Why watching “Animal Practice” makes this veterinarian wish for Weeds

For years now I’ve been hoping someone in Hollywood would finally accept animal medicine as fertile television fodder ...

Despite the popularity of the BBC’s All Things Great and Small, here in the US there’s been nary a nod to the notion that veterinary medicine might be worthy of more than anything more than a handful of low budget, middling-quality reality TV shows.

But now all that’s changed …

Have you heard about Animal Practice? It’s a prime time TV show with a sexy, ornery veterinarian as lead. Intriguing, right?

Though it doesn’t get going in earnest until Wednesday, September 26th, the pilot has already made its debut (it first aired right after the closing ceremonies for the Olympics) and it’s currently available as a free download on iTunes.

But here’s the real question: Is it any good?

Hmmmm … tough one. Yes … and no. Let me explain:

The opening sequence –– in which enticingly fictional, multi-species city-vet, Dr. George Coleman introduces himself to the audience –– says it all:

Alas! A cat’s just jumped off a high-rise balcony … almost to her death. It’s a case of high-rise syndrome. How err

high-rise syndrome to his stricken [and lovely, if unkempt] owner. He then goes on to describe her cat’s actions as “a cry for help,” insisting that she needs to “meet someone who’s going to grab her by the scruff of her neck and make her purr so loud that the neighbors will complain.”

It’s very well-written (for a sitcom) with shades of cute, coy, sexy and “they-did-not-just-go-there” meshed in seamlessly. The fact that it’s Justin Kirk (loved him on Weeds!) playing this misanthropic bad boy veterinarian means I’m already sold before the get-go. Then there’s the quirky cast of characters who swirl around his star. They’re similarly adept at being inappropriate and crossing boundaries while expertly evoking the affable kookiness of the animal-inclined.

I could go on … but I won’t. Because there’s a hitch: As a veterinarian, I can’t actually recommend it.

That’s because this show perfectly illustrates the forehead-smacking, “be careful what you wish for” principle. All this time I’d been pining for veterinary-themed greatness to emerge from the mind of TV-landia … and this is what I get?

It’s not that Animal Practice is a by-the-book sitcom, passing on no formulaic twist, quick-witted quip, or comic hook. It’s not that all three of the veterinarians are male (slightly annoying) or even that they don’t wear masks in surgery. Those niggling things are to be expected endured in a sitcom, after all, and don’t necessarily render any particular show unwatchable.

Rather, what really and truly sucks in Animal Practice is how the only veterinary show to ever make prime time panders to the public’s basest comedic instinct by reveling in the cheapest trick in animal entertainment: the trained monkey.

Enter Crystal, a diminutive Capuchin monkey you may recall from all kinds of popular modern productions in which monkeys figure prominently. The Hangover franchise, among others, has hired this especially intelligent and well-socialized primate to win over a whole new generation of funny-monkey lovers.

Because now that she’s playing Animal Practice’s adorably hard-gambling Dr. Rizzo –– Dr. Coleman’s alter ego slash wing-man –– one thing is clear: Monkeys are now officially making an unwelcome comeback to popular culture in ways that are not only disrespectful to them as wild animals but will almost certainly prove detrimental to their welfare in the long run.

I predict what’ll happen is what always happens whenever vast populations of uneducated (at best) humans tune in to animal-themed entertainment without thinking more deeply than the top half-inch of what’s being portrayed for their viewing pleasure: They’ll buy a monkey only to learn that monkeys are rather more like extremely difficult (and horribly messy!) children than like Crystal.

It was one thing to watch Bedtime for Bonzo in the ‘50s, Tarzan’s Cheetah in the ‘60s, and Every Which Way But Loose in the ‘70s, it’s quite another to still have to suffer this same brand of small-minded human depiction of primate behavior all these decades later.

But you’re free to watch the trailer and decide for yourself whether one hot actor and a pretty funny script is worth it. Knock yourself out …