Review: Downward Dog 1×1 (US: ABC)

Not so imaginary

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, ABC

Downward Dog feels like an also-ran. When I was commenting last week how I was sure there were more new TV shows due our way soon, I was recalling from my write-up of last year’s Upfronts that the show existed and was a mid-season replacement, and as mid-season was running out, surely Downward Dog had to be on on our screens soon (whither Still Star-Crossed?).

More so, I wrote it up as “A dog comments on a woman’s life”, in part because of Imaginary Mary, which I wrote up as “An imaginary friend comments on a woman’s life”. It was clearly not just a second tier show, but a second tier show following in the wake of a near identical second tier show on the exact same network, but without even the benefit of Imaginary Mary‘s Jenna Elfman, making it probably a fifth tier show at best.

Or so I thought.

Based on a web series of the same name, Downward Dog sees Fargo‘s Allison Tolman playing some sort of creative in advertising. She puts together presentations for ad campaigns anyway. Whatever it is she does, it doesn’t make her happy, in part because her boss Barry Rothbart (The Wolf of Wall Street) thinks he’s a feminist but is really a mansplainer who’ll go for any ad campaign containing French words and nudity.

Her personal life? Even less happy, since she’s broken up from her boyfriend Lucas Neff (Raising Hope) and spends most of her nights in, crying to herself and drinking red wine.

Which cheers up her dog no end. That’s quality time, he says. Because the conceit of Downward Dog is that her dog talks to camera, except rather than simply saying “Bunnies… food… meat… hugs… sleep” in continuous cycles, he talks to the camera like an emotionally hyperaware man talking to his therapist. He’s still a dog, so doesn’t understand that when Tolman drives off every morning, she’s driving to work, not just having fun by herself. He doesn’t think they’re in a relationship either (thankfully), although they clearly have a relationship, and so ‘Ned’ spends most of his time dryly discussing what Tolman is doing wrong and how it affects him, his loneliness when she’s out and so on. Oh yes, and the fact the neighbourhood cat (Lady Dynamite‘s Maria Bamford) is clearly a sociopath who wishes to destroy him emotionally.

So the show is of two halves. The workplace half is pretty ordinary stuff, with the standard Working Girl approach to work, with Tolman discovering her inner strength with the help of both Ned and gal pal Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Love), after being kept down by her boss. The far more interesting half is Ned and his commentary – perhaps unsurprisingly, as that’s the core of the web series. At times, that’s genuinely funny, although it’s not until the dream sequence at the end that there was a real, life-out-loud moment.

It’s gentle, but human stuff that dog owners will probably find funnier than the pet-less will. It’s smart, although not so much that you’ll hear dozens of philosophical nuggets you’ll have never heard of before. Downward Dog is nothing hugely remarkable, but for a fifth-tier, Jenna Elfman-less, mid-season ABC replacement, it’s a lot better than it should be.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.