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Review: NBC’s ‘Animal Practice’ needs to uncage its potential to be a hit

Courtesy of MCT

NBC’s “Animal Practice” is a show at war with its own premise.

On the one hand, it has a promising cast and is spearheaded by producers and directors of “Arrested Development,” “Community” and “Happy Endings” Anthony and Joe Russo. On the other hand, it’s about a wacky animal hospital and prominently features an unusually intelligent monkey in a lab coat. Something’s got to give.

This disparity between talent and premise means the show can ultimately become one of two things: a gloriously absurd workplace comedy or an overly broad cartoon that revels in sitcom clichés. In the first two episodes, there’s enough evidence to suggest that either result is possible. Audiences were given a sneak peek of the series when the pilot premiered Aug. 12 during the Olympics. The second episode 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

There’s not a lot of mystery to the show, and anyone with a moderate knowledge of sitcoms will be familiar with all the character types. At the center is lovable jerk Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk), who runs one of the most successful animal hospitals in the world. He walks about the hospital making snarky comments to all his over-the-top co-workers. This gaggle of misfits includes Dr. Doug Yamamoto (Bobby Lee), Dr. Kim Jackson (Tyler Labine) and Angela (Betsy Sodaro).

As is so often the case with these cocky male protagonists, a nice, beautiful woman must come in during the pilot with the intention of completely changing his world and making him uncomfortable. And if this woman is from his past, that’s even better. “Animal Practice,” therefore, gives us Dorothy Crane (Joanna Garcia Swisher), who neatly fits this criteria. Do Dorothy and George still have unresolved feelings for each other? Of course they do.

This familiarity makes the first episodes of “Animal Practice” meaningless, and like many sitcoms, it will likely take many weeks before the picture begins to crystallize. There are some very promising elements here – the show seems like it has the foundation of a good comedy. And if things move in the right direction, “Animal Practice” could very well find its voice. Right now, however, it is just a mediocre show that fails to be any better or worse than the average network comedy.

The second episode “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” fails to expand on the pilot’s clichés. This is likely because it was forced to function as a second pilot. The first episode that aired in the middle of the Olympics’ closing ceremonies didn’t exactly endear the show to millions of Americans. It would have been unwise for the second episode to power ahead without regard for those who are just joining the show.

“Animal Practice” would benefit from indulging its more absurd side going forward, rather than just settling for its current state. This is a strategy that ultimately paid off for the directors’ other project, such as “Community.” However, this would also mean toning down the more familiar silliness. For instance, George’s monkey sidekick could be an asset if used correctly.

This is a common problem for sitcoms, however. It takes some time for shows to find their identity, and that is something the “Animal Practice” writers will have to figure out as they move forward. But the real question is whether or not it will get the chance. For now, the show is much better than its advertising might suggest while still not being all that great.

“Animal Practice” is scheduled to air 8 p.m. Wednesdays on NBC.

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