Animal Practice

Justin Kirk and Crystal the Monkey in Animal Practice. The monkey earns $12,000 an episode. Really.

Before Animal Practice aired, it had transformed from a silly show about a monkey veterinarian into something more: a sign of NBC’s transformation. Ever since Friends and Frasier ended in 2004, NBC has been a fount of low-rated but innovative comedy. 30 Rock. Scrubs. My Name is Earl. Parks and Recreation. The Office, which became a minor hit. And Community, the brilliant show NBC sent off to near-certain cancellation without its creator on Fridays. But this season, NBC made an effort to go “broader”, with no less than three sitcom blocks. Animal Practice was emblematic of the change. Where once NBC offered a few million viewers smart pop culture parodies and wit, they were now giving millions more a wacky monkey show and pushing their greatest shows to early graves: 30 Rock is officially in its final season, and neither Parks and Rec nor Community seem likely to last out the year. To add insult to injury, the monkey in Animal Practice is Annie Boob’s from Community. It felt like NBC was poaching from its best show to prop up an inferior newcomer.

So after much backlash, Animal Practice turns out to be a sitcom that’s…alright. Not great, or especially interesting, but a tolerable enough way to spend  a half-hour. Animal Practice stars Justin Kirk as a veterinarian who hates people, but likes his animal patients; a Dr. House who treats canis lupus, if you will. He was with Dorothy (Joanna Garcia-Swisher), who as with all TV exes re-enters his life dramatically. She owns the hospital now and reorganizes it to be, well, more like a hospital. It won’t be a TV romance to challenge Sam and Diane, but isn’t the most annoying one either. Rounding out the cast are Bobby Lee and Tyler Labine as the requisite wacky dweebs. Betsy Sodaro’s Angela is there to say weird things and push George and Dorothy to get together, which is theoretically funny. And of course there’s Crystal the Monkey as Dr. Rizzo, the monkey veterinarian responsible for most of the pilot’s laughs.

The leads work and the pilot is effective in setting up Animal Practice as a likable enough world. Veep’s Matt Walsh guest stars as a man who balks at the cost of his daughter’s dog’s surgery and wants it put down. Dorothy kidnaps the dog to keep it from being killed, and they do eventually perform surgery on it and essentially blackmail him into paying for it by revealing a strip club coaster was found inside the dog. Yes, it’s broad. But is being broad necessarily bad? There’s worse ways to go broad than Animal Practice’s method of easy emotional beats, simple characters and cartoonish comedy. A lot worse; just look at any ad for Guys With Kids. Animal Practice isn’t a show I’ll seek out, but it’ll probably be an enjoyable enough time waster when I do catch it.

Notes

  • Animal Practice has one of the least memorable title sequences in recent memory. Network title sequences have been cut severely (or even removed entirely), but Community, Parks and Rec and The Office all managed to make something memorable in a short time. Animal Practice? Not so much.

Go On

Matthew Perry, surrounded by the grievers he somehow inspires in Go On.

Go On airs on Tuesdays at 7, starting on September 11; the premiere aired after the Olympics and is probably available on NBC.com.

I don’t go into any show (or film, or what have you) expecting awfulness. Maybe sometimes if it’s an interesting failure; but otherwise, why waste time by directing pointless snark at something everyone hates? So I watched Go On with a hopeful attitude; sadly, my hopes were dashed. Whilst not an unqualified failure, Go On’s pilot is too serious to work as broad comedy and too broad to be believably serious.

Go On stars Matthew Perry as a sports radio host whose wife recently died. I saw snark directed at Perry on Twitter, but he was always Friends’ funniest cast member, even if every show he’s starred in since burned out fast. Here, his style of rapid one-liners just doesn’t work; they aren’t funny, but more importantly they undermine the series’ attempts at drama.

Perry’s character, Ryan King, joins a support group made up of stock sadsacks and oddballs. Only Julie White’s character, a woman angry over her partner’s death, stands out as someone unique. You know who really isn’t memorable? The group’s leader, played by Laura Benanti. She is there to, predictably, accomplish nothing and feud with our rebellious hero. We learn she worked with Weight Watchers and so has no credentials to lead the group; neither does Ryan, of course.

Yes, Go On tries to temper the serious, dramedic premise by being generically inspirational. Ryan enters the group and instantly makes everyone better in a way Benanti’s character can’t. Since he’s a sports anchor, he pits everyone’s source of grief against each other in what’s dubbed “March Sadness”. This moment is broad and feels false. What grieving person would not only go along with such a ghastly competition, but find it fun? Like much in Go On’s first episode, the “march sadness” competition is a broad moment that is both unfunny and has no real pathos. Yet it shakes the group out of its stupor, and later Ryan convinces them to don the medieval gear of a LARPer’s group and chase after the Google Streetview van. This is meant to be a life-affirming moment for Ryan and the group, but it’s an artificial grab at emotion. Ryan is spun as a figure who inspires those around him while moving on himself, but in practice his anger is dwelt only briefly and his time in the group consists mainly of dull quips. Go On stacks the deck in favor of admiring Ryan, but fails in execution.

I didn’t hate Go On, and it could become a good show when given time. It doesn’t help that Go On feels like a copy of Community, with Perry as Jeff, Benanti as Britta, and the support group as, well, the study group. Community’s pilot – and early episodes – weren’t promising, but it grew into one of the best shows on TV. Go On could perform the same feat; there are moments in the première that do work, like a montage in the middle of the episode that actually treats each character’s problems as something other than a target for Perry’s jokes. Honestly, I wonder if Go On’s problems are ones of format – a half hour network sitcom has to brush past any emotion in favor of jokes, and maybe it would work better as a hour-long dramedy. I’ll watch the series when it starts airing in earnest, but I fear any hopes that Go On will become a great show will remain just that – unrealized hopes.

Notes

  • Go On joins the ranks of shows that waste John Cho – a storied company including Flashforward and The Single’s Table, a sitcom starring Cho that never even aired. I can’t see Go On emphasizing the workplace elements, so I doubt his role will be too large in episodes to come.
  • Weird of NBC to air a show not after the Olympics, but after one day’s Olympics coverage. Yet they’re also having a preview for Animal Practice and an early première for Grimm.
  • NBC tried to go “broad” with their new sitcoms this season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But going off ads, I’m questioning if they picked up a single good comedy. It’s possible to make a show that’s broad and good, but not if your schedule’s based around a shockingly well-paid monkey.

Please stop talking about how the Olympics are delayed.

I’m sick of complaints about the Olympic’s tape delay.

I’ve criticized how NBC weighed down the opening ceremony with commentators who proudly displayed their disgusting ignorance and insensitive cuts of touching segments in favor of pointless interviews. There’s also the forced narratives, the excessive commercialization, the objectification of female athletes…all real complaints. But a tape delay? Why shouldn’t NBC leave major events to primetime, where they’ll take in the most ad revenue? How is this something controversial and not a common sense move? This debate will score people easy “new media” points on Twitter, but will never go anywhere.

NBC hates the Olympics, and hates you for watching them.

Or at least it seems that way, speaking as someone who watched both the American and British broadcasts of the opening ceremonies. The ceremonies themselves were lovely, and the British announcers largely stayed out of the way. The Americans? Not only did they talk over action, they did not seem to know the difference between “informative” and “time-wasting”. Introducing the Arctic Monkeys is informative; speaking over their rendition of “Come Together” to note they’re from Sheffield is just a waste. And noting “this is the soundtrack to our lives!” is especially wasteful when your praise is covering up the music.

The Americans also had a need to overexplain every detail, and this outright ruined several segments. The “modern” segment ended with internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee, a twist the British concealed. The Americans? They opened by saying he would appear, and said they didn’t know who he was either. Of course, it’s a journalist’s job to know who someone they’re reporting on is. Does NBC figure it’s charming to be ignorant?  They also broke into that same segment multiple times to explain the love story as if it were something complex, or hard to follow for any reason other than them talking over it constantly.

Fans of ignorance and jingoism need look no further than the embarrassment that is the American commentary on the Parade of Nations. First after Greece was Afghanistan – a nation discussed exclusively in terms of how many American troops were there. If a nation could be reduced to its link to America, it was. Witness the speech justifying China as our Olympic rival – the new Soviet Union – even though Costas says we don’t compete strongly in many of the same categories with the Chinese. What a rivalry!

Throughout, Matt Lauer and Bob Costas were a font of insight. “If there were a gold medal for countries whose name make me smile, it would go to Djibouti!” Yes, let’s reduce countries to lame puns; what promotes national unity more? Finland, meanwhile, was reduced to its progressive parking ticket policy. My favorite piece of Parade of Nations commentary: “When you’re President for life, your term ends when you die.” And now the country of No Shit is entering the arena, lead by flag bearer Sherlock.

NBC cut one whole segment – the tribute to terrorism victims. Yes, who wants moving remembrances of the lost when you can have Ryan Seacrest interview the notoriously media-shy Michael Phelps? I wondered how NBC would handle the tribute to the National Health Service and children’s literature, which sounded silly but turned out to be the best part of the opening ceremonies. Naturally, the NHS was explained in terms of American controversies over socialized healthcare; well they (and many other developed nations) have free health care, but it’s inexplicably controversial here, so let’s move on. Look at that huge Voldemort! Really, what else would you expect from NBC?