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Downward Dog worth taking for a walk or two

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If you can't judge a book by its cover, can you judge a TV show by its pilot?

In my 24 years as a TV critic, I've found that it's often unfair to outright condemn a new show based solely on its initial episode. Granted, a bad pilot -- a really stinky one -- can be so off-putting that the series is dead on arrival. But a pilot that holds a hint of promise can be improved upon.

That's the case with Downward Dog, which debuts at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on ABC, then moves to its regular 7 p.m. time May 23.

The "sneak peek" Wednesday is to take advantage of viewers watching the season finale of Modern Family. The network hopes they'll be so intrigued by the ads (or too lazy to change the channel) to stick around to sample the new comedy.

Viewers then will have to remember that the following week, Downward Dog not only has a different day, but also a different time.

That's a lot to ask for a sitcom that has an interesting gimmick, but has yet to decide what it wants to be. Is Downward Dog a workplace comedy? A relationship (human and canine) comedy? A modern feminist comedy, or all of the above?

The title is a play on a popular yoga position, but there's also a real dog in this offering, which is based on a web series. After the series was previewed at the Sundance Film Festival, the online outfit Deadline Hollywood said, "Downward Dog is best described as Girls, if Lena Dunham had an adoring talking dog."

An adoring talking dog and everybody keeps their clothes on.

The cute mutt in Downward Dog is named Martin (played by a dog named Ned) and he narrates the series while sharing his observations with the audience. We're the only ones who can hear him.

Martin's owner is a career-minded single woman named Nan, who's played by 35-year-old Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated Allison Tolman. Many came to know Tolman from her outstanding turn as police officer Molly Solverson in FX's first season of Fargo.

Nan has an increasingly complicated personal life to go along with her highly stressful advertising career. On the job, she has to deal with her self-obsessed and sexist boss Kevin (Barry Rothbart, The Wolf of Wall Street).

Others in Nan's life are her (semi) ex-boyfriend Jason (Lucas Neff, who played Jimmy Chance in Raising Hope); and her co-worker and best friend Jenn (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Love).

The sweet, droll and increasingly lonely Martin is voiced by writer/co-creator Samm Hodges.

ABC says, "Having Nan's story told from the canine perspective provides a uniquely unfiltered point of view that helps us laugh and cry about what it means to be a human being in the 21st century."

That's the company line, but the pilot didn't quite make me want to rush over and add the series to my DVR. I do, however, have confidence that the rough spots will be smoothed out once we get past the requisite exposition that encumbers too many pilots.

Martin has his moments and I'm all for comedy from a pet's point of view. My feline, Otus the Head Cat, has been writing a humor column for this paper since 1980, so I appreciate the angle.

For me, Martin waxes too philosophical about his relationship with Nan. A little of that can go a long way, but kudos to the creators for attempting something different.

The creators of ABC's Imaginary Mary also attempted something different, but despite my admiration for series star Jenna Elfman, I've found myself unable to tolerate her little imaginary friend.

Tolman, on the other hand, plays Nan in a likable, understated manner and is not handicapped by having to converse with a talking dog. That might be the comedy's saving grace.

If you like the pilot, great. It'll only get better for you.

If you don't like the pilot, give it at least one more episode to catch your fancy.

American Idol. In case you missed the memo last week, ABC has struck a deal with the producers of the defunct American Idol and plans to bring it back for the 2017-2018 season.

The series finished its run last year after 15 seasons on Fox. At the end, it was a mere shadow of its former self, but still had an impressive core audience of about 11.5 million viewers.

"American Idol is a pop-culture staple that left the air too soon," said Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment. "ABC is the right home to reignite the fan base."

That remains to be seen. One of the problems with singing competition shows is overkill, and becoming all about the judges, not the singers.

No host or judges have been announced for the reboot.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Style on 05/16/2017

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