Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Joel McHale stars as a snarky but charismatic slacker who sees his station in life drop, becomes the reluctant de facto leader of a bunch of lovable misfits played by relative unknowns, and frequently takes advantage of the kindheartedness of an awkward and desperate-to-be-liked authority figure.
McHale (Stargirl, The Soup) is Frank Shaw, a former Seattle police detective unfairly fired and now dedicated to coasting through a career in dog catching and ostrich wrangling with as little investment as possible. The enthusiastic rookie partner that he’s saddled with, Fred “Shred” Taylor, played by Michael Rowland, is a former pro snowboarder played by standup comic, Michael Rowland. Their co-workers include party girl Victoria (Grace Palmer, Good Grief) and her partner, overwhelmed single dad, Amit, played by Ravi Patel (Wonder Woman 1984). When not on the road, they’re hanging out in a really nice office run by the overly-apologetic supervisor, Emily (Vella Lovell, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power), and occasionally harassed by rival precinct head, Templeton Dudge (Mr. D’s Gerry Dee.)
It’s obviously as difficult to not compare Fox’s most hyped mid-season replacement to McHale’s cult hit Community (#sixseasonsandamovie!) as it seems it is for writers to not portray Frank as a displaced Jeff Winger. One of the first distinctions is hard to be sure about after one episode, but Animal Control doesn’t seem to have the same tongue-in-cheek “anti-sitcom” tone that Dan Harmon and the Russo Brothers brought to Community.
Second is keeping Frank out of the office romance. Despite all of them longing after “hot vet” Dr Summers (Alvina August, Nancy Drew) and Frank telling Shred that he also has “dibs” on Victoria, none of it seems an intended plot point. A subtle attraction between Shred and Emily is teased, but Shred’s unseen fiancée puts limits on even that for now. Still another is that, while McHale’s Jeff Winger took several episodes to start showing genuine affection for his classmates, Frank seems to embrace this by the end of episode one in terms of his (initially unwanted) new partner.
Animal Control doesn’t appear to be anything groundbreaking on its face. It’s a 22-minute workplace comedy that’s currently rating in the 6-7 range based on the premiere. Once it finds its feet, though, there’s plenty of potential. Do we see any of Frank’s past and the police corruption he uncovered? Can Victoria and Amit balance each other out with their opposite lifestyles? Will Templeton emerge as a comedic foil or the series’ big bad? Are any of the characters going to breakout like a Ron Swanson or Barney Stinson? It will take another five or six episodes to find out and, given Fox’s track record, probably only a few more after that to see if Animal Control finds a forever home or gets put to sleep.