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NBC’s “Animal Practice” trades cubicles for lab coats

Animal Practice - SeasPilot

Animal Practice - Season Pilot

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Premieres at approximately 9:30 p.m. Sunday (after Olympics closing ceremony) on WMAQ-Channel 5. Series assumes its regular time slot, 7 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, on Sept. 26.

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Updated: September 12, 2012 6:03AM

The end of the Olympics marks the start of an NBC comedy, “Animal Practice,” launching Sunday with a commercial-free premiere immediately following the Summer Games’ closing ceremony.

Keep that remote control within arm’s reach if the thought of a monkey in a lab coat driving a tiny ambulance doesn’t tickle your funny bone, because “Animal Practice” has lots more where that came from. Cats, dogs, tigers, tortoises, snakes, penguins — they’re all mined for laughs in this so-so sitcom set in a New York City animal hospital.

“It’s just a great opportunity to do a fresh take on a workplace comedy that also has animals in it,” said Wheaton native and executive producer Scot Armstrong, who also employed Crystal — an admittedly talented capuchin monkey — in “The Hangover Part II.”

“The comedy can be kind of edgy,” Armstrong said about the show, “but then we can rely on how cute the animals are, too, and play off that.”

It’s all part of NBC’s plan to broaden the appeal of the network’s comedic offerings. In an unapologetic grab for more eyeballs, the peacock net is going after laughers more likely to resonate with a bigger base as opposed to critically acclaimed but ratings-starved niche shows like “Community.” (Ironically, Crystal the monkey has been a recurring character in NBC’s community-college cult hit.)

Some people undoubtedly will find “Animal Practice’s” zoology-based humor hilarious. Look! A boa constrictor is choking that vet!

I am not one of those people. I prefer to get my giggles from Homo sapiens. In that respect, “Animal Practice’s” two-legged, tailless star doesn’t disappoint. Justin Kirk (“Weeds”) is the highlight of the show as straight-faced, sharp-tongued Dr. George Coleman, a misanthropic vet who relates better to animals than to people. A close second is former Chicagoan Matt Walsh (“Veep”), who guest stars in the pilot as a toolish dad who’d rather put down his daughter’s dog than pay for its surgery.

George’s BFF is played by Crystal (Rizzo), the simian star whose character was supposed to be called Dr. Zaius but NBC couldn’t get the rights from “Planet of the Apes.” (Score another one for #NBCFail.)

On the human side of the employee lounge, George’s co-workers include a lonely heart veterinarian (Tyler Labine, “Mad Love”), a no-nonsense nurse (Kym Whitley, “We Bought a Zoo”) and amusing newcomer Betsy Sodaro as a bawdy animal handler.

When it comes to running Crane Animal Hospital, George butts heads with his new boss, Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, “Better With You”), who also happens to be his old girlfriend. Their professional and personal conflicts, at least in the pilot, ring pretty hollow; the couple has less chemistry than a kindergarten curriculum.

One thing they do share is a seemingly endless capacity to be around animals — a trait that will come in handy for the audience, too.

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