Allison Tolman knows what some will be thinking about her decision to follow a breakout, Emmy-nominated role as police chief Molly Solverson in FX’s Fargo with Downward Dog, an ABC comedy premiering Wednesday in which her costar is, as you may have heard, a talking dog.
“How the mighty tumble,” she said, laughing, in an interview in January during an ABC media event.
“People are going to think, ‘Oh, my God, after Fargo, she panicked and took the first thing that came along. And it was a talking-dog show.’ So I was really worried about how to convey that I didn’t panic, that I chose this show on purpose, that it was like what I wanted to do. And then I just eventually decided that I couldn’t worry about it. I just had to make the show and see what happened.”
One of the funniest things about the very funny Downward Dog, which in January became the first broadcast network comedy to screen at the Sundance Film Festival, is that, unlike the audience, Tolman’s character, Nan, doesn’t have a clue what her canine companion is thinking.
Martin — voiced by Samm Hodges, cocreator of the web series on which the show is based, and played by a dog named Ned — is lonely as Nan departs each day for a marketing job of which he knows nothing. But he also often sounds more angry than adoring when talking about her.
In fact, as a dog person, I thought he sometimes sounded more like a cat.
“I think that’s what makes this show fun, though,” Tolman said. “He says, often, how much he loves Nan and how he’s sort of obsessed with her, but he says it in sort of an offhanded way [as in] oh, of course, ‘however, I’m concerned about her behavior.’ ”
Like a neurotic boyfriend?
“Yes,” she said. “It’s like the predominant characteristic in any dog character is how much they love their human and how devoted they are to their human. But we kind of move past that and take that for granted, like, of course [he loves Nan]. Then we kind of get to go a bit deeper and play with, what is he thinking about beyond that? ”
One thing he seems to be thinking, I suggested, is that Nan needs a better boyfriend than Jason (Lucas Neff, Raising Hope), with whom she’s in a breakup that’s not quite taken, or at least a boyfriend with better hair.
“I like Lucas’ hair. I can’t lie,” Tolman said, laughing. “I feel like probably the dog identifies with all of the hair. He’s like, ‘Why is she so into him? I have that much hair. I’m just as furry. What’s the point?’ ”
Neff, who’s grown out both his beard and his hair, may in fact be furrier than Martin, which turned out to be a problem. “He’s a short-haired dog,” Tolman said of Ned, a mutt rescued from a Chicago shelter. “You know I’m allergic to short-haired dogs? I took allergy pills every day.”
She’s had a cat for 16 years, but “I grew up with long-haired dogs. I grew up with border collies and Australian blues … corgis,” she said, and had no problems.
But “I kind of knew that I had friends who had dogs that, when they licked me, I’d get itchy. So I was kind of aware of it. And then I didn’t meet Ned until we went to shoot. And I was like, ‘That’s a short-haired dog.’ So I just went and bought a bunch of pills.”
She said that no one knew.
“I really was OK. There’s lots of instances where he has to lick me and then I would have to spray a little bit of Benadryl spray, because I would get a little itchy,” Tolman said. “I would be like, ‘We should shoot that at the end of the day. Trust me.’ ”
9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC. Moves to 8 p.m. Tuesdays next week.