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TV Review: ‘Animals’

With:
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

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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