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Review: NBC's 'Animal Practice' monkeys around with Justin Kirk

When Crystal the Monkey is the most popular character on NBC's new 'Animal Practice,' you know there's trouble ahead. Justin Kirk and crew deserve better.

August 11, 2012|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Crystal the Monkey is the real star of "Animal Practice."
Crystal the Monkey is the real star of "Animal Practice." (Neil Jacobs / NBC )

The second of NBC's new comedies centered on Someone We All Wish Would Find a Successful Network Comedy is airing Sunday night. The first was "Go On," featuring Matthew Perry; this weekend it's "Animal Practice," starring Justin Kirk.

A critic's darling, and rightly so, ever since he blew our collective minds as Prior Walter in Mike Nichols' TV adaptation of "Angels in America," Kirk has spent the better part of the last seven years shoulder to shoulder with Mary Louise Parker as Showtime's groundbreaking and often quite amazing"Weeds" sprouted, bloomed and then wilted a bit before returning to the dust from whence it sprung. (This is its last season.)

Nothing should please us more than the fact that Kirk is now moving to a network vehicle with, if not the creative freedom of Showtime, then a guaranteed larger audience: Justin Kirk for the masses.

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Except the show is pretty darn terrible, derivative and tired, co-starring a monkey (never, ever a good sign) and chockablock with characters we have seen too many times before. Including Kirk's lead, Dr. George Coleman, an urban wunderkind veterinarian who, we are told though never quite convinced, has a better rapport with animals than he does humans. A sleepy-eyed Lothario hiding a broken heart, he acts as alpha dog to a group of clueless, neutered fellow vets, including Bobby Lee as apron-string bound Dr. Kim and Tyler Labine, the recently ditched and not yet rebounded Dr. Doug.

There's also a crazy-eyed female assistant with appropriateness issues and a head nurse trying to keep the wacky gambling-addicted crew in line, but it's George's pet capuchin, played by Crystal the Monkey, that has tested highest with audiences of all the characters.

That should tell you pretty much all you need to know.

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What plot propulsion there is enters in the form of JoAnna Garcia Swisher playing Dorothy Rutledge, George's ex-girlfriend, who has inherited the veterinary practice. (Her character was added, it must be mentioned, at the last minute.) She wants to make a few changes to the place, and no doubt to George.

A subplot in the pilot involves a man who would rather put his daughter's dog to sleep than pay the thousands of bucks required for its surgery, a matter resolved when George performs the surgery anyway and finds evidence with which to bribe the man into paying. Not exactly the moral and psychological issues regularly addressed by"House,"to which "Animal Practice" is already being lamentably compared. No, we are laboring in the ever-thinning miasma left behind by "The Hangover," where boys will be boys and not much else. (Crystal the Monkey had a featured role in "The Hangover Part II"; make of this what you will.)

There is, of course, the possibility that "Animal Practice" will be a big hit — the next"Two and a Half Men."It's hard to tell when animals are involved. But for fans of Kirk (and of Lee and Labine, for that matter) that would not be the ideal outcome. There is a great network TV show out there somewhere with Kirk's name on it, but this isn't it.

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'Animal Practice'

Where: NBC

When: 10:35 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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