Downward Dog is not a show about yoga. It is quite literally a show about a dog who is down in the dumps. That didn’t stop us from inventing a list of new yoga poses that demonstrate what this show is really all about.
Allison Tolman plays Nan, a woman struggling at a dead-end job, in a dead-end relationship with Jason (Lucas Neff). Nan’s dog Martin (voice of series creator Samm Hodges) speaks but only the audience at home can hear his comments about Nan’s life. She can’t.
Tolman spoke with Rotten Tomatoes in Los Angeles before the premiere of Downward Dog. Here are 10 fake yoga poses the show strikes in its quirky take on life and love.
Nan is at a crossroads in life, and Tolman says she’s the character most like herself she’s ever played. Sorry, she’s not a badass sheriff in real life, like on Fargo.
“I think most people hit this point about 10 years after they get out of college,” Tolman said. “They’re like, ‘I’ve got this down now. You pay the taxes and you have the job and you have the career and you’ve got a trajectory.’ Then one day you’re like, ‘Holy sh–, now I just do this forever. This is now what I do for the rest of my life.’”
That sort of quarter-life or one-third life crisis is what Downward Dog is about.
“That’s a really daunting thing, trying to balance that realization, what do you want to do with work?” Tolman continued. “How far do you want to go? Do you want to get married? Do you want to have kids? What do you want to do? That is literally my whole life right now. I really relate to where she’s at.”
Now, Tolman is no longer where Nan is. She’s a successful actor with the acclaimed series Fargo and the popular film Krampus to her credit. But just before everyone found out who she was, Tolman felt the same pressure Nan does.
“I can [relate] and I wonder if it’s not because I was doing mundane jobs four years ago,” she said. “I broke very, very late so I had 10 plus years under my belt of doing office jobs and wondering about how I was going to make money, figuring out how to do taxes and trying to learn how to be a grown-up. I think that really serves my ability to be able to play a woman who is just a woman.”
Maybe one day, Nan can be as accomplished as Tolman. It’s going to take more than just asserting herself at work though.
“I think she’s a little bit less self-assured than I am,” Tolman said. “Certainly I think as evidenced in her relationship with her boyfriend, her on again/off again boyfriend in the show. I can say that now. I have been in that point of my life when you accept being treated ways that you wouldn’t normally accept. You justify things in your head that you wouldn’t normally justify.”
For Tolman, Nan is a fun chance to get a do-over, but know that she turned out OK.
“It’s fun to revisit that time in my life in a safe environment and play with that,” she said. “I feel more self-assured in who I am now than I think Nan is.”
Martin provides the show’s commentary and a lot of its comedy, but on the set Tolman is basically doing a grown-up drama. She doesn’t hear any of Martin’s lines.
“I feel like we’re just doing our show and the voiceover comes after,” Tolman said. “I kind of forget the voice. I forget about it. His perception of reality has such little bearing on what’s actually happening in reality that it just doesn’t really affect my day at work. I think we are sort of making two different shows.”
Tolman says she doesn’t need anyone reading Martin’s lines for her, but sometimes they time out gaps to leave room for him to speak.
“Sometimes we need the timing, like we know we need to fill 10 seconds or something like that, but I never hear it on set,” she said. “Samm, our head writer, is the voice of the dog, so I hear his voice in my head all the time anyway on set.”
Ned is the thespian dog who plays Martin. He’s got a tough episode coming up when Martin digs into the garbage.
“There’s a great episode where he takes this little field trip and just gets into trash all over the neighborhood,” Tolman said. “It is so funny and disgusting. Poor Ned hated his makeup. He had to have garbage-y makeup. He would always try to wipe it off but it was so cute and so funny.”
Get this: Tolman is actually allergic to dogs. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to sign up for a show starring a canine.
“I take allergy pills every day,” she said.
If Downward Dog gets a second season and more, Tolman will take more serious steps to deal with her allergies.
“I think I figure I’d start getting shots if that were the case,” she said.
Ned is not the only dog on set either. Downward Dog is a pet-friendly workplace.
“It’s just an animal set,” Tolman said. “Lucas brings his dogs there. Ned has dogs that keep him company. so there’s always other dogs on set. There’s a couple puppies in an episode so there’s puppies on set. The makeup girl has her dog, so we’re actually a really animal friendly set which was nice.”
Downward Dog is a comedy, but it’s certainly got its share of heavy themes with Martin’s existential depression and Nan’s tragic love life. Tolman said she’s always looking for the quirky comedic approach to serious material.
“I like funny things,” she said. “Even Fargo was funny. I don’t know that I would be drawn to just a straight drama to spend all my time on. To think about something I might spend six years on, I think a comedy is probably where I want to be.”
“We wanted to pace things slowly and make things very real and not have things be clean and curse every now and then and all this stuff,” Tolman said. “That was kind of the grand experiment. How do you make an indie comedy? How do you make a quirky comedy for a network? That’s kind of been the question we’ve been trying to answer.”
Tolman has been waiting a long time for people to see Downward Dog. After filming the pilot, she had to wait for the green light for the series.
“We shot the pilot two winters ago, November before last,” she said. “I started meeting with the guys a few months before that.”
Then once they filmed the series, it’s taken a long time to animate Martin’s mouth moving.
“The special effects do take a while,” Tolman said. “Certainly our post[-production] takes a while because we have to animate the dog’s mouth which takes some time for sure.”
Some viewers might dismiss a “talking-dog show” right off the bat. Tolman understands the challenge and hopes to break through the haters.
“I think the conceit of a talking-dog show is a hard hurdle to get over but people need to give it a shot, because it is funny and sweet and beautiful and odd and very, very charming,” Tolman said. “I can guarantee you, [it’s] not at all what anyone would expect from a talking dog show.”
It may help to tell everyone how introspective and meditative Martin gets. Like, this is a talking dog with deep thoughts.
“It’s a way to examine the intricacies of human behavior and the way humans think we’re the center of the universe, the things that we worry about, our anxieties,” she said. “I know I’m a very anxious person. We can examine these very human things in this safe environment with this incredible, beautiful, brown-eyed, sweet, sweet puppy. It makes it more comfortable to explore the intricacies of being a human and what makes it so hard.”
Yoga practitioners will mistake Downward Dog for a yoga show, and this article isn’t helping. Sorry about that.
“There is no yoga,” Tolman said. “I get that question. People are like, ‘Oh, the yoga show.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh boy, nope.’ Maybe in season 2. If we get a season two we can throw some yoga in there.”
Downward Dog premieres May 17 on ABC.