For now, FOX’s new ensemble sitcom is all promise, no delivery.
For some, the hyper-vocal smug handsome guy archetype quickly wears out his welcome. That’s likely why so many seem allergic to Ryan Reynolds these days. For this writer, however, that kind of performer is like catnip. So Joel McHale’s newest sitcom turn as Frank of Seattle’s Animal Control Division is very welcome indeed. Alas, the show wrapped around him sparks more ambivalence.
Animal Control’s precinct seems to be a refuge for the misfits. Frank is a former cop who quit the force when he unearthed a cache of corruption only to watch his bosses do nothing about it. His new partner, “Shred” (Michael Rowland), is a former world-class snowboarder whose career ended before he could medal. Other Animal Control officials in different districts, like Templeton Dudge (Gerry Dee), bully their bureaucratic head Emily (Vella Lovell). Amit Patel (Ravi Patel) and Victoria (Grace Palmer) are as close to normal as the place gets, and they’re both often distracted by family life and the pursuit of pleasure, respectively.
They split their time between office politics and animal-related shenanigans in the field. So far, this writer prefers the office scenes. McHale’s slow quest to outfit the place with high-end luxury items, including a milk frother and a panini press and the skirmishes over recycling, are the sort of silly jokes that pay dividends with time. The animal work is bigger, but that’s the problem. If you don’t find it funny from the jump, there isn’t much run for it to change.
It’s a good atmosphere for comedy to grow out of. Unfortunately, those jokes have yet to blossom in the three episodes provided to critics. Nothing on-screen makes you groan, but each episode only earns a few chuckles at best. When your funniest moments involve unlikely animal attacks—a horde of biting bunnies, ostriches with a penchant for pantsing—it suggests the writing for the characters has some ways to go.
The two executive producers, Rob Greenberg and Bob Fischer, have a recent history of teaming up on some similarly well-cast but disappointing projects, including 2018’s Overboard remake, last year’s The Valet, and the little-seen FOX series The Moodys. Still, both have some encouraging credits, too, including, How I Met Your Mother, Frasier, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs for Greenberg and We Are the Millers and Wedding Crashers for Fischer. With the strong cast and the decent workplace premise, it could just be a matter of time before Fischer and Greenberg start seeing results.
Nothing on-screen makes you groan, but each episode only earns a few chuckles at best.
There are other heartening signs. The ending of the third episode suggests a possible romance that both upends hints the show had been dropping before and pleasantly rejects standard entertainment tropes. McHale and Rowland are building a wounded cynic/optimist dynamic with promise. Palmer seems poised for a breakout.
Sadly, one can’t review the show Animal Control may become, only the show it is in the trio of episodes. That show is still trying to find its footing and nail down its chemistry. There’s nothing fatal in its stumbling, but patience for television shows to find their rhythms seems especially limited these days. Hopefully, FOX appreciates the talented cast enough to give it a forever home with enough space to get all the components working.
Animal Control starts roving the neighborhood known as FOX on February 16.