Across its very funny, first three episodes made available to the press ahead of its February 16 series premiere, Animal Control showcases the greatest potential among its 2023 peers to become a TV favorite. Thanks to a confident and playful mix reminiscent of writing from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation, the workplace comedy from co-creators Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg (The Moodys) with Dan Sterling (The Last Man on Earth), follows a group of local animal control workers reporting from the Northwest Seattle Division whose lives are complicated more by their very flawed, human co-workers than the animals they take care of.
Taking off right from the start and dropping audiences directly into the center of things, we are introduced to the show’s two leads, Frank Shaw (McHale) and Fred “Shred” Taylor (Michael Rowland), heading to their first animal control call as new partners. With Frank curmudgeonly setting up the rules for the rookie who is very eager for his first day, it’s evident early on that these two are total opposites. While Frank, a former cop, considers himself a “lone wolf” and prefers to work alone, Shred is a fun-loving, spirited “bro” who sees the good in everything despite his Olympic snowboarder dreams getting crushed due to an injury. While Rowland brings out a very bright and sunny kind of disposition to his character, it’s an endearing and charming performance that winningly complements McHale’s natural charisma for brash, know-it-all characters that you can’t help but love and root for beneath those complex layers. As Rowland and McHale spend a lot of time together tackling some of the funniest animal cases this season that include ostriches, weasels, bunnies, and tigers, it’s the chemistry these two have with one another that truly catapults the charm of the series. To add to this pair’s dynamic and on-screen magnetism, Rowland and McHale have a longstanding history in standup comedy, which benefits their timing with each other to welcome a striking blend of whimsy and heart.
Adding to the animal control team is the easy yet eccentric pairing between Victoria Sands (Grace Palmer) and her partner Amit Patel (Ravi Patel) who are just as wacky and weird as their co-workers, and complete opposites. Although Victoria is more of a free spirit living on her own terms that are far from Shred’s philosophies, Amit is a family man trying to create a work-life balance but is often caught singing “The Poop Song” to his child on the phone — also known as the perfect workplace singalong, to be honest. While the New Zealand-born Palmer might be relatively new to American audiences, her confidence and spunk through some of the more dead-pan humor play perfectly opposite her co-stars. Patel, who audiences will recognize from a long list of feature films and TV sitcoms over the years, including, most recently, Ghosts, is every bit a joy to watch on screen and holds his own as the neurotic yet well-meaning person who tries at times to up Frank’s “know-it-all-isms,” but to some hilarious failure.
Rounding off the cast is the team’s endearingly, awkward boss Emily Price (Lovell) who is by all terms soft and someone the animal control precinct loves simply because, as Frank puts it, she is “easy to manipulate.” Always wanting everyone in the office to like her while suffering from a serious case of imposter syndrome, Emily tries very hard to get them on her side and does so by gifting them with panini presses and espresso makers — not to mention, she finds herself having quite the affection for Shred. Naturally, that’s an HR problem and one she tries to avoid as Templeton Dudge — the precinct’s rival, played by Canadian comedian Gerry Dee – is vying for her job. Dee, who is best known for his award-winning comedy Mr. D, has the cold Templeton down to a tee as he gloats about his division’s successes and easily intimidates Emily every chance he gets. Intelligent and cunning with a chip on his shoulder, there is no heart to Templeton, at least not yet, but he makes for a fun rival when Frank and his squad try their hardest to irritate him.
Following years of comedies hitting the Fox catalog, Animal Control is a big deal for the network as it’s Fox Entertainment’s first, wholly-owned live-action comedy. Executive produced by McHale, Greenberg, Fisher, and Sterling with Tad Quill (Scrubs), Animal Control is a feel-good comedy with jokes that are clever with a type of humor we are familiar with but done in a refreshing way that makes you wonder how this is the series’ inaugural season. One of the show’s greatest strengths is in its sharp and very funny ensemble that offers audiences a diverse set of castmates that put a lot of heart into their comedy. Topping it off with McHale, who is arguably one of our generation’s greatest comedians, leading the charge alongside a lovable crackerjack ensemble, the multitalented star’s return to primetime is a force for good across the sitcom milieu.
While animal control might be one of the easier workplace settings to find humor in thanks to animals never listening to humans, the series manages to create that atmosphere as more of an accent than an actual dialogue like some procedural comedies has done. Even with the old-school tropes of critters wreaking havoc, Animal Control puts a contemporary spin on things that work incredibly well because of its writing and performances. These characters are grounded in emotions and work-life conflicts we all recognize, and it makes the show even more endearing.
The series premiere offers audiences a good peek into what is expected and makes its heart apparent from the get-go, starting off strong with a solid dose of humor that is engaging and continues very well into its subsequent episodes. Animal Control has all the makings of the next comedy great thanks to its funny banter alongside a nice swing of surprises with laugh-out-loud gags. This is not to say Animal Control is revolutionizing the comedy scene for this year, but it’s definitely shaking things up enough for primetime with its very funny cast and story, proving the series is worth watching.
Animal Control premieres Thursday, February 16 at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.