August 17, 2012

TV: Animal Practice (NBC, Wed 8)

So let's say you're a TV network hoping to get a lot of people to watch the first episode of a new sitcom. Wouldn't it be clever to tack it on to your night's Olympic coverage? Sure it would!

But if you want all of those people to absolutely hate your sitcom when it shows up? Why, you do what NBC did with the premiere of Animal Practice: You air it in the middle of the closing ceremony.

If there's good news for NBC out of that little fiasco, it's that the show is so uninvolving that most of those angry people probably weren't going to like it much anyway. Animal Practice stars Justin Kirk as veterinarian George Coleman. George is the Dr. House of the veterinary world; he's a gifted doctor, but doesn't much like people.

The new owner of the animal hospital is Dorothy (Joanna Garcia-Swisher, adding to a long list of mediocre shows in which she's been the best thing), who inherited it from her grandmother. She is also, conveniently enough, George's ex.

Tyler Labine and Bobby Lee are on hand as George's fellow vets. Lee walks the Asian stereotype line very delicately, usually managing to stay just barely on the right side of it; it's a performance that is consistently uncomfortable without ever quite being racist. Labine plays the one character in his repertoire, a lovable shlumpy doofus, and although it's a shtick he does very nicely, it's starting to wear thin.

The other principal member of the ensemble is Crystal, a monkey -- you might recognize her from The Hangover Part 2 or from her portrayal of Annie's Boobs on Community -- who plays Dr. Rizzo. She's a talented little critter, with better comic timing than some of her human co-stars.

The show's best joke is a visual gag. The animal hospital is large and busy enough that it could just as easily be the set for a new version of ER. Sadly, the dialogue doesn't have nearly that much wit. George's misanthropy is a harder sell in a sitcom than it would be in a drama, and Kirk doesn't have the inherent warmth or charm that might make it palatable.

The show premieres in its usual Wednesday timeslot on September 26, and it will most likely be gone by the end of October. And with any luck, Joanna Garcia-Swisher will go on to a show worthy of her talent.

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