HBO’s ‘Animals’ Returns for Third Season of Post-Apocalyptic Satire and Raunchy Laughs

HBO’s “Animals” is one of the strangest amalgams of animation and indie comedy ever to appear on cable television. Now entering its third season, it is essentially a mirror reflection of ourselves via mammals and critters wandering a post-apocalyptic New York City. As with the first two seasons it can reach some very funny heights, and a few flat lows, but it’s always propelled by a special feistiness. With a large cast which includes some major celebrity cameos, these small vignettes work as a late night guilty pleasure that gets away with things drawn, that you could never dream of doing with real life humans.

It is the future and New York has been stripped of all human life by a strange incident known as “Green Day,” when an explosion wiped away civilization. Monitoring what’s left in the shell of a city are two privates, played by series creators Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano. Their supervisor is a general played by Demi Moore. What they keep track of is animal life in the city, which has taken over everything. Every episode is a vignette following one specific species as they go about daily life. Two rats get high, get stuck in a North Korean-style cat colony, and can’t find their car after a night of partying. In another tale a dog teaching fellow canines to let go of their addiction to human dependency relapses into an obsession with scents and human objects, becoming a total crackhead. The elite class is now the horses, who dress in Victorian wear and use peasant horses as their drivers. A pudding-gobbling baron tries to marry his daughter off to a small horse who is also a lunatic, even as she falls for her carriage driver, who lives among the peasant horses plotting revolution. Sounds whacky? Indeed, but only because the characters walk on four legs.

The trick to “Animals” is that Matarese and Luciano dare you to laugh at material that can get brutal, raunchy and sometimes brilliantly satirical with the comfort of knowing these are animations (mostly voiced by the creators themselves). Like Netflix’s superior “BoJack Horseman,” this is a show that knows some content is easier to take when it’s not live action. In “Rats,” which is one of the season’s weaker offerings, you still find yourself laughing at two rodents sharing a bong, crawling beaten and bruised to their car or having the urge for sex upon facing death. In the “Dogs” episode, one of the strongest, the main character, a dog named Phil (Materese) falls back into his addiction on human dependency and ventures into a red light district run by ducks, complete with strippers and a spot where you can pay to get smacked with newspapers. This is one of the season’s best moments of hilarious satire. John Leguizamo voices Fluffy, a Chihuahua who decides to end it all by jumping through a six-foot window. He survives but the next morning Phil realizes Fluffy tried to call him, but he was too busy getting high off the scent of his former owner’s belongings. This would be dark stuff with people, but with cartoons the edge is softened. In the episode “Stuff,” featuring Johnny Knoxville as a “Twilight Zone”-style host, a strange glowing orb left over from the apocalyptic Green Day explosion transforms objects into living things. A VHS tape, baseball, toaster and even a CVS receipt become conscious, get married, have sex and search for the meaning of existence. It’s bizarre, raunchy but also wickedly funny. “Horses” is a completely insane riff on period dramas, with horses in top hats engaged in melodrama and revolution (laced with farts and graphic violence). Matarese and Luciano are having fun threatening our sensibilities while throwing stink bombs at good taste TV.

It was wise to bring in many guest voices from the established comedy world, because they help elevate the material. You need a special finesse to pull off in your face satire and raunchiness. The guest list is huge, with a line-up that includes Steve Dildarian, Edie Falco, Jon Gabrus, David Harbour, Jared Harris, Mary Holland, Jameela Jamil, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jane Kaczmarek, Lucy Liu, Carol Kane, Johnny Knoxville, Lauren Lapkus, John Leguizamo, Donna Lewis, Natasha Lyonne, Anthony Mackie, Tatiana Maslany, Demi Moore, Moby, and Tracy Morgan. What many of them do so well with the writing is create caricatures of modern culture through the animals. The rats talk like two west side hipsters, the dogs are a mix of self-help urbanites, the horses are stuffy, pretentious aristocrats and the “stuff” made alive are in a way all of us, asking big questions we’re sometimes too dumb to comprehend.

At the same time, “Animals” doesn’t require too much deep thinking. In the tradition of indie animation, it simply delights in being the misfit in the room, telling the jokes few would dare or want to share and basking in having the budget to ask itself, “what would a duck S&M session look like?”

Animals” season three premieres August 3 at 11:30 p.m. ET and airs Fridays on HBO.