‘Downward Dog’ Unfairly Euthanized

Another sign show metrics don’t always capture quality programs

You saw the ads. A show about a woman whose dog narrates the tale. Oy. The first thing that comes to mind is a story about a girl and her dog, creating some laugh-track driven monstrosity complete with moving dog lips and sound effects.

I watched this show one afternoon when I was ironing and needed to be able to look away from the screen without fear of missing something, but also not wanting to engage in some random science fiction that might require my complete understanding to understand or ridicule effectively later.

This is how I ended up choosing ‘Downward Dog.’ I’m certain I wasn’t in their demographics. This show is a brilliantly subversive view of a woman’s relationship and workplace issues and a dog’s eye view of her. The writing was amazing.

The show features Nan (played to sublime perfection by Alison Tolman) and her dog, ‘canus genericus’ Martin. I admit I hadn’t expected much and had planned to give it only one episode (something I don’t normally do) but I figured if it were some ABC crap, I would know in fifteen minutes or less.

Instead of hating it intensely, I found myself intrigued. No laugh-track. No music. Just pure unadulterated emotional pathos. Nan is a creative director for a small advertising firm with a boss who is a complete non-entity. He has no talent. No skill. No creativity. No manners and he does everything in his powers to undermine anything Nan presents.

Martin, whose love for Nan easily borders on the obsessive, regales us of his life, his ideals, his perspectives on how he and Nan were made for each other and no one was going to stand between them. Except for Jason (played by Lucas Neff) which Martin has a love-hate-love relationship with.

Nan loves Jason. Nan loves Martin. Martin loves Jason, but he wishes Jason would stay at his own house because he would like to have more time “wine and cuddling time” with Nan. Which he gets lots of when Jason and Nan are on the outs. Again.

This show’s strength is in the characterization of all involved. Nan struggles for recognition in an office where the best you should hope for is mild indifference. Her boss is an incompetent self-centered sycophant with delusions of grandeur who makes himself seem grander by demeaning others around him.

Nan struggles and Martin longs to help. He loves Nan and doesn’t understand why she can’t see this. Martin’s perspective of dominance (a real dog trait) has him viewing their relationship as one where he acts out, she responds, he believes he has taught her a lesson.

As Nan moves through her life, Martin ends up circling in closer as the stakes get higher. What I liked about this show was its slow and steady climbing story arc. Nan and Martin’s often conflicting viewpoints cross over in such subtle and sublime ways creating something far greater than their individual story arcs could carry alone.

Martin’s worldview is dog-centric. He worries about how much time he gets with Nan. He worries about her leaving home and not accomplishing much. I mean she leaves in her car and comes home later, in the same car. Talk about not getting much done. He hates and fears the neighborhood cat Pepper, while knowing everything about her due to eating her delicious “candy snacks” he digs up.

I think I enjoyed the interplay between Nan, her best friend, Jenn (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and the other office-mates as they navigate their way to possible success around their incompetent boss, Kevin (Barry Rothbart).

I admit to be surprised by Nan. She is a real person. Nan gets tired. She drunk dials. She gets lonely. Impatient. Nan is everyone you have ever known trying to cope with her life, such as it. She makes bad decisions she later regrets. Yet at no time do you feel as if you couldn’t relate to her choices.

Nan is the hero in this story with her plucky sidekick telling the story as only plucky sidekicks can, from their point of view, loving the main character so much it literally hurts them not to show them. Protecting them against unseen threats, comforting them in those dark times (they occasionally cause) and reminding them of the most important thing in the world.

It’s not how big you are, not how important you are in the scheme of things, what matters is how big your love is, how well you use it, how clearly you recognize it, and most importantly how to give it to yourself first, if you have any chance of finding a love worth having.

Martin (played to perfection by Ned the Dog) reminds you constantly how much he loves himself and thus what a great individual it takes to love someone as amazing as Nan.

Downward Dog’s art is the fusing of the two perspectives into a single shining example of what being Human is about: The temerity of Love.

Because of my absolute adoration for this show, it will be canceled (and it was). My only hope is someone out there will read my words and realize just what a jewel this show was, both in front of the camera and behind it. A talent-fest like this one deserves an opportunity to shine just a bit longer.

There is so much Nan and Martin have to teach us. Especially Martin. Just ask him. He’ll tell you so in a rambling but poetic fashion. It’s how he is. I never thought I would find myself liking this show, let alone loving it. Damn.

I think I am getting soft in my old age. Well done, writing team. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for you wherever you land. It’s sure to be good stuff.

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.

He is a known collaborator as the Answer-Man with Krypton Radio and the Good Men Project. He edits Future SF Magazine right here on Medium and blows the doors off the Nerdist’s comic commentary when he writes on Quora.com. He also coordinates and works with the Afrosurreal Writing Workshop in the city of Oakland. In his spare time, he collaborates with Black Comic Creators in an effort to promote their work and the impending Black Age of Comics.

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