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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
ANIMAL PRACTICE (NBC)
(written by Alessandro Tanaka & Brian Gatewood; directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo; TRT: 22:47)
The network's description: "Meet Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk, "Weeds"), a top-dog New York veterinarian. With an unorthodox style of operating, George's success comes from his undeniable gift with animals of all kinds. That is, all but the human kind. Dorothy Crane once held the key to George's heart, but today she also holds the key to the family business as she takes over Crane Animal Hospital. Not only is she George's new boss, but her romantic history with him and her lack of experience with animals is seriously cramping his style. Dorothy is whip-smart and ambitious, and she's going to make George pay for the past. Needless to say, he's determined not to make any changes in his (animal) kingdom -- which includes poker games with a resident capuchin monkey.
Also starring are Tyler Labine ("Reaper," "Sons of Tucson") as Dr. Doug Jackson, a vet who's great with animals but hapless in matters of the heart, Bobby Lee ("Harold & Kumar") as Dr. Yamamoto, and newcomer Betsy Sodaro as Angela. "Animal Practice" is a production of Universal Television and American Work Inc. The executive producers are Scot Armstrong ("The Hangover Part II," "Old School") and Ravi Nandan ("Best Friends Forever") of American Work Inc. ("Best Friends Forever") along with Emmy Award winners Joe & Anthony Russo ("Community," "Arrested Development"). "Animal Practice" was written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka ("The Sitter"), who also serve as executive producers. Gail Lerner ("Happy Endings") also is an executive producer. Directed by the Emmy-winning Russo brothers, "Animal Practice" is a comedy where the animals are running the asylum."
What did they leave out? JoAnna Garcia will take over as Dorothy Crane for the series, replacing Amy Huberman from the original pilot. Plus, it was originally titled "Animal Kingdom."
The plot in a nutshell: Dr. George Coleman's (Justin Kirk) philosophy as Director of Crane Animal Hospital is "order by disorder." Or to put it another way, if the waiting room is full while he hits on a patient's owner, so be it. That's not good enough for his straight-laced ex-girlfriend Dorothy Crane (Amy Huberman), who returns with the news that her late grandmother has left the hospital to her and she'll be assuming the role of Director. And while his co-workers - romantically challenged Doug (Tyler Labine), emasculated Yamamoto (Bobby Lee), ex-con Angela (Betsy Sodaro) and no-nonsense nurse Juanita (Kym Whitley) - quickly fall in line, George - along with his faithful simian sidekick Dr. Zaius (Crystal) - will have none of it.
Case in point: when a particularly douchey owner (Matt Walsh) won't pay for his daughter's dog Honey's expensive surgery and opts to euthanize her, Dorothy tries to reason with him while George decides to just kidnap the dog and hold her hostage. And when he refuses to return Honey, Dorothy is ultimately left with no choice but to let him go. But before he and Zaius are out the door, Honey manages to tug on Dorothy's heartstrings long enough to let George do one last surgery. From there, well, I'm sure you can fill in the remaining beats.
What works: It's a show where a monkey has more screen time than most of the regulars, so highbrow probably wouldn't be the best way describe it. So if the image of a group of veterinarians betting on gerbil-riding-turtle races while a monkey holds onto the cash doesn't at least make you smile, it's best you move on from here. Don't get me wrong, it's not a side-splittingly hilarious show but much like "Wipeout," if you have people crash into giant red balls long enough, it's bound to make you laugh a few times. Zaius then is not surprisingly tasked with the bulk of said comedy load, often to amusing effect - "George: It may not be perfect but I help a lot of animals and I meet a lot of girls... my system is perfect." Dorothy: "Well I'm not going to sit around and watch my grandmother's legacy get turned into a zoo." Pan down to Zaius riding a toy ambulance across the screen.
What doesn't: With no ambition beyond the silly, the show is content with having characters play echo chamber to obvious attitudes (Dorothy: "George, you treat the people like the animals and the animals like kings."), not to mention is rife with quips designed to slay your typical seventh grader (Angela: "Ms. Crane, I'm not going to pee in a cup unless it's for money... or love."; Dorothy: "You may actually have a heart in there." George: "A heart's just a muscle Dorothy, nothing more. If I'm going to romanticize an organ, it's certainly not going to be that one."). Coupled with an assortment of lifeless zingers (George, to Dorothy: "Your upper lip is sweating so either your sister's in town or you're lying.") and limp back-and-forths (George: "People only respond to force and humiliation, why do you think they eat at Arby's?" Dorothy: "Oh George, nobody eats at Arby's." George: "Still won't admit that Arby's is delicious!"), the pilot definitely misses more than it hits. Still, it's hard to work up any fervor against a show...
The bottom line: ...in which a monkey is a lead character. You'll laugh at least once, a surprisingly high bar to clear this season.