason,'” summed up Tolson.
— Downward Dog (@downwarddog_abc) May 29, 2017
At one point in Downward Dog, viewers learn how Martin ended up in an animal shelter before being adopted by his dog mom Nan. Martin’s voiceover describes his journey, noted Care 2.
“I remember being taken to the other place,” recalls the dog’s monologue.
“I remember being scared [at the shelter] and there was this endless litany of all these new faces. But then one day, there was Nan’s face.”
Ned has a similar background. He was dumped at a Mississippi shelter, then take to the no-kill PAWS Chicago in July 2014. There, Ned waited for more than a year before he found his forever home. In September 2015, professional animal trainer Joy Ronstadt rescued the homeless pup.
“When I first saw Ned’s picture, it was his eyes that grabbed me,” she revealed. “Then I started learning more about his story.”
At the same time, Downward Dog creators Michael Killen and Samm Hodges were searching through animal shelters for a puppy to star in the show. Once again, Ned’s eyes told his story.
“It was Ned’s eyes,” recalled Killen. “We kept coming back to that dog.”
The dog trainer for Downward Dog, Nicole Handley, trained him in less than two months. One of the actors, Lucas Neff, contrasted Ned’s learning speed with his own. Neff went to acting school for years.
“It’s illuminating that a dog could learn to act in six weeks.”
For those who want to watch the results of the canine’s acting lessons (and see the humans who co-star with him), Downward Dog airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC. The Downward Dog site also offers clips and episodes.
[Featured Image by Rich Fury/Invision/AP Images]