'Breaking' into prime time: Fox launches new animated series

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Rachel Jones / TV Media
Nibbles and Chico from "Housebroken"

Nibbles and Chico from "Housebroken"

Fox has led the pack in adult animation for more than 30 years. In fact, its animated sitcom block has been known for decades as Animation Domination. Between shows such as "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "American Dad," "Futurama" and "Bob's Burgers," Fox has no equal when it comes to creating complex and irreverent animated sitcoms.

This summer, the time-tested, award-laden network is looking to do it again — this time with animals — when its new animated sitcom, "Housebroken," airs Monday, May 31.

"Housebroken" follows a group of anthropomorphic, talking neighborhood animals, both pets and strays, who, together, create a weekly support group to help them handle the triumphs and challenges of animal life.

With therapy sessions held in Honey (Lisa Kudrow, "Friends") and Chief's (Nat Faxon, "The Descendants," 2011) home, the Poodle (Honey) and Saint Bernard (Chief) have many shared traumas and experiences as both were adopted by the same human, who then decided the two dogs were "married."

Honey leads the therapy sessions, helping her local menagerie face their idiosyncrasies by meeting them head-on, but she isn't without issues of her own. Her forced union to sloppy, garbage-eating Chief is just one of the problems prim and proper Honey takes to therapy each week, and inevitably leads to a wacky sitcom misadventure.

The show also features a supporting cast of comedic all-stars — namely Will Forte ("Last Man on Earth"), Maria Bamford ("BoJack Horseman"), Tony Hale ("Arrested Development"), Jason Mantzoukas ("The League") and Sharon Horgan ("Disenchantment") — who lend their voices to an assortment of dogs, cats, coyotes, raccoons, fish, hamsters, turtles and other neighborhood animals; each with their own offbeat eccentricities and neurotic issues. Of course, we can't forget about the humans who live among them (and are often the cause of their anguish).

In addition to the big-name cast, "Housebroken's" creators and producers bring a track record of comedic excellence all their own.

Of the three creators and executive producers, Gabrielle Allan brings her most notable experience from "Scrubs" and "Veep"; Jennifer Crittenden from "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Arrested Development"; and Clea DuVall, though a relative newcomer to production, has a range of comedic roles under her belt, including her recurring role in "Veep."

"Housebroken" is animated by Bento Box Entertainment, a Los Angeles/Atlanta-based animation studio that is best known for animating other Fox shows "Paradise PD" and "Bob's Burgers," as well as Comedy Central's "Brickleberry" and "The Awesomes." Additionally, the studio has animated several notable music videos for major musicians such as Coldplay, Sia, Diplo, Alicia Keys and Pharrell. Its multiple Emmy-winning animations ensure that, from script to screen, the show's excellent writing not only survives but thrives.

Tchotchke and Nibbles in a scene from "Housebroken"

Tchotchke and Nibbles in a scene from "Housebroken"

Following the animals through both group therapy and their individual lives, "Housebroken" uses the lives of neighborhood dogs, cats and other various animals to shed new light on human behavior, relationships and the quirks and dysfunctions shared by us all. The animals' unique and often skewed views of the world offer a fun and refreshing lens through which to explore the well-trodden topics such as love, sex, friends and family.

Countless sitcoms have explored human relationships and quarrels, but "Housebroken" seeks to break the mold and share what it all looks like to outsiders — namely, to our pets.

The show follows in the footsteps of "BoJack Horseman," a recently concluded darling of both critics and viewers, by lovingly endowing its cartoon animal cast with nuanced human emotion. This choice allows for the contrast between form and function to drive both its comedy and heart.

Forte's aging turtle character, Shel, for example, makes all the expected turtle jokes about slowness and shell-retreating cowardice. Still, the show's smart writing rounds him out with a very human search for a sexual reawakening in his old age. One particular Shel moment brings a laugh when he recreates a series of famous internet videos and vigorously — and unknowingly — mates with a shoe.

Further laughs run the gamut of taste and style. For one, Faxon's sloppy, dimwitted Chief is an endless source of toilet humor. Whether making it, eating it or having it professionally shaved from his backside, Chief brings the fecal material often. On the other hand, Honey is smarter and more akin to a "Sex and the City" character. Looking for love outside of her arranged marriage, she at one point finds herself enrapt with a roaming neighborhood coyote: to her, the epitome of a dark and mysterious man.

The writers have also made sure to imbue the neighborhood creatures with many of the traits we, as their owners, have associated with them.

Diablo is a tiny toy dog with all the typical neuroses and anxieties evident of his breed, something to which Hale brings a wealth of experience given his days spent as Buster Bluth on "Arrested Development," while Chico, a cat voiced by Sam Richardson ("Detroiters"), unlike his dog companions, exhibits "typical" feline ambivalence and perplexity when it comes to human affection.

All in all, "Housebroken" is fun — and with its surplus of voice talent, comedic production experience and the very animation team that brought "Bob's Burgers" into the limelight, it would be a shock if it wasn't.

Fox has animated the modern American family for 30 years, each series displaying a set of slight permutations from the last. Though that has often led to great success, seeing the formula from the unique perspective of our pets — simultaneously within our family and without — is a welcome change.

Fans of animation, comedy or entertainment in general should not miss "Housebroken" when it premieres Monday, May 31, on Fox.