TV Review: ‘Animals’

'Animals' is the worst HBO comedy
Courtesy HBO

The only good thing about “Animals” is that it serves as proof of how difficult it is to make a certain kind of indie-flavored TV comedy. The animated HBO show has a lot in common with programs like “Girls,” “Louie” and “Baskets,” and like “Togetherness,” it boasts Mark and Jay Duplass as executive producers. But the extraordinarily tedious “Animals,” unlike those shows, fails to hit any of its chosen targets. It is unfunny, its animation is unexceptional and the studied banality of its dialogue is excruciating.

Despite ostensibly being about the animals and insects that New Yorkers ignore as they make their way around the city, the show manages to incorporate almost every cliche from the huge array of bro-oriented cable dramas and comedies. Male pigeons and rats argue with each other about the best way to hit on women, and contests of strength and masculinity crop up regularly. When a female pigeon or rat gets to speak, it’s often to fend of a guy’s advances or to scold a character for falling for another dude’s “machismo playground dare.” The half-hour realm of TV is incredibly frisky and creative these days, but almost none of that experimentation or playful boundary-breaking is on display in this tepid program. 

Given its characters’ concerns about getting sex and competing with other males of the species, “Animals” almost functions as a parody of a rote HBO or Showtime drama, but the comedy doesn’t appear to have that kind of self-awareness. It’s merely a momentum-free collection of tepid scenarios in which rats throw a party (featuring DJ Lab Rat), pigeons and caterpillars bicker about their physical attributes, and fleas discuss divorce. Humans never speak in this comedy, which was created by Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese, but it’s somehow not surprising that a man is shown bending a nameless woman over a desk in the first episode.

It’s a shame this comedy doesn’t display originality or vision, given that the animated arena offers creators an ability to get weird and deep in a host of unusual ways. Shows like “BoJack Horseman,” “Archer,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Adventure Time,” among others, have attracted loyal followings by honing their distinctive voices and depicting outrageous situations that somehow end up being weirdly relatable. By going surreal, these shows arrive at truthful realities in poignant or amusing ways.

But the anemic “Animals” just feels like a string of uninspired, derivative improv sketches that go on too long. Pigeons and rats deserve better than this.

Ryan McGee and I discussed “Animals,” “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “Making a Murderer” in the most recent Talking TV podcast, which can be found here and on iTunes.

TV Review: 'Animals'

Series; HBO, Fri. Feb. 5, 11:30 p.m.

Production

Created in New York by Duplass Brothers Television for HBO.

Crew

Executive producers, Mike Luciano, Phil Matarese, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass; directors, Matarese, Luciano; producers, Jen Roskind, James Fino, Joe Russo II, Kenny Micka.

Cast

Mike Luciano, Phil Matarese, Eric Andre, Katie Aselton, Rob Corddry, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Lauren Lapkus, Adam Scott, Molly Shannon, Wanda Sykes, Cobie Smulders

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  1. kevintimba says:

    Add my voice to the choir. Great show, bad review.

  2. “Pigeons and rats deserve better than this.” … your mother deserves better than you

  3. Carol says:

    Lighten up It’s fresh, creative, hilarious and captivating nonsense and we all need some of that in life

  4. Cody says:

    This show is great. The comedy is improvised with many great improv comedians. If you listen to earwolf podcasts and feral comedy podcasts then you’ll enjoy the back and forth. Granted, they are working within the subject matter, so its not completely free form. The material often turns dark or blue but thats what makes it funny, the ability to go off the hinges. It’s not meant to be taken as serious as a drama. Watch it becauae you love comedy and support improv comedy.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    With all due respect, Ms. Ryan, but I have the odd feeling you didn’t -even- got past the 1st episode (which admittedly was a bit of a rough pill to swallow), because all of your points seem to focus on the rats’ episode, and only the first 15 minutes of it, because the other 15 show how people deal with the consequences of living without caring.

    The second episode of the series literally talks about very sensitive topics, about what it takes to make a family and to stick with your friends even after one changes. And I’m not posting any spoilers, but it’s going to take you for a good ride.

    I mean, did we watch the same series? Did you watch the same episodes that had me at first laughing and then had me thinking by the end? The one with animals taking a jab at human culture with a somewhat progressive lens but without getting choresome and borish like current progressivism?

    This has to be the poorest review on an animated series I’ve ever read, and as a greater critic once said, I’m afraid to say as fat as this review is concerned, “It stinks!”.

  6. Cassi says:

    Love love love Animals!!! I really want one the league cast members just to throw in a shiva blast!! I really miss the league, but once I found Animals I felt like they moved to on to bigger and better things!! Animals is awesome!! Love it!!

  7. A terrible review by a critic who needs a vacation from himself and his own narrow, humorless, B.S. Animals is funny BECAUSE it’s “chosen targets” are people with a sense of humor, not people who make a living by sucking all the life OUT of funny, animated programming.

  8. Serge Djukic says:

    It’s truly astonishing that you are paid to review art of these are your thoughts on Animals.

    Nothing that you’ve said is accurate, you are a joke.

  9. SuperBerik says:

    Except it’s the other way around. It’s the only GOOD latest HBO comedy show.

  10. Dee says:

    Obviously you didn’t watch the entire season or just have a very bland sense of humor. The fact that you missed the blatant sarcasm centered around what you liked to refer to as “bro-ness” is laughable as you so CLEARLY missed the point of the jokes. This is an extremely poor and inaccurate judgement of the show and you shouldn’t have a job based off of what I’ve read here. You also seem like a great time at parties.

  11. foreignspell says:

    It sounds like you watched the pilot and gave up. Very unfair assessment.

  12. Erica says:

    wow, couldn’t agree more. this show seems written by a bunch of 12 year old boys. it’s sexist and boring, just like some comments here…

  13. Ricky says:

    Holy crap! I love this show for being innovative and for its awesome vignettes. The comedy is fantastic and the amount of guest stars are too.

  14. Jill says:

    Animals is awesome. If you don’t like it go suck a dick

  15. Chimy says:

    I agree that’s it is very much a bro show and the female characters are very 2-D and that the plot lines do get repetitive. Beyond these critics I think the show is very smart and the deadpan dialogue adds to its charm.

  16. ashley Williams says:

    Haha did you just watch one episode and then go into judging a whole series. This is comedy done right, and your review does not give it justice. You wouldn’t know funny if it bit you on the ass, which this show does to everyone I’ve shown it to.

  17. qweefthiz6000 says:

    Maureen you must not have a sense of humor…I luv show

  18. Variety has bad content says:

    It’s actually a very innovative show. Can’t wait for season 2.

  19. jo540yullee says:

    While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I disagree with your review and think that Animals is the most refreshing show I have watched in a long time. It portrays life’s banalities in a real, un-sugarcoated, yet humorous way. It’s a show unlike many of the popular primetime shows out there that are too afraid to throw some honesty and dark humor into their dialogue, and resort to packed and fast yet emotionally empty dialogue and plots. Animals is a nice mix of realness and humor, without becoming 100% depressing or 100% silly. I would recommend that people reading this review check out at least one episode of the show – I think you can watch the first episode for free on HBO’s site. Viva la Animals!

  20. Ari Hart says:

    There’s no such thing as an “improv sketch,” LADY! Why don’t do you pick on some other pointless drivel populating the airwaves instead of taking down a funny, original show.

    I’m sorry I snapped. You’re probably not the target audience and that’s ok. You have a job to do and a quota to fill so that you don’t look disposable, and you took a shot at a show that you don’t understand. You are not the target demographic, it’s aimed at your 20 something slacker nephew that you only see at Thanksgiving. But to claim that it has no originality? Come on…

  21. Simone says:

    I am so sorry you missed the joke, critic- what you call boring banality is the show’s dry, irreverent humor sailing right over you head. Unfortunate, that.

    A longtime fan of irreverent adult-oriented cartoons, (back to the days when Space Ghost was king and Rejected Cartoons graced newsgroups and web rings with its glorious presence) I’m perfectly fine with someone not liking or not getting the dry self-mocking of *humans* and all the humor that comes with it. Completely deriding a show just because you, personally , didn’t get the humor that’s there?

    You’re off your nut, critic, and way too salty about what you don’t understand.

  22. Tom Jones says:

    Your review makes me sad for you. This show is great. Creative and fun to watch. As for the person who says the show is slow, you sir clearly don’t understand the meaning of slow. This show mixes 2-3 different stories each episode and each story is unique, funny and moves along at a meaningful pace. Go watch friends or whatever you are into. Stop crapping on something just because its different and you cant understand it –

  23. mattmatt says:

    Very accurate review- l really looked forward to this, and I really didn’t enjoy it. Surprisingly stupid and slow. All the vapid temps whining about the review and opinions are entertaining, though.

  24. megyounguw says:

    I kind of enjoyed it, but this is dead on.

  25. I didn't watch this movie says:

    You just don’t understand it and that’s okay.

  26. J. Berger says:

    This woman obviously has lost touch with what is funny and what is not. This show is classic and original, it features everyday lofe problems through the eyes of animals. The reason humans cant talk in the show is because the majority would sound like yourself. Stop being so crass and try to see some positivity in life.

  27. Alex says:

    Your review screams of being out of touch. You have clearly put yourself out of your element and have missed the mark on the tone of this show completely. You perception of “tepid” dialogue is really missing the fact that the water is boiling with quick witted, fast paced, dry humor that is so naturally conveyed, it is refreshing and hard to capture in an animation. Do you not understand the major theme of how dark and depraved the nameless, unimportant humans are in the storyline? Do you not understand the irony of having what would typically be a common denominator shitty TV show plot running in the background of this incredibly inventive and brilliant and silly little vignettes. This show is one of the BEST things to happen to HBO comedy in some time! I bet you don’t even like the music! This is a perfect way to get the aging adult swim audience (myself included) into the HBO market. With all due respect, boooooo.

    • Matthew says:

      and your post screams of someone who likes to read their own writing, but otherwise knows nothing about comedy.
      let me put it plainly (i will save the florid prose for you indignant, and inevitably incorrect, response. it is poorly written. it is not funny. i mean, “fast paced, dry humor”? i wish that were the case. then the show would be over sooner.
      this show is utter shite. boring, self-involved, too-cute-by-half shite.

  28. wilson manase says:

    worst review ever

  29. Edgar Pohl says:

    I guess everyone will be polarized by this series. The so called Animation itself is a “love it or hate it” style.The same thing with the writing. For myself i have to say it worked, cause you focus more on the most of the times well written story and dialogues. The episode with the cats was one of the best in my oppinion with strange characters and a good flow. Flies even broke my heart a little.
    The humans in the background… well…ok… maybe this ongoing story about the corrupt politician will add in the conclusion to something. Afterall its weird and light hearted
    All in all a series you like or hate. Guess it lets you not much space inbetween

  30. an3ony says:

    I could not disagree with this review more, the dialogue is fantastic, the delivery is hilarious, the animation is meant to be rough. I think the critic has missed the boat on their review.

  31. Erica Baguma says:

    I find Animals extremely funny. I don’t think there’s anything tepid about the dialogue, in fact I think the greatest part about the show the hilarity the actors bring out of situations that would otherwise be mundane. As well as the Life and Times of Tim, as others have mentioned, I’m reminded of Home Movies and Dr. Katz. It’s obvious from the shows this reviewer compares Animals to that this is simply not a style of comedy she can appreciate or critique.

  32. Jane Fairchild says:

    I just love Animals….the drawings are wonderful, not like the usual animation done by large studios. The understated flat dialogue is most sophisticated and amusing. I have not been offended by any male machismo humor and in fact never thought it was sexist as the reviewer infers. It is just funny and the issues spoken are especially amusing coming from the animal stars. These animations are more similar to the Czech and Hungarian fare than our Disney/Pixal fast forward bland forms.

    Jane

    • Matthew says:

      oh my god. is everyone in this comments section an idiot? “Czech and Hungarian fare”. jesus h. . . i lived in czech, and still travel there often (hungary, too), and this awful show would be looked at in those countries like, well, an awful show.

  33. John says:

    This is a horrible review. It would take near an essay to counter all the needless over-intellectualizing the author does, which I am not going to to do – many great points have been brought up by other commenters. Instead I’ll just have to repeat the grokking fact that she clearly didn’t get it. Worse than that, some have even pointed out blatant inaccuracies – which form part of the basis of her negativity about the show – within this review.

    It’s pretty tough to make me laugh, by much of today’s television standards – it seems to me that a lot of tv employs a very similar style of bland watered down comedy. Animals had me in stitches, however. It has a very unique type of humor, one that’s painfully socially aware and at the same time borders on complete absurdity. I thought it was great overall.

  34. Helen says:

    “fend off”…

    yeah they have sex cause they are… animals. humans are also animals and like to have sex.

    the first two episodes were great.

  35. Adam says:

    Couldn’t disagree more. I personally feel like the reviewer, for lack of a more eloquent explanation, simply doesn’t “get it”.
    I have laughed out loud at every scene. It let’s the stars shine and flex their comedic muscles, and the simple animation contributed to that as well. It reminds me of my other favorite HBO animated series “The Life and Times of Tim”.
    I sincerely hope this review is in the minority.
    5/5 stars.
    5 stars.

  36. Anon says:

    Honestly I agree with the reviewer it’s a stupid excuse for comedy with terrible animation and even worse plot lines

  37. The show isn’t self-aware? Are you joking? The way that the animals drift in and out of their understanding of human behavior is truly exceptional writing. They have problems and commentaries within their own sphere of awareness that is on par (and exceeds in many scenes) the average human’s awareness of their own life and place in the universe, yet have no real grasp of what humans are up to. You’re left to believe that it’s not at all because animals are stupid, but because they are actually so self-involved that they fail to make even the most basic observations about human behavior. It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen as of late. Right up there with Broad City in my opinion.

  38. Kayla Bolan says:

    This review is TERRIBLE. ANIMALS IS OUTSTANDING!!! This is an amazing show with an exceptional cast. Not to be rude, but the target audience probably isn’t middle aged women. It’s a young and crude, skillfully-animated comedy. It’s RAW. It’s what television NEEDS. It’s not political, it’s not trying to prove anything. It’s a hilarious take on the world from the perspective of animals. I LOVE this show and I hope it continues to run for many seasons.

  39. pokwok says:

    The show isn’t exceptional, but this review is exceedingly stupid. It is funny, and animation works very well with it. Saying it’s not great is one thing, but calling it the “worst”? Idiot review honestly. I don’t think any of the points are valid. There are lots of funny lines and I would say this is better than *most* animated comedies. Not to mention it has a killer cast. It sounds like the reviewer only watched one episode though, so I don’t even know how you can write a review after only having watched the pilot. I’m not saying it’s a great comedy, but this is a terrible review. Variety’s on it’s way down.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree with your assessment, but you could refrain from making a blanket statement about middle aged women, of which I am one, who thinks the show is fantastic.

  40. sps says:

    “but it’s somehow not surprising that a man is shown bending a nameless woman over a desk in the first episode.”

    Somehow you forget to notice that the “man” is also nameless. It’s possible to get and empathize with what used to be (derisively) called culture war/identity politics critiques while also finding latter day blasphemy amusing. The humans don’t speak because the humans are beside the point. And the rats find the entire scene they are watching to awful. And then they go repeat the process. It’s either pointless or going deeper, but either way, it’s meant to be absurd humor.

    Togetherness is about family, in the 2015/2016 broader sense of the term. Comparing the two, combined with the above statement, is beyond absurd.

    [Variety, please hire better writers, not people who still make sophomore Lit class arguments.]

    • sps says:

      Also, it’s a bed they are on. Seriously, did you even watch the show. You can say “I don’t like it”, but if you think you can claim a thought critique of something and not even know what you are talking about, you don’t deserve to have your writing published and get paid for it.

      • pokwok says:

        What really irks me is that this half-assed, poor review is one of the first thing that comes up when you search the show’s name on google. Honestly I think this show has a lot of bases covered, and it can even be sentimental at times. It really pisses me off that the show creator’s might see this review and think that’s what the audience thinks. This show is clearly funnier and better than most animated comedy, better than animated comedy that goes for 10+ seasons. What happened to Variety?

  41. Badmotorscooter says:

    I love it. I’m not sure how you can blast the show calling “the worst” because it’s not for you. You can have your Bill Maher, but let the rest of us enjoy our show. HBO is a large brand, and there’s plenty of room for all of us. Keep doing what you’re doing Mike, Phil, and the Duplass brothers.

  42. gljm99 says:

    I don’t know, I saw the 2nd episode and wasn’t sure what to think but after the 3rd “Cats” which I found both totally disturbing and hysterical at the same time I became hooked. Maybe it helps being from NYC so I love the description of actual places. I like the overall look of the animation and the “Improve” feel to it. Looking forward to seeing the rest of this season. And just for the record I’m a middle aged guy so I’m not sure age has too much to do with it, but then again I Love “The Venture Brothers” !

  43. Jessica says:

    I just feel it’s wrong to comment and say the show is “the worst show”. It’s actually really funny. I am from New York and I like how they show off set places like Nostrand Ave. It may be that the show is not directed to your age group so you may not get it. In episode 4 Aziz Ansari plays a cute little dog. If that not hilarious to you then you are not the age group the show is aimed at.

    It’s okay I’ll be old one day too any I too will judge a funny show for young people and call it garbage but until then…. I’m all for this show! Everyone watch it!!

  44. Depressingly awful. What a waste of a funny, even good premise. The lackluster voices, the boring, umimaginative dialogue. I wouldn’t watch humans drone on like this for more than five minutes on screen, animated animals -may be six. Yawn.

    • metacore says:

      Omg, “may be” you should learn teh grammars before you make negative internet post, much rage!

      “Depressingly awful. What a waste of a funny, even good comments section. The lackluster posts, the boring and unimaginative writing. I wouldn’t read animals drone on like this for more than five words on screen, commenting humans – maybe six. I’m not yawing or even making a yawning sound, but in fact saying the word. Yawn.”

      There, I fixed the grammar for you. I can’t believe someone almost read that without my crucial fix. All that pain and suffering…

  45. Steve Martin once said, “comedy is not pretty.” I agree with almost everything you wrote except the part about Animals not being funny. Lighten up a little. Enjoy it for what it’s is — a funny show that isn’t very pretty.

  46. TheRealCJStylez says:

    This Show is Hilarious and overall great! I’ve already told Mike not to let HBO cancel this show via twitter. This review is biased and predetermined this is a Fantastic show!

  47. Ptarus says:

    No one expects some 60 year old woman would like this anyways.
    Go back to watching PBS until you develop an actual sense of humor.

    I happen to think the show is great, the casual laid back feel is what tv has been missing.

    Not some shitty actors shittily reading their shitty lines before the laugh track is queued.

    As for animation, I like it.
    Remember Tom goes to the mayor? Probably not, but that show was great and everyone hated it because of the animation style.

    Too bad everyones head is stuck too far up their asses to sit back and enjoy something. Everyone just gets on a shitty blog and acts like some sort of writer, which they clearly aren’t haha

    If you’re going to talk bad about a show, perhaps you should do it in a way that don’t bore people to the point of writing you nasty comments on your article.

    Lets hope for your sakes you write about more topics than television.
    Good luck out there Maureen, I sincerely hope you learn to laugh one day.

    • Jessica says:

      I agree with you. How can she understand a show not directed towards her age group. It is an unfair opinion.

    • Seriously, man, let’s hope for your “sakes” that you care about more in life than ripping the writer of a review you don’t like.
      To her credit, the writer had the decency to post your disgusting takedown, more decency than you will ever have in your life, I bet. She also has a job at Variety and you don’t. It must be for a good reason.

      For your “sakes,” you should learn better grammar “if you’re going to talk bad” before you comment on any topic, let alone television. Because the only funny thing about this show is reading your comically angry and awful comment.
      “Too bad everyones head is stuck too far up their asses to sit back and enjoy something. Everyone just gets on a shitty blog and acts like some sort of writer, which they clearly aren’t haha.”

      Haha indeed! On you, though.

      • metacore says:

        Ahahaha, you think a typo is bad grammar? You think the writer personally posts these comments on here? Do you know what an appeal to authority is? Are you aware attacking spelling and grammar is what someone who has given up does, and is usually about as mature as a kid still in grammar school? Are you aware different people can enjoy different things, and they are still valid? Are you aware your favorite color is not in fact “the best”?

        “Seriously, woman, let’s hope for your sake that you care about more in life than ripping the writer of a comment you don’t like.”

        Grow up…

        P.S.
        You also think Steven Avery is innocent… Of course… I guess 10 1-hour episodes really capture a guy’s life more than everyone else that has ever been close to him can…

  48. Kuhkofunny says:

    Dreadful. Completely and utterly dreadful slop.

  49. JP says:

    Funny, I was just thinking how I haven’t agreed or liked anything from Variety in awhile either. I have to disagree with this too. I am arguably the biggest fan of HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim, and while episode 1 of Animals wasn’t as awkward or outrageous as anything to come out of Tim, the dry humor is comparable, with the littlest things being clever and funny. It’s all the more funny when corny animations out of no where get raunchy or drop f-bombs because it’s almost as if it has no business being in the there, which usually generates a laugh. The creators are going to have a lot of fun by humanizing the animals like Brian from Family Guy (especially the gross ones like the bed bugs), where though Brian talks & acts like a human, he’ll occassionally do silly or gross dog stuff like eat a diaper. Btw, Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane is doing pretty well, and Tim lasted 3 seasons while gaining a cult following. I’m with Yoeri from 2/6/16.

    • Ptarus says:

      At least someone in this world knows how to enjoy something for what it is.

      Not every show is going to make every person fall out of a chair laughing. I wont lie, i didnt fall out of my chair, or even laugh hard, but this show is great for some good chuckles.

      Also as a huge fan of the Kroll show, i love hearing all the recognizable voices. It makes it that much better.

      I thank you sir. Im sure I wouldve enjoyed this article more if it were written by you lol

    • JL says:

      I can’t agree more, between the low-key animation and the improvised tone it really really reminds me of Life and Times of Tim(both Tim and Animals are made by ex ad guys, oddly). Luckily, it was already renewed for a second season, so I guess HBO is seeing what Duplass and all the amazing improvisers on the show see in it, but sadly I have yet to find a positive review of the show besides this one, and that includes the IMDB message boards… I have a feeling that also much like Tim, it won’t last too long.

      On the other hand, the first time I heard of the show was when I saw it on the HBO Go app, so maybe it’ll get enough exposure in the next two years to survive a third.

  50. Yoeri says:

    What the hell are you guys on. I thought it was hilarious, and I like the concept behind it. First episode played well with humanizing the rats, and it’s far different from something like Bojack Horseman. The viagra pill that turned out to be poison, the quickness that ratbabies grow up and how Phill made a baby with the just made baby, which by the end of the party grew up. There’s some witty things in here.

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