You would think a veterinary sitcom featuring a cute, cuddly monkey would jumpstart the hearts of every viewer. Dr. Rizzo (Crystal the Monkey, “The Hangover Part II”) does just that, but “Animal Practice” flat-lines in most other aspects.
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Justin Kirk (“Weeds”) stars as Dr. George Coleman, a veterinary surgeon who bonds easily with his patients, but despises their owners. Unfortunately for him, the human counterparts become a permanent problem after the arrival of new management at the animal hospital in the form of Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, “Reba”), his ex-girlfriend.
Dorothy’s arrival squelches the chaos of Crane Animal Hospital, organizing both the overflowing waiting room and the zany doctors. Her changes don’t sit well with George, who fights her every step of the way. However, his constant disobedience works against him instead of allowing him to take back the hospital as he plans — Dorothy fires him.
The problem is that there’s no tension in this; the series doesn’t exist without our main character operating within the walls of the hospital, and we feel no urgency in his departure. His journey back is equally uninspired — it mostly feels as though he never left, quietly continuing to operate his backroom animal betting games, constantly lowering Dorothy’s authority.
George’s compatriots cover the spectrum, from creepy and awkward Angela (Betsy Sodaro, “This Show Will Get You High”) to semi-normal Dr. Doug Jackson (Tyler Labine, “Tucker and Dale vs Evil”). These oddballs occupy the periphery, offering their oft-misguided wisdom during the transition period. However, they toe the line between endearing and irritating, leaning more towards the latter. Angela hints too broadly at George and Dorothy’s sexual tension, while Dr. Jackson pathetically searches for love in every crevice of his life.
George and Dorothy’s romance is told explicitly and in a rather uninspiring fashion. Within a matter of minutes, we know everything we need to about their past, but aren’t invested in seeing their future. As the story goes, George responded to Dorothy’s “I love you” confession with a simple “awesome,” prompting her to walk out on him. Five years later, she’s back and it’s clear that they are not over each other; the following episodes will undoubtedly consist of a tired, back and forth will-they-won’t-they storyline.
Kirk’s acting chops are wasted in a role that doesn’t allow him to be anything more than moody and uncooperative. Where he shined as a secondary character in “Weeds,” he simply flickers in his flagship role in “Animal Practice.” Garcia is equally boring, bringing nothing new to the standard television ex-girlfriend. The two leads are physically attractive, but don’t have enough onscreen chemistry together to hold the audience’s attention.
“Animal Practice” tries too hard to establish itself amidst a menagerie of hospital sitcoms, mostly attempting to be a veterinary version of the hit show “Scrubs” while employing a “House”-esque main character. But the other characters at Crane Animal Hospital range too much between bland and exorbitant as compared to the band of lovable weirdos at Sacred Heart on “Scrubs.”
Where the writers were hoping for giant laughs, they only receive a few measly awkward chuckles. Save for the monkey, “Animal Practice” has no character worth investing in, and the pilot did little to set up a long-term storyline worth following.
However, there is considerable writing and producing talent attached in the form of new showrunner Marco Pennette, who has hit dramas “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” under his belt, as well as executive producer Scot Armstrong, who wrote both “Old School” and “The Hangover Part II.” Their involvement means that the series just may develop into exactly the quirky show it is aspiring to be.
All things considered, “Animal Practice” will probably put you in a boredom coma before making you laugh. Judging solely on the quality of the pilot, NBC should pull the plug sooner rather than later.