September 26, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Animal Practice”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’


Previously… on ANIMAL PRACTICE:  Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk) is a brilliant and compassionate veterinarian who gets along better with his patients than with the humans around him.  Also, he lives with a monkey called “Dr. Rizzo.”  He’s discomfited when his ex-fiancee Dorothy Crane (Joanna Garcia-Swisher), who is now engaged to someone else and with whom George of course won’t admit he’s still in love, becomes his new boss at the animal hospital where he works.  Did we mention that the monkey dresses up like a person, comes in to work with George, brushes his teeth and can turn on a radio?  Among George’s wacky co-workers are general mess Doug (Tyler Labine), hen-pecked Kim (Bobby Lee), and nurses Juanita (Kym Whitley) and Angela (Betsy Sodaro), the latter of whom seems to be playing Meredith on The Office.  Wait… have we mentioned the monkey?

Episode 2:  It’s all too easy to visualize the memo that came down from NBC after this pilot was ordered, in capital letters and bold lettering:  “MORE MONKEY!!!”   So the first regular episode of the series begins with a montage of George and Dr. Rizzo getting ready to go to work in the morning, and then one of the episode storylines involves paintings that Dr. Rizzo does (in the drip painting style of Jackson Pollock), which Angela tries to sell.  The monkey’s hijinks are cute enough, but at some point one imagines that Animal Practice will have to be about people.

The human storylines in the episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Jamie Rhonheimer and directed by Jeff Melman, were less interesting.  Although there’s very little sign that George really can’t get along with the people who work with him, the main story had to prove that in fact he’s so sensitive that he couldn’t bear to operate on Doug’s dog.  (Because his inability to do his job makes him more admirable?)  Similarly, while Dorothy appears to be the nicest and most engaging of people, the B story had her unable to get the gang even to invite her out for a drink, until she got drunk and adopted a pig, at which point they all found her adorable.  (There was no mention at all of her fiancee tonight–we’ll see if we ever hear about the pig again.)

Apart from not being very funny, this is all just conceptually lazy.  If the series wants to have characters who are difficult to like, then that’s what they need to be–they can’t be perfectly ordinary people that we’re told are cranky, so they can be “nice” later on.  For now, the show feels fake and contrived, and even performers as talented as Kirk and Garcia-Swisher can’t do anything with their characters.  Gags like a game of Concentration being used repeatedly to gauge whether a doctor is able to operate aren’t crazy enough to be surprising or surreal, they’re just silly, and far from enough to make the show worthwhile.

But hey… that monkey.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  If You Really Want to Watch a Monkey, Check Out Animal Planet


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."