WHEN | WHERE Previews Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on NBC/4 (It officially premieres Sept. 26.)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT New York's Crane Animal Hospital is the place where suicidal cats come to heal, or sick tigers find solace, or lap dogs who have swallowed cocktail coasters from "adult" clubs go for surgery. The Dr. Dolittle who presides over the chaos (and it is chaotic) is Dr. George Coleman (Justin Kirk, "Weeds"). Coleman loves animals -- even has a monkey assistant, Rizzo (Crystal) -- but not so much people. That presents a problem when former girlfriend Dorothy Crane (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) arrives one day to inform him that she has inherited the hospital.
MY SAY "Animal Practice" boasts one of the casting coups of the 2012-13 season -- Crystal. That would be Crystal the Monkey. (Fine, Crystal the Capuchin monkey for you simian purists out there.) Only 10, she's one of the hottest simian actresses in Hollywood. She slapped Ben Stiller in "A Night at the Museum," dealt drugs in "The Hangover II" and also appeared in "Community." She was extolled by "Community"/"Hangover" star Ken Jeong in a newspaper interview as "quite possibly the best actor I've ever worked with." She's memorable here, too, though relegated to a minor role as Kirk's sidekick.
The human counterparts? They're fine, too -- particularly Garcia Swisher (wife of Yankees' outfielder, Nick Swisher) as the adult presence amid the juveniles; newcomer Betsy Sodaro, a rubberfaced comedian who plays a randy nurse; and the always good Tyler Labine ("Reaper") as Doug, Coleman's loser-at-love colleague.
They all just happen to be trapped in a show that can't yet decide whether it wants to be "Community" or "B.J. and the Bear." That's probably because the network can't decide either. "Animal Practice" is stamped with NBC's new mandate that broader is better -- or at least more profitable -- while recognizing that too much slapstick (or monkey) courts self-parody. Conversely, too much ironic banter that smirks at the conventions of TV comedy risks another "Arrested Development," albeit with animals. So welcome to the middle ground, where a monkey steals the scenes and most of the laughs.
BOTTOM LINE Not terrible -- really -- but not yet remotely the winner NBC so badly needs either.