Small Screen: Rescue pooch skittish at first, Downward Dog star says

ABC’s Downward Dog (Tuesdays at 8 p.m.) is about Nan, 31, who lives with her dog, Martin, 7, in Pittsburgh. Then there’s this twist: Martin talks (but not to Nan). This also happens to be one of the best new TV comedies of the year, starring Allison Tolman — the breakout star from Fargo’s first season — and Ned, the breakout coonhound mix star of 2017. This gentle, soulful gem of a series wraps July 11. Beyond that ... ?

I spoke with Tolman recently. An edited version of our chat:

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Q: Are you a dog or cat person? I found out you were once a dog walker and have a “portly cat named Annie,” so it looks like you could go either way.

A: I’m an animal person. I grew up in an animal-friendly household and my mother rescued animals for years — multiple dogs, cats, lizards, gerbils. When I moved to my first apartment, I got a cat, which seemed like the easiest fluffy thing to maintain.

Q: Ned is a rescue dog, and they sometimes have issues — like separation anxiety and trust — of their own. How did you get along?

A: He was straight out of rescue and he was still skittish; he had only been trained for six weeks. It was not a quick process for him to bond, but by the end of six weeks, he was like: “I will accept that you will stand next to me and people will point cameras at me.” Then, when we did promotional stuff later, he remembered me, then leaned his leg up against my leg. He’s a very, very solemn dog. He’s not going to show you a lot of dog moves. But we bonded.

Q: To an extent, Martin mirrors your own moods — maybe even thoughts — as your character navigates work and relationships on the show. Was that a happy coincidence or what the show is all about?

A: From a storytelling point of view, that’s absolutely at work, and we are going through similar struggles — Nan and Martin are dealing with the same issues. But pets are like that. They know what you are feeling even when they can’t possibly know what happened. They read energy so well, and know when to put their head on your lap. One of the best things about having pets is that they know when they are needed. It’s astounding.

Q: Let’s talk about the future. The show is terrific but critical love only goes so far. ABC’s love is what counts. What are you picking up about a potential second season?

A: We’ll know for sure by the end of the month, when our contracts are up. It’s down to the wire. The reviews have been great, people overwhelmingly seem to like the show, but our assumption going in was that this was going to be a hard sell. Our concern was always finding an audience that would love the show, but people who have found us really love it. Have we found enough to continue? We were all hoping for an overwhelming sense one way or another — ‘Oh, it’s hugely successful,’ or ‘Oh, everyone hates it!’ But the ratings have never been clear cut.

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