Premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17 2017, 9:30 pm
Downward Dog will be the newest entry into must-view TV when it premiers on ABC next Wednesday, May 17. The unconventional comedy centers around Martin, a soulful mutt, whose person, a millennial named Nan, struggles to find her way in relationships, work and life in the modern age. Through it all, they have each other—their day-to-day trials commented on philosophically by Martin. You see, Martin talks … to the camera, as a device to share his inner thoughts. And before you cringe at the memory of Mr. Ed (the talking horse), this show ensues broad comedy aiming instead for a satisfying mix of smart and sweet. It succeeds due to the clever writing (Samm Hodges, who is also the voice of Martin) and fine performances from Allison Tolman (recently seen in Fargo) as Nan and Ned, an endearing rescue dog, as Martin. We caught up with Hodges and Tolman after a recent screening.
Bark: Congratulations on a wonderful show—are you longtime animal lovers?
Hodges: I was always around dogs growing up, my mom was always bringing home mutts who had ran away—we had a menagerie of dogs around the house. Currently, I don’t have a dog but look forward to getting into a routine and adding one to our family.
Tolman: I have a cat and it’s really hard for me to be away from her. I take my cat with me when I am filming whenever possible. I grew up with dogs and a houseful of animals, my mom has always been very into animal rescue, so we had lots of rescue dogs and cats at home — she couldn’t be more pleased with my involvement with this project!
Bark: Can you talk about the concept of the show, and Ned’s communication to viewers.
Hodges: Martin is not actually a talking dog. In our rules, it’s more a conceit to give us access into the thoughts of the character. So much humor associated with animals is goofy and detached from reality — this was a way to keep the world real and treat the canine character with some seriousness and gravitas. It’s hard to do that when you have a dog talking because then he’s no longer a dog. So all the time that Martin is not talking to the camera, he’s acting 100% like a normal dog, it allows us to honor the reality of what dogs are.
What we have in common with dogs is that as people we don’t make logical decisions, we react to environments, and later justify our actions, so in that way, I think Martin is very human in that sense. He’s an animal who is completely controlled by his instincts and later has to deal with the consequences.
Allison: The first episode reflects the lead character’s dilemma of the push-pull of her personal and professional life and the effect it has on her dog. It was important to tie those two things together in the first episode, and say these things are inextricably linked. The writers did a great job constructing the episodes so that big things happen in Nan’s life that mirror the small things that happen in Martin’s life that he thinks are huge.
Hodges: We all struggle with self-love, it’s something that Nan’s character wrestles with. There is something genuine about how a dog just accepts you as you are. The personal growth of Nan’s character throughout the season is learning how to accept who we are and in the process make us more loving of others.
Tolman: That is the very best part of loving an animal — having this other creature who thinks you are the moon and the stars, it’s so powerful.
Bark: Tell us about Ned, the dog who plays Martin.
Hodges: Ned is a rescue from Paws Chicago, he had been at the shelter for a long time. He’s the kind of dog that people often don’t adopt. He wasn’t a puppy, he wasn’t a pure breed. We found his photograph and thought his eyes were so emotive, I just immediately wanted to write for him. We rescued him and the trainers had about six weeks to evaluate and work with him. They are amazing and it’s been remarkable to watch Ned heal from a fairly traumatic life over the past year. It’s been an amazing transformation.
Tolman: From my experience with my mother working in animal rescue — what made him less adoptable for many people, made him perfect for us and this role. Ned is kind of a somber and a serious dog, not excitable, not a tail wagger. He’s not motivated by praise, he’s very much his own man. When you go to the shelter to find your dog, you want the one who is effusive in his love for you. And Ned’s not really like that, you really have to earn it.
Hodges: This impacts the writing as well … you’d write a script where the dog is supposed to look scared, and you film it and the dog doesn’t look scared at all — so you go and rewrite the plot around whatever the dog’s face is doing that day.
Tolman: The character who Martin is has been shaped by the kind of dog Ned is and that is charming. This is who Ned is. I hope that this will really speak to pet owners, because most people don’t have the kind of dog who appear in dog food commercials in their home — they have dogs who are temperamental or a little bratty or pout, and that’s who this dog is.
Hodges: The whole show thematically is about a mutt in the back yard in a regular neighborhood of Pittsburg who is asking if he matters. When you look at a dog in a shelter that nobody wants and say that this dog matters—we are turning our lens on a relationship which up until now has been thought of as too small or too incidental to focus on. This relationship between this woman and this dog does actually matter, and suggest how we all matter.
Bark: That’s a very existential storyline.
Tolman: That’s right, It’s palatable because it comes from this dog, and never seems preachy or too heady, it makes you think about these things and also makes you smile. It’s a very sweet, sweet show.
Hodges: Plus, there are poop jokes!
Downward Dog premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17, 9:30 pm, then moves to Tuesday nights 8–8:30 pm beginning May 23.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Synchronized Swimming Commercial
The Rio Olympics inspired a Farmer’s Insurance commercial featuring dogs enjoying a flooded home. The five dogs play in the water and perform a synchronized swimming routine.
In a related ad, the same water-filled home serves as the venue for a dog diving competition.
Seeing these commercials provides some compensation for the misery that comes from staying up way too late watching the Olympics every night!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
True friends always have your back
Cuteness reigns! Budweiser is sticking with their ads about puppies and horses because it’s a winning combination. This year’s Super Bowl commercial stays with the theme of real friends always being there for each other, and that is its strength.
Opportunities to pull at our heartstrings are certainly not in short supply: the puppy in a pile of hay, waiting out a rainstorm in a metal box, returning home filthy with the horses following him, licking the man’s face after being bathed. There’s a nice reference to last year’s commercial when the man puts up a “Lost Dog” poster with a photo of the puppy and horse.
In this 60-second story, the farm’s Labrador Retriever puppy gets lost, and suffers through some hazards before the horses who love him come to his rescue. One danger is traffic, but the main threat is a wolf. It looks to be the end of the dog until his horse buddies show up and scare the predator away. If I could change one thing about the commercial, it would be the depiction of wolves as the enemy. I thought that the “big bad wolf” stereotype had faded away, so Budweiser’s attempt to revive it is unfortunate.
Still, the commercial is about friendship, and you can feel the love on that farm in so many scenes: when the horse and man seek comfort from one another while their beloved puppy is missing, when the horses rush to the aid of the puppy, the expression on the man’s face when he first sees that his dog has come home and when the horse and puppy play together at the end.
I’ve always been impressed with how well these commercials capture happy dog behavior in the scenes that require it, which is not easy on a set with huge horses, a lot of people, cameras and other equipment. (The one miss I noticed in this commercial is at 52 seconds when the puppy tongue flicks—a sign of anxiety—right before he licks the man’s face, supposedly joyfully.) Showing dogs looking forlorn in the rain or other sad scenes seems an easier task, but I give them credit for accomplishing it anyway.
This commercial has been viewed over 17 million times already on YouTube. Do you consider it a winner?
With Dogs Galore + Hilary Swank, Jane Lynch and many more stars
There is a must-watch TV telethon on Thanksgiving night for all dog lovers. We urge you to tune into the history-making Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, a first-of-its kind program that features rescue dogs, and only rescue dogs. The show came out of the remarkable efforts of co-producers, Hilary Swank and Michael Levitt, both of whom are big-time advocates for dog rescue/adoption. The show will be cohosted by Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and feature a cast of leading Hollywood celebrities, including Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Queen Latifah, Betty White, and so many more.
The idea behind the program is the need to bring the plight of rescue dogs to center stage. It’s amazing, but sadly true, that many Americans still do not understand that millions of dogs are needlessly killed annually in this country, or that others are languishing in overcrowded shelters waiting, and waiting for their forever homes. This program wants to convince people that dogs must be saved and that the perfect dog is waiting for you at your local rescue group or area shelter. From purebreds to one-of-a-kind mixed breeds, there is a rescue dog there for you and your family.
The show will also be a celebration of the human-dog connection and, as Hilary explained, “it will be a joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs, with best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes, best viral dog video, plus celebrating the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things and sharing all those stories.” It’s great that they’ll be featuring the heroes on the front lines of animal rescue, those rescue organizations that work tirelessly to save lives, such as Beagle Freedom Project (featured in Bark’s fall issue) This remarkable show will celebrate not just the rescuers, but also, the dogs themselves, from mixed breeds to purebreds, from youngsters to seniors and those with special needs, highlighting their uplifting, life-affirming stories. This makes for perfect viewing for the whole family.
On Tuesday, Hilary Swank was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest on his very popular iHeart radio show , she explained to the listeners, as she did in our winter issue, the problems faced by dogs in shelters and how grateful they are to their rescuers, she explained how tirelessly rescue groups work to care for dogs and connect them to forever homes, and she also gave The Bark a big shout out. She told Ryan that while she has been on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, it was more important to her, and a bigger honor, to be featured, with her dear dogs, Rumi and Kai, on the cover of The Bark!
We were thrilled by her words but we’ll be even more thrilled if you tune into Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, 8 to 10 pm (7 pm Central time) on Thursday, Thanksgiving night on your local Fox station—tuning in is very important because a large viewership will give networks the green light for further rescue advocacy programming. And, as executive producer Michael Levitt notes, “This is our big opportunity to change the misperception of shelter animals and show the world that rescuing a dog is always the way to go.”
I hope you will be moved to donate to the cause and open your hearts to adopt a rescue dog or help in any way you can. This is a cause where every person can make an important difference. So remember: adopt, foster or donate, and most importantly, spread the word. Join Swank, Levitt and your local rescue communities in saving the lives of animals and enriching your own as well.
For Q&A with HIlary Swank, see here
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Quick reflexes prevent collision
Cadet Ryan Krieder used his football skills to make sure that Reveille, the dog who is the Texas A&M mascot, was not injured. A receiver for the opposing football team came flying off the sidelines after being pushed and was on a collision course for Reveille. That’s when Krieder, in his cadet uniform, threw a block to change the receiver’s direction and keep him from running into the dog.
As the commentator of the football game said when pointing out that Reveille has her own security, “I think that young cadet should think about the secret service.” (By the way, he refers to the dog as a boy, but Reveille is actually female.) He also points out that Reveille has a comfortable bed and plenty of water. I was glad to hear about the water, because the poor dog looked really hot. Attending games early in the season in Texas may not be the ideal conditions for this dog.
I was impressed by the cadet’s behavior for several reasons:
1. He used just enough force to keep the dog safe and no more. His block was controlled and skilled, showing good form and no signs of excess. It was clear that his goal was simply to protect Reveille rather than harm the receiver.
2. He managed to hang onto the leash without yanking it. I’ve never thrown a block in football, much less while holding onto a dog’s leash. I suspect it takes considerable body awareness and control to do it without accidentally pulling on the leash and hurting the dog.
3. Krieder did not hesitate. He took immediate action to protect his canine mascot when he sensed a threat to her.
In addition to praise for Krieder’s action, I must mention that the receiver seemed to be making an attempt to leap over the dog and avoid her, so it’s not as though he was the bad guy in this incident. His speed made stopping in time unlikely, but I applaud his attempt to avoid a collision.
I was pleased to learn that Krieder will receive a special gift from the Commandant of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez. Ramirez has said that he is proud of Krieder’s actions. Ramirez will be buying Krieder’s senior boots, which are an Aggie tradition that can cost seniors around $1000. It always makes the dog trainer in me happy to see good behavior noticed and reinforced!
Q&A with the hit television show’s “girl-next-door”
With its devoted cult following—including many devoted dog lovers—in tow, Wilfred will begin its final season on Wednesday, June 25 at 10 pm on its new home FXX. Exploring the surprising intersections of existentialism and dog culture, this dark comedy features Elijah Wood as Ryan, a miserable and apathetic ex-lawyer who maneuvers through life with the help of Wilfred (Jason Gann), a dog he sees as a brazen, cantankerous stoner in a grungy dog suit.
For the mutt’s owner Jenna, played wonderfully by Fiona Gubelmann, Wilfred is merely a playful canine. As the cheerful neighbor to Ryan, Gubelmann’s character has swung from sunny to dark over the first three seasons. In addition to focusing on Ryan’s mental panic, Wilfred also depicts Jenna grappling with her own difficulties. Fiona Gubelmann talked to The Bark about Jenna’s evolving storyline, her relationship with pets and her take on Wilfred’s philosophy.
The Bark: Do you have a dog, or did you have one growing up?
Fiona Gubelmann: My family sadly lost one of our dogs this year, but until recently we had two dogs. I personally don’t have a dog now at the moment, but I have three cats. I would love a dog and my husband wants to get foster dogs, but we aren’t home enough to do that now. I don’t have a neighbor to watch my dog!
Is your relationship with Wilfred much like the relationship a pet owner has with their pet?
Yes, definitely. When I first saw the script, I imagined Wilfred as my cat Dragon, a large Maine Coon. Dragon is gray, loving and yet quite moody—much like Wilfred. When I auditioned, I just thought, “How do I talk to Dragon?”
I imagine the set is a crazy one to work on with all the talent and wicked humor. Is it hard to keep a straight face?
Sometimes! We keep the tone of the show truthful and dark, so that helps us stay grounded. However, there are times when we have a couple of takes in the bag, and then they’ll say, “Jason, just be silly and go for it.” He’ll do just that, making it rather hard to keep a straight face. Jenna doesn’t see Wilfred as Ryan sees him, so I usually just wait until I watch the episode. Otherwise, I’d be laughing too much on set!
We’re fans of each character, but Jenna has especially evolved. Women are often written as comic foils for men, but Jenna is much more than that. Do you agree?
Jenna was initially an effervescent “girl next door.” A lot of shows may have kept her there, but we actually gave her a storyline that’s quite dark and almost tragic. We see her first as optimistic with everything going for her. But over the first three seasons, you see everything in her life fall apart. I get to have a range of emotions and explore different things. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
Your work for Funny or Die is hilarious! Do you have any comedic heroes who you look up to?
For women, I definitely admire Sally Field, Goldie Hawn and Lucille Ball. They were always so committed to what they were doing. Soapdish is one of my favorite movies and I’ll never forget Goldie Hawn in Overboard — those performances are so funny and timeless. As for men, Bill Murray and Robin Williams have always been two of my favorites. I worked with Robin Williams in season two. That was one of my career high points.
Wilfred’s tone moves brilliantly between dark and light— how would you characterize the upcoming final season?
Although there is still humor in it, the last season has a more serious tone. They’re tying everything up and explaining why everything happened—who Wilfred is, delving into my relationship with Wilfred and answering all of the remaining questions.
Dog people are going to be your hardest critics, but we believe Wilfred has won them over. The show touches upon many corners of dog culture—agility, dog parks, phobias and other things only people who have dogs really know well. Have you noticed the world of dogs more since you started playing Jenna?
We call those dogisms—they’re fun for fans to relate to. I have many fans who are dog owners, who work in dog rescue or who are involved with dogs in some other capacity. They tweet me pictures of dogs and tell me dog-related stories. It’s so cool to see how they relate their relationships with their dogs to the show.
Wilfred has such strong views of the world that he constantly imparts to Ryan. How would you summarize Wilfred’s philosophy on life?
There’s one episode in which Wilfred says “Carne diem” instead of “Carpe diem.” He truly does want Ryan to live in the moment instead of living in fear. He’s pushing him to action. That would be Wilfred’s philosophy—to seize the day.
Also a special thanks to Sophie Cox who contributed to this interview.
“Vision,” Danelle Umstead says, “is to have sight, an idea, or a dream.” Danelle’s immediate dream is to win gold for the U.S. in alpine skiing at the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games (March 7–16) at Sochi, Russia. Danelle teams with husband Rob Umstead who acts as her coach and sighted guide as they race through the courses. Rooting the couple on in Sochi will be Aziza, Danelle’s new guide dog. Danelle began working with Aziza this past summer, after her longtime guide dog Bettylynn (shown here with Danelle and Rob) was forced to retire due to optic nerve atrophy. Bettylynn will be pulling for the couple back at their home in Park City, Utah, with their son Brocton.
At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes complete darkness. Her vision is “spotted” and she can only see up to three to five feet in front of her, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. In 2011 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Still, none of these hurdles have kept Danelle from achieving her best.
Danelle was introduced to adaptive skiing by her father in 2000, who acted as her guide. She quickly fell in love with the sport—the freedom, the speed, the exhilaration. After she began training and working fulltime with Rob in 2008, competitive success soon followed with Paralympic Bronze medals in Vancouver, 2010, nine World Cup podiums and Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Championships. Her success relies heavily on trust and communication—100 percent trust in Rob as he guides her down the hill at top speed. It’s similar to the trust and communication that she had with BettyLynn and is working to build with Aziza. Danelle and Rob have created Vision4Gold.org as a vehicle to mentor junior disabled athletes by sharing her story and offering encouragement. We’re hopeful that Danelle realizes her vision in Sochi.
Update: Danelle has finished 5th and 4th in her first two Paralympic events at Sochi and hopes to climb the medal stand sometime in her next three races.
Another great ad is launching at the Super Bowl, this one is from General Mills and reprises its multiracial family ad for Cheerios that stirred up a lot of intense and nasty hoopla online (as well as thumbs up opinions too) when it aired in May. Good for Cheerios that they are going with this family again, and it will mark a first appearance on Super Bowl Sunday for the company. And, no, there isn’t a dog in it, but there’s certainly a mentioned of a promised one. Little Gracie is a doll in how she raises the cheerios “poker” hand with her dad for a “puppy” as her ante, but almost better is the expression on the mom’s face! What’s not to love about this?
We want to send special congratulations to one of our biggest fans—Kaley Cuoco. The “Big Bang Theory” star tied the knot with tennis pro, Ryan Sweeting on New Year’s Eve. No word yet if Kaley’s three dogs were in attendance but it wouldn’t surprise us if they were. The other great love of her life are dogs. Cuoco is a longtime animal advocate who tirelessly promotes rescue and adoption. Her rescued Pitbulls Norman, Loretta and Shirley aid in her efforts to rehabilitate the breed’s bad rap. A few years back, Kaley appeared in Men’s Health and was asked to list “4 Things I Want to See You Reading at the Beach”—she replied (for number 3) The Bark: I’m a huge dog lover—I have three—and I love this magazine. It has everything you need to know. I’m also big on rescuing dogs, so if you have a rescued dog sitting beside you while you’re reading The Bark , oh, forget it—I'll marry you right there!
Perhaps, Mr. Sweeting is a Bark reader too?! Best wishes Kaley and Ryan!
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