Ask Matt: The Demise of ‘Dog,’ The In-‘Justice’ of Cancellation, Praising ‘Peaks’ (or Not), ‘Designated Survivor’ and More
Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist”) Matt Roush, who’ll address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
Question: I was shocked and disappointed to hear Downward Dog has been canceled. From critical acclaim and viewer buzz to off the air was confusing. I love Martin and Nan and everyone I told to watch liked it as well. What’s the deal? — Jann
Matt Roush: I was disappointed but not shocked, given the timing and scheduling (see below) of this special little series. As we’ll discuss further down in the column, any explanation I give about a cancellation isn’t likely to satisfy or appease fans, and when I offer my own analysis, it isn’t an endorsement (usually) of the cancellation but a reflection of the realities of the TV business. In this case, Dog was unleashed because there isn’t a place for it in ABC’s already cluttered lineup of primarily family-oriented sitcoms, and it was determined that it wasn’t financially feasible to bring it back for another off-season run, when revenues are lower. Don’t like that reasoning? You’re not alone, but it’s the way the industry works, and the show’s creators have said they’re “committed to finding a new home,” so let’s hope that happens. At the very least, I’m glad these eight episodes got made, which is itself something of a miracle.
And because this is our last chance to discuss the show before it signs off for good (for now), I’m including several more questions and comments on the show, as a final bow(wow).
Question: I just wanted to thank you for your recommendation of Downward Dog, which I think is a wonderful little show. How sad that it doesn’t look likely to be renewed. I find myself uplifted by the show’s messages about self-love—predominantly conveyed through Martin’s philosophical confessions, but also through Nan’s work campaign—and had hoped that ABC would give this show a solid chance to grow. Why do you think ABC waited so late to debut this series? When fresh episodes are aired amidst reruns and during a time when most other shows are on hiatus, did the network really expect there to be stellar ratings?
Also, as you mentioned in a previous column, there has been lots of criticism about Martin’s use of the word “like,” but, I, like you, find it endearing. There’s an innocence and childlike quality through the repeated use of the word. I also notice that the humans in Martin’s life, Nan and Jason, use the word in their conversation, albeit more sparingly. So I’m wondering if there’s the subtle hint here that Martin’s speech patterns mirror Nan and Jason’s, in a more exaggerated fashion. — Nick C
Matt Roush: Downward Dog was one of two off-brand comedies that ABC premiered late in the season. The shrill and unwatchable Imaginary Mary was the other, and I hope ABC regrets having giving that mess a higher-profile shot by airing it within the season as opposed to Dog premiering at the very end of the regular season, then being asked to go it alone among sitcom repeats, scheduled against a hit like America’s Got Talent. The kindest way to explain it is that the programmers didn’t realize what a gem they had in Dog until it actually aired and struck a nerve among viewers, albeit modestly, and by then it was already pretty much too late. In all respects, this was a classic underdog, and the odds were against it being a network success from the start.
Regarding Martin’s use of “like,” as voiced by series co-creator Samm Hodges, reader Mary Ann McLaughlin suggested in the comments in a recent Ask Matt column that, based on an article she read about Hodges, he uses words like “like” and “you know” to combat a speech and stuttering disability that stems from childhood. Regardless, I found Martin’s inner monologues more endearing than annoying, though I know it was a deterrent for many.
Question: I’ve grown to love Downward Dog as the highlight of my Tuesday nights over the past few weeks and I’m going to also really miss it once the last episodes air (hopefully not for the last time). I think it’s one of those whimsical shows that just clicks with certain people. One question: Has it ever been explained why the show is called Downward Dog? I think the show is based on a web series that I didn’t watch, so I’m not sure how it all ties in. — Brian
Matt Roush: The title is basically a pun, playing off the classic yoga pose, otherwise known as Downward Facing Dog. But it’s also an expression of Martin’s lugubrious style and speech, which initially comes off as morose and pessimistic, though essentially is life-affirming in his quirky philosophizing and unconditional love for Nan.
Question: I wanted to enjoy Downward Dog, and mostly I did—but I had to stop watching because of one bone-headed production decision: To animate the dog’s speech. Did someone think we wouldn’t know it was the dog’s thoughts we were hearing? That it wouldn’t be funny enough to watch the hound stare morosely into the camera while he shares his mostly clueless take on life? I made it through the first episode, and part of the second, but since I refuse to watch TV with my eyes closed, that was the end of my Dog walk. It may be impossible to mis-underestimate the intelligence of an audience, but this bad choice came pretty close. – John
Matt Roush: That’s an interesting and fair criticism. I don’t feel the show overdid this visual gimmick, but I agree it wasn’t necessary, and I preferred it when Martin wasn’t breaking the fourth wall by talking right into the camera. It’s funnier to watch him go about his doggie business as we eavesdrop on his inner thoughts. It’s a shame if it kept people from enjoying what was so special about Downward Dog, including this observation from the fourth episode, in which Martin reflected on how so many dogs just seem stupid to him: “It’s not wrong to be stupid, but sometimes I think that stupidity is almost celebrated. Sometimes dog culture seems to be a breeding ground of anti-intellectualism. I just want to say, like, it’s not a sin to be smart.” Sweet and smart: Those were Downward Dog’s pedigree.
The In-‘Justice’ of Cancellation
Question: I became a fan of Chicago Justice right away. Again I invested in a show that wasn’t given a chance. Granted, sometimes the writing was clunky and there were growing pains, but what happened to allowing a show to build an audience? Historically, most of TV’s classics had a slow start. I don’t care that they didn’t “need” Justice. They should care about fans that no longer trust in them and decide to not commit any longer and stick to Netflix and other streaming options. Probably more a rant than a question, but why should I watch these new shows in light of these kinds of decisions? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Hate to break it to you, but even Netflix is starting to cancel shows now, though admittedly not at the pace of broadcast networks, which operate on a completely different business model. And while you might not care how a network explains its decision to cancel a show, it’s my responsibility when asked to try to put that in context to fans, even when they’re never satisfied whatever the reasoning. Your rant in the wake of an upsetting cancellation is a fairly common one, especially these days, now that there are so many more alternatives to network TV. Longtime readers will know that my fallback response, which still holds true in an age of Netflix, is that even when the networks inevitably cancel a show you’ve enjoyed, it’s not time wasted if you enjoyed the show while it was on. (This argument is a little trickier when a canceled show goes out on a cliffhanger. There’s no excuse for leaving viewers that dissatisfied.) Shows have been canceled for as long as I’ve watched and/or written about TV. It’s the nature of the business. Doesn’t mean we have to like it, but it also doesn’t mean we’re going to stop watching.
In Praise of Peaks (Though Not of Dougie)
Question: I’d just like to talk about how fantastic Twin Peaks: The Return is. Am I the only one head over heels in love? I genuinely believe this might be the best piece of art I’ve ever seen on TV. Everything about it is fantastic, it’s Lynch at his best and I love it. The way the story flows has me on the edge of my seat even as Coop stares wistfully at a statue or a man sweeps the floor. The pieces are coming together slowly, and waiting week to week is driving me crazy. I’m especially in love with how the paranormal elements of the Black Lodge are front and center this season, it’s like someone performed an autopsy on Twin Peaks and revealed the beating heart at the center for all to see. Getting to see how they affect every corner of America is like having some beautiful red curtains pulled back on the setting. I just needed to pull my head above water for a moment to gush about this show, I haven’t been keeping up outside of the Twin Peaks fandom, so I’d just like to make sure this series is getting the attention it deserves. – Unsigned
Matt Roush: Oh, the new Twin Peaks is getting plenty of attention, and I appreciate this impassioned valentine to the show’s hypnotic effect, which reached new heights with Sunday’s apocalyptic episode involving nuclear blasts and visually dazzling and mystifying odysseys inviting comparison to Kubrick’s visionary 2001: A Space Odyssey and other types of experimental filmmaking. This is David Lynch at his most unfettered, and whether you embrace or reject it, Twin Peaks wouldn’t be Twin Peaks if it weren’t polarizing. I may have preferred the original series, where the core mystery felt more tangible and grounded, before it went off the metaphysical deep end, but that’s where many of the show’s still-loyal fans quite clearly prefer it. It’s impossible to be neutral to a show this extreme, and I’m glad to hear this point of view. On the other hand …
Question: What aggravated me the most about the new Twin Peaks is how these people can’t seem to understand that there is something very wrong with Dougie Jones. Are these people supposed to be that stupid that they don’t see that something is not right about him? The whole thing is bad. I only watched it because I like David Lynch. Because of him, I signed up for TM meditation, which I paid $2,000 for. Big waste. – Linda
Matt Roush: I keep thinking of Peter Sellers as blank-slate Chauncey Gardiner in the 1979 classic Being There whenever people project their own feelings, thoughts and fears on Cooper-as-Dougie as he wanders around in a childlike daze. (Until attacked, of course, when he reverts to action-hero mode.) Your mistake is to take anything in the woozy universe of Twin Peaks so literally. These scenes are pure absurdist theater. No one in their right mind could spend a moment in Dougie’s company and not want to call for medical or psychiatric help. The problem for me is that while this initially was a set-up for some inspired comedy, especially in the casino sequence, it has become awfully tiresome. About your TM experience, I have no opinion, but my sympathies that it apparently didn’t take.
Wishing Kimble Had ‘Survived’
Question: Please weigh in on Designated Survivor giving Virginia Madsen, one of their strongest cast members and characters (Speaker of the House Kimble Hookstraten), the boot? I was only watching for her. — Ellys
Matt Roush: It’s not a positive development in the ongoing evolution of a show that has yet to figure out exactly what it is. As someone who could be both an advocate and thorn in the side of President Kirkman, Kimble was one of the few characters on Designated Survivor with any real complexity, and it was fun to watch Virginia Madsen play her various sides and moods. She’ll be missed for sure, but it does make me curious (if increasingly skeptical) to see where this show is heading in Season 2.
Puzzling Renewal News
Question: Given its low ratings in Season 1, why do you think Great News was renewed and placed after Will & Grace? – Tim
Matt Roush: Look no further than its list of producers: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, series creator Tracey Wigfield, all alums of 30 Rock and people NBC want to be in business with, even if it means keeping alive one of their lesser creations.
TURN DOWN THOSE ADS!
Question: I hope you can help me with something. I notice regularly that the volume of advertisements on TV is much louder than the show itself. I suppose for businesses it is to make sure people hear it. However, sometimes it is so loud I have to turn the volume down. I thought they passed a regulation about that some years ago. Is there a place monitoring it? Is there any place I can write with a complaint? — Carolyn, Westchester, IL
Matt Roush: There are rules about TV ads being louder than the shows they air within. It’s called, wonderfully enough, the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act, and while the FCC doesn’t monitor the situation, it does accept complaints about the practice. You can make your case at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov. And I only wish there was some place viewers could gripe (besides my mailbag) about music within episodes that drown out the dialogue. By far, it’s the most common complaint I hear on pretty much a weekly basis. And beyond commiserating, there’s not much I have to add about that subject.
That’s all for now, and we’ll pick up the conversation soon. Thanks as always for reading, and remember that I can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below.