HBO's 'Animals' Turns Our Furry Friends into the Obnoxious Bro Next Door

Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Though occasionally funny, HBO's Animals is just not nearly as edgy as it thinks it is.

For years, I’ve wished animals could speak, but it took only four half-hour episodes of HBO’s new animated series Animals for me to pray they’d shut up.

Seriously, who knew that urban rats, pigeons, dogs, cats, swans and geese were so weirdly insecure and blindly narcissistic? Awkward at parties, concerned about their virility, traumatized by rejection, the predominantly male city fauna just want to find love and gain respect, but it’s just so hard, you know?

Oh, we know, we know. With few exceptions (a pair of rich cat brothers need their own show), it’s an interspecies interpretation of the kind of bro is me humor that has infused America ever since Woody Allen stepped in front of a microphone.

Though occasionally funny, Animals is just not nearly as edgy as it thinks it is.

Which isn’t to say that middle-class angst and confessional monologuing can never be edgy. Louie is edgy. Seinfeld was edgy. Animals was executive-produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, who created the equally micro but much, much funnier Togetherness, in which Mark stars, while Jay plays Josh Pfefferman in the tragicomic brilliance of Transparent.

Unfortunately, Animals never moves beyond the Instagram conceit of making animals say what people think. Or at least the sort of people who would complain about how the person who brings paper plates to a party is never really appreciated.

Written by Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese, Animals divides its episodes by species, though there is some crossover. Rats opens the action in a cheap hotel where a couple of vermin discuss their party plans while they watch a man having sex with a woman one assumes is a prostitute (because this is HBO and the prostitute scene is apparently nonnegotiable). The woman appears dead by the end of the encounter, and though further episodes hint at an uber-plot involving the man, her fate is never explained because we have to get back to those rats.

One of whom is not into parties and has never (gasp) made babies.

So, yes, the first episode involves an urban rat version of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and even though it is undeniably funny to see rats with red party cups in their hands striking out with girls and passing around blue pills, it gets old pretty fast. The animation is intentionally flat, spare and messy, which sometimes adds to the humor but too often does not.

Issues are occasionally addressed — in one episode, a pigeon experiments with his sexuality — but there are few female characters and mostly in the traditional roles of wife and girlfriend. If you close your eyes, Animals becomes just a couple of white guys talking about things they’ve talked about so many times before.

Though Animals seems like an intentionally hipster response to the furry and feathered heroes of Disney, Redwall, Stuart Little or even, heaven help us, Dog With a Blog, it’s tough not to wish that Luciano and Matarese had taken a little wider view of the "anthro" in "anthropomorphism." Or read Watership Down one more time.

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