A TV show about a talking dog might not sound like the setup for a thoughtful modern comedy, but Downward Dog is ready to buck (or, perhaps, bark) your expectations. The ABC program, based on a web series, has received positive reviews after premiering on May 17th.

Downward Dog stars Allison Tolman of Fargo fame as a down-on-her-luck protagonist whose best friend is her pet pup, Martin. Rather than restricting himself to barks, Martin expresses himself through spoken thought bubbles, musing on everything from existentialism to loneliness.

The result is a comedy that some critics have characterized as surprisingly dark and mature, leading to healthy scores on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. “[Martin’s] take on the biped-led world around him isn’t always accurate, but it is winning, just like his musings about his own life at knee level,” reads a review from A.V. Club.

The creators of Downward Dog, Michael Killen and Samm Hodges, began their talking animal tale as a series of seven webisodes before teaming with ABC on a pilot. In sharing their work, they have taken steps to ensure their viewers that Downward Dog is not your typical pet comedy. They took it to the Sundance Film Festival, for example, where it got some buzz.

“The premise sounds like such an awful idea, you really need people who might avoid it to just come into a room, watch and then judge it,” Killen told the Hollywood Reporter. “The notoriety of Sundance as a tastemaker, basically saying ‘this is a show we feel has quality to it,’ really helped. They showed the first four episodes together, so now I feel like saying to people, ‘Watch the pilot but stick around through episode four and you’ll see how we grow.'”

After launching as a midseason replacement, Downward Dog will begin a weekly schedule. At least three more episodes have been set for the next three Tuesdays.

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