Pat NBC on the back for realizing it has to broaden the appeal of its sitcom lineup with Animal Practice (* ½ out of four stars, NBC, Sunday, 10:30 ET/PT). Then smack the network hard for confusing "broad" with "dumb."
How was it possible for NBC to survey a broadcast landscape where the two most popular comedies are ABC's Modern Family, one of the smartest family comedies ever to air, and CBS' The Big Bang Theory, a clever comedy about incredibly smart people — and conclude that the path to ratings gold begins with a show starring a monkey? At least the monkey doesn't talk, unlike the last time NBC went down this simian road with the chatty orangutan, Mr. Smith. But even at NBC these days, improving upon Mr. Smith is too low a bar to set.
NBC will no doubt insist that the monkey — Crystal, whose credits include Night at the Museum, The Hangover Part II and Community— isn't the star. But there's a reason most actors are wary of working with animals: They're scene-stealers, and they have no regard for billing.
The shame is that Practice has a fine human cast, led by Justin Kirk, an Emmy nominee for Angels in America who is also often the best reason left to watch Weeds. But Kirk and his cohorts quickly get taken down by the barrage of stupidity the show sends their way. If the broadcast networks want to send good actors running, screaming, to cable, there's no better way than wasting them in embarrassments like this.
Kirk is Dr. George Coleman, head vet at Crane Animal Hospital who, we're told, is better with animals than humans. Except, of course, when the show wants to joke about how he uses pets to pick up their female owners; then he becomes very good with humans, too.
Like many workplace comedies, Crane is filled with the kind of employees who would quickly put most places out of business. There's Dr. Yamamoto (Bobby Lee), who spends most of his time talking about his emasculating wife, Nurse Angela (Betsy Sodaro), who spends too much time making inappropriate sexual references, and Dr. Jackson (Tyler Labine), who, in between complaining to George about his love life, is the only one who seems to do any work.
Then there's new hospital chief Dorothy Crane (JoAnna Garcia), who is sweet, gullible and George's ex-girlfriend. They flirt and spar until George threatens to quit. Unfortunately for Kirk, he doesn't.
One really doesn't know what to wish for the actors: success, which could make them financially secure, or failure, which would free them to find better jobs. The monkey, at least, will be fine either way. Which is the one good thing about building a show around a monkey.