Realistically, it’s hard to imagine any animated comedy taking anthropomorphic animals to the psychological extremes found in “BoJack Horseman.” Few series, animated or otherwise, have mined the depths of humanity with such exacting insight. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for further, furrier exploration. Fox’s new comedy “Housebroken” follows a group of neighborhood pets who get together (daily? weekly? pretty often!) to discuss how their animal instincts gel with living in a human’s world. Maybe they’re torn between the comforts of home and the call of the wild. Maybe they’re coping as best they can with life’s finite nature. Maybe they just got a bad haircut and don’t want their crush to see it.
Through four episodes, characters are still being honed, ideal dynamics identified, and a consistent sense of humor established (here’s hoping for at least 40 percent less poop jokes), but there are also enough solid cracks and relatable storylines to hope “Housebroken” finds its best self after a little more training.
Honey, a tall, white poodle voiced by the radiant Lisa Kudrow, is the group’s de facto leader and openly unlicensed therapist. Whenever the motley crew of animals get together, it’s at her bright pink house nestled within a lush green suburb of Los Angeles. Open sessions bounce between topics in a friendly, conversational patter, with Honey stepping in to occasionally offer guidance to one of the nearly dozen participants.
There’s Shel (voiced by Will Forte), a wizened turtle looking for love in any place he can find it; Max (“Veep’s” Tony Hale), a black, spotted pig who claims to be George Clooney’s prized pet; Nibbles (Bresha Webb), a hamster/sociopath, who may or may not be a cold-blooded killer; Bubbles (Greta Lee), a goldfish whose position in the room makes her participation in therapy both unwanted and mandatory; and then there’s Tchotchke, a slow loris so quiet and still he can trick humans into thinking he’s a toy, but may actually be a magical animal with a penchant for red umbrellas.
And those are just the animals who aren’t man’s most common companions. Also in the group are Elsa (“Veep’s” Clea DuVall), a Corgi so desperate to be Honey’s best friend she may really just want to become her; Diablo (also “Veep’s” Tony Hale), a terrier with control issues whose owners are going through a divorce; Tabitha (Sharon Horgan, who’s also an executive producer), a judgmental Persian cat adjusting to her less glamorous life off the cat show circuit; The Gray One (Jason Mantzoukas), a one-eyed street cat stuck sharing a bathtub-full litter box with 30-40 other cats; and Chico (“Veep’s” Sam Richardson), an orange cat with an eating disorder tied to his co-dependency issues.
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Finally, there’s Chief (Nat Faxon), a sloppy doofus of a St. Bernard who shares an owner with Honey. Per the press notes, these two dogs are in an arranged marriage of sorts, a relationship that isn’t perfectly clear through the four episodes provided for review, and speaks to the show’s early-on split personality. Chief and Honey function as an odd couple at the center of “Housebroken.” He barks at other dogs simply because they’re dogs and that’s what dogs do; she’s eager to diagnose issues within her fellow animals so they can become better pets; he eats his own vomit, she can’t finish a meal when he makes too many munching noises; he’s their owner’s dumb but noble friend, and she’s their smart and thoughtful partner.
When “Housebroken” leans toward Honey, it’s a stronger show. The episode “Who Done It?” is a murder-mystery spoof where a thunderstorm causes a power outage that makes each animal confront their reaction to imminent doom. “Who Are You?” pushes Honey to consider whether she’s meant to follow her animal instincts and run free with a roaming coyote, or if she’s better suited for a blissful yet boring domestic existence at home. These episodes scratch a relatable itch, drawing clear parallels for human, adult audiences while remaining accessible through their animal leads. Other episodes, which give Chief more of a spotlight, are mainly about poop. Maybe that’s a bit too dismissive, but pooping and vomiting and other bodily functions override any thoughtful analogies within the plots, and it’s easy to be turned off by the comedy altogether.
Given the creatives at work — co-creator Jennifer Crittenden has written for “The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld,” and “Veep,” Allan for “Scrubs” and “Veep,” while DuVall (who co-starred in “Veep”) remains one of the more exciting triple-threats as an actor, writer, and director — I have to believe “Housebroken” will find its healthiest self soon enough. Weeding out the extraneous characters should be simple enough (there’s nothing wrong with a deep bench, but tracking over a dozen animals is a lot to handle), and refining characters, pairings, and comedy stylings are what early episodes are for. Keep “Housebroken” on a short leash, and it could have a long life ahead — even in dog years.
“Housebroken” premieres Monday, May 31 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.