Third-episode verdict: Downward Dog (US: ABC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, ABC

I have to admit that despite expectations, I’m actually quite enjoying Downward Dog, ABC’s new comedy in which a dog comments on his and his owner (Fargo‘s Allison Tolman)’s lives together as though he’s speaking to his therapist. After all, it’s a mid-season, ABC show involving a talking dog.

But despite that unpromising scenario, it’s proving to be a lot smarter and a lot more grown-up than I’d expected. While the show obviously has a talking dog, it’s still a dog, not a pseudo-man, so its concerns and understanding of the world are pretty much a dog’s concerns and understanding of the world, rather than a Garfield-like commentary on life and obsession with lasagne.

In episode two, does he understand that the magnet tied to his collar operates some machinery that opens the dog flap? No, he thinks he has powerful mental powers and we follow his mental processes as he tries to understand that (“Maybe I made that old monkey friend of mine who kept saying ‘I love you’ say it with my mind, too”). Episode three sees him trying to deal with the staggering revelation that his beloved owner goes to work where she spends time with other people; feeling neglected, he contemplates an emotional affair with someone else who gets him, but when his new ‘owner’ turns out to be the kind of person who throws a ball for him to chase after but secretly keeps it in his hand, he realises the value of his existing relationship.

While that offers plenty of fun and actually some real pathos at times (that was just something in my eye, honest), the show is still more about Tolman than the dog and offers something more like a serial drama than a comedy. It’s about her struggles at work with her clueless boss, his struggles with his own cluelessness and her ongoing relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Or is he her ex – is it something more? Here, there are genuine adult issues and emotional nuances being explored, ranging from how to balance all the contributions in a working team through how to deal with workplace seniority struggles through to wondering if you and your partners’ goals are the same, whether you’re growing up at the same speed, whether what you have in common is really what you have in common and more. There’s nothing here that more powerful, straight dramas haven’t covered, of course, but compared to the eternal childhood of Imaginary Mary, Downward Dog is impressively emotionally literate.

Despite its name, Downward Dog is ultimately a very warm, very human show about human concerns. It’s rarely laugh-out loud funny, but its wry humour is never far away and its take on dog psychology is hugely fun. Not necessarily a show to deliberately seek out, but you’ll probably enjoy it if you ever catch it.

Barrometer rating: 2