When I first saw a preview for Animal Control, I’ll admit I was pretty intrigued. Not only have I been a fan of Joel McHale since his stellar role as Jeff Winger on Community (the movie can’t come soon enough), but the idea of comedic animal mayhem is pretty appealing.
Unfortunately, McHale is wasted in a pretty, by-the-numbers workplace sitcom that fails to provide any really likable characters, even McHale’s Frank Shaw, the grumpy lone wolf with a secret heart of gold who just comes off as a cheap imitation of Jeff Winger. It doesn’t help that McHale seems to be phoning in his performance, offering sarcastic commentary on the zany events happening around him, but sharing no real chemistry with his co-stars, mainly Michael Rowland as his rookie partner Fred “Shred” Taylor, who is a former Olympic snowboarder and eternal optimist.
Joining McHale and Rowland in the main cast are Vella Lovell as Emily Price, the awkward pushover of a supervisor who is thrust into a poorly set-up and contrived romantic tension with Shred; Ravi V. Patel as Amit Patel, the exhausted family man and Grace Palmer as Victoria, Ravi’s partner who isn’t given much of a personality aside from having an accent and in the second episode being somewhat promiscuous.
Finally, rounding out the cast, we have Gerry Dee as Templeton, the senior officer gunning for Emily’s job, which acts as the antagonist of the series but feels underutilized and almost unnecessary. We also have Kelli Ogmundson as Dolores Stubb, the office buzzkill and potential secondary antagonist, and Alvina August as Dr. Summers, the so-called “hot” veterinarian who only shows up for about two minutes total in the first two episodes and is given even less of personality than Victoria. She is set up as a potential love interest for Shaw. However, there is not much of a foundation for their romance in the first two episodes, although perhaps more in the next few episodes.
Admittedly it takes a few episodes for most shows to establish characters, so even though they fall mostly flat for me, maybe in a few episodes, I could grow to like them.
Putting the characters aside, Animal Control does use its subject matter, an animal control unit in Seattle, somewhat effectively to offer up some potentially comedic situations. There are scenes such as a weasel lighting someone’s house on fire after getting its tale caught in a fireplace during the first episode and a bunch of rabbits accidentally ingesting psychedelic mushrooms, which make them overly aggressive in the second episode. Unfortunately, for me, at least, both situations fail to deliver any true laugh-out-loud moments and feel rushed.
For me, the main draw of Animal Control, aside from McHale, was seeing what animal-based hijinks the writers come up with. Unfortunately, most of the animal scenes are short and feel like afterthoughts between character interactions either back at the precinct or in their cars. In fact, many scenes between Frank and Shred happen when they are driving to a new incident, but most of their banter feels out of place and unnecessary.
The ensemble cast of Animal Control, as a whole, seems to lack the group chemistry you see in a lot of workplace sitcoms, with The Office and Parks and Recreations being prime examples. Instead, most of the characters just fall in line with the usual stereotypes, such as The Promiscuous One, the Gruff Loner Veteran, the overly enthusiastic new guy, and the incompetent boss, without moving too far out of their established roles.
Overall I feel like Animal Control’s premise is intriguing, and it does offer up some funny moments, but the lack of chemistry between the cast and really any stand-out characters to keep you watching make it a comedy to skip, especially when compared to the more successful workplace sitcoms out there. I may give it another try to see if it finds its footing, but honestly, I don’t see it lasting past one season.