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‘Downward Dog’ review: A tail-wagging winner of a comedy

"Downward Dog" stars canine actor Ned, left, Allison Tolman and Lucas Neff. Photo Credit: ABC / Craig Sjodin

THE SERIES “Downward Dog”

WHEN | WHERE 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on ABC/7

THE GRADE A

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Nan (Allison Tolman) lives in Pittsburgh and works in the marketing department for a fashion chain. She has a BFF at work, Jenn (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and an insecure boss, Kevin (Barry Rothbart). She also has an on-and-off boyfriend, Jason (Lucas Neff). Then, there’s Martin, her dog. She can’t hear his thoughts, but we can (in voice-over). Martin has lots to say, mostly about Nan.

MY SAY “Downward Dog” is primarily for dog lovers. Only they can fully grasp what no one else does and which this new series so obviously does as well: Dogs are people, too.

Dogs think a lot and plot a lot. They worry. They obsess. They are passive-aggressive. They seek revenge. They especially seek food. They have manifest feelings, and complicated emotional lives. They remember everything. They get depressed. They get elated. They have guilt. Love, above all, makes their world go around.

“Downward Dog” is a shrewd calibration of all this, but goes a particularly funny step further by reflecting another truism: People are dogs, too. We also have complicated emotional lives, further complicated by our professional ones. We also seek food. We also seek love. We obsess. Nan and Martin’s bond works — and consequently this terrific series works — because it abides by these simple, inalienable truths.

Moreover, Tolman, establishes that her breakout in FX’s “Fargo” was no fluke. As someone trying to balance her personal and work lives, Nan certainly loves Martin, but secretly in her heart realizes that he’s there to help fill an emotional void. She also loves Jason (himself just another puppy dog) but realizes he can’t fill the void either. It lends an unexpected poignancy to her performance.

Martin senses her inner turmoil, but interprets it otherwise. “Look,” he says in voice-over, “I worry. There are a lot of just massive threats that she seems completely unaware of. The cat, for example — and not to be racist, but she’s an emotional terrorist. I feel like I just get zero help.”

Why “Downward Dog”? (Not to be confused with the yoga pose, downward-facing dog.) Martin is neurotic and depressive. He was a rescue puppy, so a cloud of existential dread hangs over him. Anything bad could happen at any minute. He covets unconditional love, which Nan is incapable of giving. Therefore he whines and worries.

Looking into the camera, his expressive eyes are full of longing. The voice — provided by one of the show’s producers, Samm Hodges — is full of pathos and self-pity. In a later episode, Martin wonders why other people besides Nan don’t admire him. “Would I like to turn a head now and then? Of course I would. I’m only human.”

Of course you are, Martin.

BOTTOM LINE Woof, woof. A winner.

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