I don’t know how I missed the fact that Animals is a show that exists on HBO, but I did. Maybe I started to glaze over the entire Duplass empire when that grew to such scary proportions. Maybe I haven’t been spending much time over at HBO— save for John Oliver, obviously— while we wait for Game of Thrones and Veep to come back. Whatever the reason, I’m just happy that part of my life is in the past, the non-Animals-watching part.
Animals is the brainchild of Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese, with both Duplass brothers on as producers. Each episode presents two or three vignettes of the lives of New Yorkers, except these particular New Yorkers are the city’s animals: pigeons, cats, the geese by the freeway, and yes, of course bedbugs. There is a deadpan, depressing realism that’s reminiscent of Louie’s tone, but with the improvisational bro humor of The League. The jokes vary between dumb and sex-based, and way too quick references for film buffs in a delightful blend of highbrow/lowbrow.
One of the best things about Animals is that we no longer live in a time when you have to explain its context. Thanks to shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty, it’s not so hard to convince people that a cartoon can handle dark subjects of our painful existence better than a lot of live action shows. However, that context may also be working against the show, which currently only has a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s easy to hold it to the same standards as something like Bojack Horseman, but that’s an unrealistically high bar for any show. Animals may tackle some heavy subjects, from rats and pigeons exploring their sexuality to racism among swans— and I actually cried while watching a pair of flies watch their lives pass all too quickly— the show is lighter, cruder, and more uneven than those heavyweight comparisons can handle.
This show isn’t going to be for everyone. It is incredibly bro-y, to the extent that I’m actually surprised at times by how much I like it. But despite its dearth of decent female characters— there are a few, but they’re far between— the stories hooked me and moved fast enough to keep me hooked for nine installments of 22 minutes. If you’re in the mood for an insanely talented stable of guest stars (Chelsea Peretti, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Nick Kroll, Jason Mantzoukas, Love’s Claudia O’Doherty, and dozens more actors and comedians have roles), and find yourself missing early seasons of The League with an existential twist, this show makes for an excellent lazy Sunday binge watch.