New York City is the least hospitable place on earth to live - at least for the downtrodden creatures living there. That's the premise of Animals., HBO's hit animation for adults, which Vulture calls "one of the funniest, most idiosyncratic shows on television."
Here are 10 reasons to find time to binge-watch these unexpected tales of urban life now that Animals.' second season is streaming first and only on Showmax in South Africa.
1. It gives voice to the voiceless
If you've ever wished humans would shut up and pass the mic, Animals. is the show for you. As creator Phil Matarese told Vox, "We think the world revolves around us, and maybe it doesn't. We share this planet with lots of different things; let's give someone else a chance to speak."
2. It's about animals, but you'll relate
Whether it's lovelorn rats, gender-questioning pigeons or bedbugs in the midst of a midlife crisis, the awkward small talk, moral ambiguity and existential woes of these non-human urbanites prove startlingly similar to our own.
3. It's animation. For adults
Like South Park, Archer, Bojack Horseman, Big Mouth and Ricky and Morty, Animals. is part of a growing wave of animation that's not designed for you to watch with your toddler. To quote CommonSense Media, "Parents need to know that Animals. is an animated series that isn't meant for kids. It contains strong (and often crude) innuendo, scenes featuring (animated) sex acts, and strong references to sexual violence. There's lots of cursing, drinking, and some drug use, too."
4. It's animated by the same people who made Rick & Morty
Animals. is animated by Starburns, whose founders are responsible for not only Cartoon Network's cult hit Rick & Morty but Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman's Oscar-nominated Anomalisa too. Both those animations scored over 90% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, so you're in safe, if slightly warped, hands.
5. It stars your favourite actors as animals
Part of the joy of Animals. is matching the voice to the celebrity. Season one treated us to everyone from double Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), as a turkey separated from her husband on Thanksgiving, to Big Little Lies' Adam Scott, as a goose masquerading as a black swan, whose identity is given away by his sex honk, to Golden Globe winner Aziz Ansari (Master of None), as a prejudiced purebred dog.
Season two's cast includes Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), double Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill (The Wolf Of Wall Street), triple Emmy-nominee Emilia Clarke (Khaleesi in Game of Thrones); six-time Emmy-nominee Mindy Kaling (The Office), seven-time Emmy-nominee Jason Alexander (George in Seinfeld); and 11-time Emmy-nominee Fred Armisen (Portlandia), among others.
6. Your favourite musicians have musical cameos
In season one, there was guitar hero Kurt Vile as a squirrel and ASAP Rocky and ASAP Ferg as rapping bodega cats, among other standouts. In season two, you can look forward to Ice-T rapping a recap of the first season; to Killer Mike and Outkast's Big Boi as rapping foxes; and to musical cameos from Solange, Usher and Kim Gordon, among others.
7. Hate animation? There's a live action episode
Humans, episode five of season two, focuses completely on the humans of the series for the first time. It's also the first episode to be entirely live action, rather than animated. Inside the headquarters of evil conglomerate Pesci Co, the unscrupulous Dr Labcoat (RuPaul) prepares for the roll out of the "Green Pill," a mysterious cure for the virus plaguing New York City throughout the season.
8. Critics feel strongly about it. Very strongly
Look, we're aware Animals. isn't for everyone. Variety loathed it, calling it "extraordinarily tedious," "unfunny," "unexceptional," "excruciating," "tepid," "anemic," "uninspired" and "derivative," ending "Pigeons and rats deserve better than this."
On the other hand, San Francisco Chronicle adored it, calling it "hilariously revolting," "crazy good," a "delicious off-the-wall comedy," and "batty and brilliant as it turns the whole notion of anthropomorphic cartoon animals on its fuzzy ear."
9. Audiences love it
While critics disagreed, audiences were unanimous in their praise: season one has an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes; season two has 83%.
10. The show's creators are living the American dream
Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano were friends working at a New York ad agency, who started pretending to be pigeons when they were bored. They taught themselves animation and made a 12-minute pilot, Pigeons, which won Best Comedy at the New York Television Festival. That got them agents and managers, followed by a Skype call with the DuPlass brothers, who Rolling Stone has called "Hollywood's most low-key power players," who signed on as executive producers.
As Mark DuPlass remembers, "By the time they came to us, that sensibility of what the show is - that really smart, acerbic, incendiary sense of humour that also has a touch of sweetness to it - was already there."
So Phil and Mike packed up a Kia Soul and moved to California, where they holed up in a tiny apartment to make two episodes and write 10 scripts, independent of any studio or network.
One year later, those first two episodes premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival - the first independently-produced TV series to do so - which led to acclaim in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and a two-season pickup by HBO, who were also making Togetherness and Room 104 with the DuPlass brothers. HBO even let Phil and Mike continue to voice the lead characters who return in every episode, often as different animals but always called - you guessed it - Phil and Mike.
To make the ending even happier, HBO has just renewed Animals. for a third season; that's more than they gave Rome and Flight of the Conchords, which are both high up on IMDB's top rated TV list.
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