Monday, August 13, 2012

Pilot Review: Animal Practice

Animal Practice (Wednesdays at 8:00 on NBC; Premieres September 26)

It's really frustrating for me, a fan of NBC despite their shortcomings and failings, to see them trying everything they possibly can to crawl out of fourth place and find an audience again... only to do it with crap like Animal Practice. I don't understand the logic behind putting shows like this on the air. Sure, they may appeal to a wide audience; people of all ages love animals in funny situations, after all. But in the age of YouTube when we can enter a search phrase and see hundreds of videos of cats falling and landing on their feet, pocket theif monkeys, farting hippos, etc; there's no reason to sit down and watch a show like Animal Practice when there's nothing else going for it besides cute pets and a monkey sidekick.

Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk, Weeds) is the top veterinarian in the country, and he's been running Crane Animal Hospital for years. Unfortunately, he's not as good a director as he is a vet, so when the previous owner dies, her granddaughter Dorothy (Joanna Garcia, Reba) takes over. Dorothy and George once dated, and it didn't end well: she said, "I love you" and he said, "Awesome!" Now she's back as his boss, and she's overseeing the other vets and techs as well: Dr. Doug (Tyler Labine, Reaper), who is great with animals but not so much with relationships; the emasculated Dr. Yamamoto (Bobby Lee, MADtv); Angela (Betsy Sodaro), an offbeat and off-color tech; and, of course, Dr. Rizzo, a monkey.

The plot of Animal Practice is so simple it's almost not there. It doesn't so much have a story as a set-up: weird doctors in an animal hospital... go! As such, the show itself is totally bland and forgettable. The characters are entirely one-note, from Doug who is on the rebound after being cheated on to Yamamoto who is a weak-willed and constantly emasculated man, to Angela who is wacky and says unpredictable things and steals beer from teenagers. Even the two lead characters are types: unconventional doctor and in-over-her-head new business owner, and on top of that they're exes-forced-to-work-together. It doesn't make for a very interesting experience when there's nothing new going on.

But the biggest crime Animal Practice commits is that it's just not funny. The writing is only laughable when considering how bad it is, not because the jokes ever land (because they don't). I don't find a capuchin monkey riding a remote-controlled ambulance funny. I don't find two people arguing over whether or not Arby's is delicious while a monkey throws prescription drugs at a client funny. I don't find a group of adults taking bets on gerbils riding turtles funny. If any of that appeals to you, you'll probably feel differently and find something to like in Animal Practice. It pains me to say that there's nothing for me, personally, to recommend; I love this cast for the most part and wanted the show to be good just so they could have some success. But the material is so terrible that I just can't. Justin Kirk is playing a variation of his character on Weeds, just without good material and foul language. George is a thankless character, his only defining trait being how much more he likes animals than people (which they tell us every three minutes). As Doug, Tyler Labine is nowhere near as annoying as he has sometimes been on Sons of Tucson and (to a lesser extent) Reaper), but he also does nothing in the pilot but get weepy over his ex-girlfriend's cheating ways. Bobby Lee has always been an obnoxious screen presence, and it's no exception here; his scenes are cloying. Joanna Garcia fares the best, perhaps because her character is the only one who acts like a person instead of a poorly-written caricature or stock type.

I can understand what NBC was going for by putting this on the air: trying to draw in families to the 8:00 hour through cute animals. I get it. It'll make for fine family viewing because you really don't have to think, or even pay attention really. But there needs to be something more there to keep people coming back, and right now there's just nothing to offer.

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