Poor execution of initial comedic premise

HBO’s new animated comedy “Animals,” created and voiced by Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, has one of the more unique and strange premises when it comes to adult an­imated series. It was initially shown at Sun­dance, and then premiered on HBO on Feb. 5. The first season is set to have nine episodes, with three having aired thus far.

“Animals” is about the lives of various types of animals that reside in New York City. They resemble humans in everything but ap­pearance, having the same kinds of struggles, emotions and relationships. Each episode is named after the animal it centers on–the first being “Rats,” the second being “Pigeons” and the latest one being “Cats.”

Future episodes will include dogs, flies and squirrels. Each episode has two central char­acters that are best friends, always named Phil and Mike, after the creators. The concept of the series is incredibly interesting, and I was curious when I heard about it. Despite not generally being into animated comedies, I de­cided to give it a try. The premise of the show had a lot of potential, and could have brought about something compelling, intelligent and entertaining.

Unfortunately, though, Animals fell flat in just about every aspect of it besides the initial concept.

The pilot episode is about rats, and focuses particularly on the social ineptitude of a par­ticular rat, Phil. At a rat party, Phil is made fun of by his peers because he’s never “made ba­bies” before. His friends have made multiple babies with female rats, and his inexperience makes him insecure. We see him trying to court several female rats and failing misera­bly. The tragic end is perhaps the only part of the episode that was compelling in any way, with Phil consuming a pill that he was told would help him with his social skills, but ends up being rat poison.

The second episode tells the tale of a pi­geon, Mike, who challenges another pigeon to a race to the Statue of Liberty–or, in the pi­geons’ words, “the big green lady with the ice cream cone.” His friend Phil–who mistakenly thinks he has become a mother, confusing a golf ball with an egg–dresses up as a female pigeon in an attempt to seduce and thwart Mike’s rival, but ends up falling in love with him instead. The third episode focuses on two sibling cats who are tricked by an alley cat to let him into their apartment, and the alley cat ends up stealing from them.

What seemed original and inventive end­ed up being the very opposite. The content is unfunny and crude, clearly aimed towards male viewers with its mostly male animals going through masculinity crises. The lack of significant female animals is apparent, and the resulting storylines revolving around un­sympathetic dudes made me roll my eyes. The dialogue is uninspired, predictable and dull and I found it a mind-numbing chore to get through all the episodes.

In most other successful animated com­edies, there is always a female lead to keep the raucousness in tow. Like Francine on “American Dad” or Lois on “Family Guy.” The absence of this character in “Animals” was a huge missed opportunity from a comedy standpoint and a disgrace from a feminist one.

None of the characters are likable, and I wasn’t invested in their storylines. The show attempts to interlace social commentary with its characters, but doesn’t do a very good job of it. Its style of comedy tries to mimic that of shows like “Family Guy,” “South Park” and “the Simpsons,” but it does so only in taking their very worst qualities and none of their positive ones. There are perhaps some small moments that are actually funny–such as when the pigeons realize Phil’s “baby egg” is really just what they call a “white guy white ball”–but they are rare.

Though humans are present periodically throughout the show, they don’t speak, and their struggles are pushed to the background, effectively switching their typical roles with the animals. This could be interesting but instead, the small snippets we do get of the humans, though, are unnecessary and are as unimaginative as the stories of the animals.

The series includes many famous comedi­ans that guest star to voice the minor char­acters, such as Aziz Ansari, Neil Casey and Adam Scott, but their talent could have been put to much better use elsewhere.

In addition to its other setbacks, the anima­tion itself is also mediocre. The unpolished cartoon style might have been endearing and could have added to the effect if the content itself was convincing, but with both the ani­mation and the content being unexceptional, there is nothing about “Animals” that makes it worth watching.

There are some very clever, entertaining and moving animated comedies on TV, and I found myself charmed by the few episodes of shows like “Gravity Falls,” “Adventure Time” and “Bob’s Burgers” that I was forced to watch with my younger cousins. The creativity that animation allows can bring about something truly original, whether it is for kids’ cartoons or more adult animated series.

When it comes to animated adult comedies, I have higher expectations: there is so much room for controversy and almost an expec­tation to push boundaries. Why then fall into the same tropes as most other sitcoms? Why rely on those same stereotypes? “Animals” doesn’t make use of any of the benefits of the medium, and instead of the satirical and ec­centric comedy it was trying to be, the show ends up as nothing but obnoxious in its crude­ness and tiring to get through.

One Comment

  1. I disagree entirely. While every episode exhibits crude and irreverent humor, there is always a distinct element of dramatic irony that makes each episode brilliantly funny. For example, Phil the rat finally fits in and only finds the love he’s alway wanted (with his best friend’s daughter!) shortly before he discovers the reality of his inevitable death. Phil the pigeon finds the family he’s always wanted only after realizing he isn’t actually a parent. ‘Animals’ is primarily made by two white guys, but it isn’t inherently sexist or racist in any way. The animal characters grapple with universal human struggles like trying to fit in, feeling inadequate and meaningless, dealing with substance abuse, and coping with suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, the animals exhibit selfish characteristics, but other times they show selfless and heartwarming concern for their fellow companions. The animation might seem sloppy and/or choppy to the untrained eye, but it is much more detailed than many cartoon shows. I’m pretty sure a lot of effort went into looking like they didn’t put in much effort. I also love the indie music they feature in every episode. The subplot of the human characters provides a common thread for the various narratives of the animals. There is plenty of readily apparent silliness, but there is also a lot of depth that can easily be missed. I find ‘Animals’ to be refreshingly original, and I am excited to see where the season goes.

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