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Fox Sitcom ‘Animal Control’ Should Be the Next ‘Brooklyn 99’ or ‘Community’

Fox
Fox

Animal Control, the Fox comedy whose second season premieres Mar. 6, emphasizes the familiar over the novel. Set in Seattle (though filmed in Vancouver), the single-camera sitcom follows a group of animal control officers who juggle their personal and professional woes. Frank Shaw (Joel McHale)—a snarky, emotionally distant former cop—leads the show’s ensemble alongside his partner, Shred (Michael Rowland), a guileless former pro snowboarder relatively new to the squad who’s eager for Frank’s mentorship and approval. Shred’s ceaseless optimism constantly gets on Frank’s nerves, but— surprise, surprise—the gruff older partner shares a reluctant bond with his younger companion.

The squad’s other two officers have a more supportive opposites-attract relationship. Victoria (Grace Palmer), a New Zealand free spirit with a sharp tongue, is paired up with Patel (Ravi V. Patel), an overtaxed father of three who craves time (and good food, and good travel) outside the family home. Meanwhile, the kindhearted Emily (Vella Lovell) fills out the cast as precinct director; though her team frequently takes advantage of her bottomless generosity, they eventually come to respect and befriend her.

It’s easy to spot the influences of previous comedies in Animal Control’s DNA. Traces of Brooklyn Nine-Nine are baked into the premise, especially as the series slowly explores secondary or tertiary characters in the department. (Of course, Animal Control skirts any political problematics by having its officers “arrest” only wildlife and shelter future pets.) McHale’s character (and performance) inevitably recalls his previously long-running role as Jeff Winger on Community: Both protagonists are vain, reluctant leaders, with a palpable melancholic hurt bubbling beneath the surface, who take goofing off very seriously. The squad's rivalry with Templeton (Gerry Dee), a smug officer from a neighboring precinct, has roots in any number of sitcoms, including Cheers, whose employees engaged in competitions with Gary’s Old Towne Pub.

But there’s something to be said for the familiar. Animal Control may not reinvent the wheel, but it does feature an inviting cast whose ensemble chemistry improved over the course of the previous season, reliably strong characterizations, and a good sense of comic timing. Though the show doesn’t always take advantage of its joke-machine potential, the sarcastic one-liners and witty repartee go down smoothly. Plus, Animal Control has an obvious secret weapon that it exploits every episode: animals, whose furry, raucous antics force the cast into situations rife for slapstick. Sometimes the comedic fruit hangs low—last season, a kangaroo punched Patel in the balls, and bunnies stoned on mushrooms became aggressive with the squad—but other times the visual gag can be enough. Case in point: a drunk racoon humping a bowling ball in the cold open of Animal Control’s second season premiere.

The cast of Animal Control react in surprise in a still from ‘Animal Control’

Osmond Bramble, Michael Rowland, Joel McHale, Grace Palmer and Ravi Patel

Bettina Strauss/Fox

Of course, the show’s human relationships are the primary draw. In the first season, Emily crushes on newcomer Shred, who was in a long-distance relationship with fellow snowboarder Camilla (María Gabriela de Faría) at the time. Slowly but surely, Shred develops feelings for Emily just as Emily starts to fall for Rick (Kevin Bigley), the former precinct director who was mauled by a mink, underwent several surgeries to reconstruct his face, and subsequently received a giant settlement from the city. Just as Shred breaks it off with Camilla, Emily and Rick officially start dating, leaving Shred heartbroken and jealous at the beginning of this new season.

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A thoughtful, generous person, Rick serves as both a good partner for Emily and a potentially strong foil for Shred. It’s easy to see the two develop enmity in the future considering Rick’s benevolent spirit brings out a passive aggressive side from Shred, and Bigley and Rowland play off each other well. But the season’s first two episodes mostly feature Shred trying to alleviate his despair by visiting a trampoline park and jumping head first into the dating pool.

Frank also starts dating again after taking a break when his last girlfriend physically ghosted him, i.e., literally left an NHL game and never returned. Though Yazmin (Sarah Chalke) makes her first appearance (of presumably many) in the season premiere, the second episode features Frank joining a few dating apps with the help of Victoria. It gives McHale and Palmer an opportunity to continue cultivating the chemistry they developed in the show’s first season, as it’s clear that Animal Control is laying groundwork for a Frank-Victoria hookup/relationship. While their flirtation has mostly been limited to meaningful stares from Palmer, the characters’ workplace banter suggests better things on the horizon.

Kyrstal Smith and Vella Lovell talk to each other in a still from ‘Animal Control’

Kyrstal Smith and Vella Lovell

Bettina Strauss/Fox

The show’s first two episodes introduce other potentially season-long narrative arcs, like Victoria’s shaky citizenship status after her secret green-card marriage falls apart, and Patel and Shred purchasing a hoarder’s house as an investment opportunity. The series also presents a new recurring character: receptionist Bethany (Krystal Smith), whose fierce loyalty to Emily sometimes crosses legal boundaries.

Animal Control’s second season might start slowly, but the show capitalizes on its strongest qualities from its debut year and exhibits plenty of growth potential, which it will have time to demonstrate as Fox has already renewed the series for a third season. At a time when streamers and networks alike have pulled back on producing sitcoms, this one is a fine reminder of what a sturdy, unflashy example of the genre can accomplish.

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