Too often do I sit down to watch a show that doesn’t get enough attention. Bajillion Dollar Properties. Difficult People. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. These shows get ignored based on their ratings or limited availability (I’m one of at least 100 people who pay for Seeso. It’s probably not true but it feels like it). Last television season, an HBO show joined these illustrious ranks. Animals. -- based on the shorts from Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano -- is a show filled with stories about the seedy underbelly or high flying adventures of the animals in our world. Most of them are named Phil and Mike. On top of that, there’s a season long arc involving the humans around them.
Animals. has many features of standing out. Casting, for one, is very important. Phil and Mike usually take the forefront in terms of characters and story but they’re joined by great comedians. Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins, Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair, Jhene Aiko, and Ben Schwartz are just a handful of the many names that have graced the mics of the show. It’s entertaining to hear Lapkus’s boyish, childlike voice come out of a pigeon. Or listen to the bickering of St. Clair and Parham’s sisterly newborn birds. Everyone bounces off of everyone else in a way that echoes the conversational improvisation of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and its contemporaries in Home Movies and Bob’s Burgers.
Here’s a list of a few folks who have appeared so far:
Jay Duplass | Big Sean | Mindy Sterling
Jon Lovitz | Eric Andre | Aziz Ansari
Jason Mantzoukas | Alia Shawkat | Molly Shannon
Wanda Sykes | Adam Scott | Zach Woods
Jenny Slate | Casey Wilson | Danny McBride
Usher | Big Boi | Killer Mike
Mark Duplass | Dan Harmon | Jake Hurwitz
Amir Blumenfeld | Mindy Kaling | Fred Armisen
But Animals. also consistently provides laughs too. Writing, which comes from Matarese and Luciano, is as delightful as the characters. I have no clue if people are given an outline then asked to play off of that or if things are a little tighter but it’s great either way. The stories of this world are grandiose in ways that matter only to the animal characters. Two cats can kidnap (catnap?) a stray cat with promises of food and a bathroom only to force him to be part of their family. The day long lives of two flies is a lot more nuanced than anyone can describe. The best part: it’s funny. Plenty of comedy shows have made their way into the world only to be more tiring than gut busting. There’s something special about the silliness that the world of Animals. affords itself. And the ramblings of all the Mikes, Phils and their friends makes it all worthwhile.
Animals. is great and all but many would probably be turned off by its look. The animals movie statically as they speak and gesture. Their mouths rarely, if ever, move. And the color pallet leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it doesn’t need much to get its point across. Dr. Katz was raw as its characters were developed in Squigglevision to give off that now comfortable jiggling movement. South Park may have moved past its construction paper roots but it still retains the same aesthetic. Adventure Time is fluid and grotesque all at once. The way this HBO show looks only adds to its simplistic nature.
The only other aspect of Animals. standing in the way of potential viewers is the brand of comedy. There’s no one word to describe what Matarese and Luciano do. The same can be said about Comedy Bang! Bang! or Hollywood Handbook. Not every person is going to like Hannibal Buress who was once quoted as saying “I don't argue with people... if they say I'm not funny, they're right, for them.”
He’s right too. Comedy is subjective and no one person is going to be universally liked. God, does this show not get the ratings it deserves. If you find yourself wanting absurdist humor or something of the like, then Animals. is for you. Casting, writing, and the strange nature of the show make it one of the gems of television.