'Puzzle' is Well Made, but a Few Pieces are Missing

Based on the film Rompecabezas, Puzzle is one of those little-known independent films that sneaks into theaters with little to no fanfare, although the fact that it is being promoted “from the producer of Little Miss Sunshine” should help it get noticed somewhat. Puzzle is a quiet, little film about a woman who discovers that jigsaw puzzles are the key to changing her life. While the subject matter doesn’t sound all that exciting, the film really isn’t about puzzles but instead about one finding their voice, or so it appears. It’s also a message film that has its own agenda expecting the audience to agree with the choices of the main character and applaud her “brave” behavior. Frankly, it just feels manipulative.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle’s most impactful scene comes within the first few minutes. We see Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) cleaning up the house and they decorating it for a birthday party. Then we see her serving appetizers while being ignored by the guests. …

For the Love of (Downward) Dog

Review of "Downward Dog."
Martin and Nan (Allison Toman) in Downward Dog. (ABC)


I fell in love with ABC’s newest comedy, Downward Dog, when I first saw the teaser trailers for the series last summer. Billed as a “mid-season” replacement series, other series came and gone but ABC held out until now to air this gem. And I’m not the only one to love this new show. Last week, ABC gave viewers a “sneak peek” of the show on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. which opened as ABC’s 2nd strongest mid-season premiere of 2017(out of 5 total) in Total Viewers (4.7 million) and Adults 18-49 (1.1/4). Opposite Fox’s conclusion of Empire, Downward Dog took 2nd in the slot with Men 18-49(1.2/4), beating NBC’s Law & Order: SVU (1.1/3) and CBS’ Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (0.8/3).

Downward Dog is based on web series and according to ABC, has the distinction of being the first network comedy ever to premiere at Sundance. The show debuts this Tuesday, May 23 at 8:00 p.m., but I have to question ABC’s rationale for doing so. Because the show features a cute talking dog, many viewers will have the wrong idea about what this show is all about.

First of all, Downward Dog isn’t a family show. Though the cast of fairly unknown actors are very likable, they hardly set a good example for children. The idea that the main character Nan (Allison Toman) has an on again/off again, friends-with-benefits type of relationship with Jason (Lucas Neff), a pot-laced gummy-loving, sometimes employed friend is at first off-putting. So, why ABC decided to air the show this early in the evening is a mystery.

However, what makes this show so great is that it deals with “every day” people who, like a lot of us, are “lost” in their own ways. Toman (who was so good in the first season of the TV series Fargo) isn’t the typical tiny and in shape Hollywood star that would normally headline such a show and is refreshing. Her humor is similar to Ellen DeGeneres. Her character knows that her relationship with Jason is unhealthy, but she can’t seem to break away from Jason and fortunately for us, we can’t seem to either.

Another misconception about this new show is that it will be a silly sitcom like ABC's other mid-season replacement comedy, Imaginary Mary with Martin the talking dog taking the place of the imaginary friend. It’s not. Though Martin does talk (voiced by Samm Hodges) he only talks to the camera, not to his co-stars. Half of the show is shown from Martin’s point of view who thinks his owner drives around in a car with her head out of the window all day. Although he idolizes Nan and tends to think that “She is Nan and I am not,” he is also aware that they two have a few relationship problems. He feels that she doesn’t appreciate that fact that he needs 18 hours of sleep a day or that she understands his fears of the evil cat who lives next door.

The other half of the story is told from Nan’s point of view and how Martin changes her life (and others) for the better, just by being a dog. The show has a surprising amount of heart to it and is actually quite philosophical. Nan works at an advertising agency and is clearly smarter than her chauvinistic boss Kevin (Barry Bothbart) but endures his criticisms anyway with the help of her friend and co-worker Jenn (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Just when she has run out of ideas to impress Kevin with, she finds that she is inspired by Martin. She wonders what life would be like if people saw themselves like they think their dogs see them.

Downward Dog airs on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.


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