On the Loose

Joel McHale's New Comedy Is Set in Seattle—and He's Stoked

The Mercer Island native talks Animal Control, cougar co-stars, and his robust list of local beer and restaurant favorites.

By Allecia Vermillion February 16, 2023

The series premiere this Thursday involves wild weasels, unauthorized ostriches, and a rogue Slim Jim.

Early scripts for Joel McHale’s new show, Animal Control, were set in Chicago, complete with assorted Windy City references. When production decreed the comedy would film in Vancouver, McHale pointed out: Chicago is conspicuously flat. “The towering mountain ranges will be hard to edit out.”

The comedian and dry-wit factory, busy with his pre-show press junket, also happens to be a Mercer Island native (“and I’m obviously very outspoken about it.”). Ergo the new Fox workplace comedy, which debuts this Thursday, February 16, now centers on the daily adventures of the Northwest Seattle Division of Animal Control. McHale plays Frank Shaw, a one-time cop now relegated to a life answering calls regarding errant raccoons, unlicensed ostrich farms, maybe the occasional bunny that ate drugs.

On set, the actor (and executive producer) remained vigilant for clunky Seattle gaffes; at one point he spotted a sign that had omitted the “e” in Queen Anne. Seattle may not be a character in the show the way Baltimore was in The Wire, but its storytelling is definitely more rooted in the city than, say, Frasier.  

“We didn’t have episodes where like, “oh you’ve got to go to the top of the Space Needle,” says McHale. “But there’s a whole Seahawks thing that happens.” Alas, the guy who plays the Seahawk in an early episode (he gets entangled with a rogue python) is actually on the BC Lions, a member of the mighty Canadian Football League.

An old showbiz adage warns actors, “never work with children or animals.” But it’s hard to think of any scripted show in TV history that introduced different animals as central plot points each week the way crime procedurals cycle through murder victims. Season one’s list of guest stars include dogs and cats, of course, not to mention snakes, spiders, kangaroos, and komodo dragons. In a Super Bowl promo for Animal Control, McHale embraced a baby cougar. Sadly, the Northwest’s particular brand of fauna doesn’t get a ton of play: “We did not wrangle any orcas.”

McHale attended the University of Washington and joined the cast of Almost Live before finding national fame as host of The Soup and later the seminal sitcom Community. He still makes it home to Seattle maybe 10 times a year to see family, he estimates. And it’s no surprise that the guy who was game to play the ubertoxic fine dining chef who haunts Carmy’s nightmares in The Bear is a big fan of Seattle’s restaurants.

Matt’s in the Market I always go to,” says McHale. He doesn’t eat at Canlis as often as he wants to, but “it’s so wonderfully unique to Seattle.” He gets to Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill whenever he can, meets up with a friend at the Beer Junction in West Seattle. On the subject of May Kitchen on Vashon Island: “I’m sure a lot of people would fight me, but it’s some of the best Thai food in Seattle, which is saying a lot.”

All those Seattle trips also means McHale’s got good taste in local breweries; he declared the beer at both Cloudburst and Olympia’s Three Magnets Brewing to be “stunning” but saved special props for Manny’s: “That’s some of the finest beer on this planet.”

The comedian attended the Super Bowl this past Sunday (presumably a less arduous promotional duty than handling a cougar). He reports that, when people asked who he was rooting for, his response was uniformly: “The Seahawks. And then the Eagles.”

Animal Control’s early reviews are positive; The A.V. Club likened it to a lighthearted cop comedy, minus the cops. Hollywood can be a weird place, but having an actor with this much Seattle mojo star in a workplace comedy set in a (fictionalized) Seattle city feels like a nice act of cosmic alignment.

However McHale’s real Seattle native bona fides don’t truly surface until summertime: “I have to be there for Seafair. It’s my favorite thing of the year.” As a kid, “I assumed every city had a gigantic party on a lake with airplanes and speedboats.” If the show gets picked up for a second season, maybe Animal Control can pull off a Very Special Episode where a beaver hijacks a hydrofoil or a murder of crows holds up the Torchlight Parade.

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