Having taken a few quality cable-type bets, the new regime at NBC wants to serve notice they’re not above silly and high-concept too. Enter “Animal Practice,” where most of the boasting has been about audience-testing scores for a Capuchin monkey, providing an indication of where the show falls on the evolutionary scale. Justin Kirk brings the requisite roguishness to his central role — the kind of veterinarian who leverages his knowledge of dogs to seduce their female owners — but this is one of those tired-old-mutt sitcoms that could benefit from a few new tricks.
Kirk’s Dr. George Coleman runs a wacky establishment where the kooky staff indulges in all kinds of “MASH”-like hijinks — at least, until the place is left to George’s ex-girlfriend, Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, a post-development replacement), by her late grandmother.
The silliness notwithstanding, Dorothy’s arrival sets up an awfully trite scenario where the stick-in-the-mud gal tries to rein in her authority-flouting ex, creating an excuse for lots of romantic comedy banter. Moreover, despite his frat-boy antics, George is clearly going to be redeemed, time and again, by the fact he really, really cares about animals, standing up for them (as he does in the pilot) even if it means braving the wrath of their owners.
As for the monkey, OK, it’s kind of cute, but it’s also one of those gimmicks prone to yielding diminishing returns. Moreover, the producers were forced to shed the cleverest part of the gag — naming the character Dr. Zaius, after the nasty orang in the original “Planet of the Apes” — because it didn’t clear legal. (It’s now, nonsensically, Dr. Rizzo.)
That leaves Kirk, who does what he can, but deserves better; Garcia Swisher, an upgrade over the actress she replaced, but still playing a character who’s kind of a drag; and Tyler Labine, cast in a sidekick role he’s played countless times — including a recent stint as a lab-coat-wearing third fiddle behind another monkey in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” What are the odds?
“Animal Practice” is one of two sitcoms (the other being “Go On”) NBC opted to preview during the Olympics, in advance of a fall berth Wednesdays, leading off an animals-and-children comedy block alongside “Guys With Kids.”
Of course, there’s an old adage in showbiz circles saying actors should never work with either, but it’s hard to imagine “Practice” ever being more than tolerable, much less making perfect. And if further office visits alter that diagnosis, well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.