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Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 7 of Animal Control.
With the primetime television landscape ushering in a comedy renaissance across several networks with shows like Abbott Elementary and Ghosts, Fox’s single-camera sitcom, Animal Control, is providing viewers with the sharp bite their rivals lack. Holding steady in viewership for the network following its February premiere, the workplace comedy following a local animal control group in northwest Seattle has been getting funnier by the episode, proving it’s one of the most promising new series of 2023. Led by Joel McHale and a motley crew of comedy stars, the Thursday night escape is chock-full of shenanigans, adorable critters, and some very laugh-out-loud moments. But as Vella Lovell tells Collider in an exclusive one-on-one interview, it isn’t just all fun, games, and getting “high” on spending time with kittens, as things are also heating up for several characters — like, the relationship between her character Emily Price and co-star Michael Rowland’s Frank “Shred” Taylor. But don’t count on it being easy after that shocking ending!
Following the events of Episode 7’s “Peacocks and Pumas” earlier tonight, which finds Emily tending to Shred’s well-being after a workplace accident, the start of their relationship is cut even shorter when Shred’s ex-girlfriend Camilla (Maria Gabriela de Faria) shockingly appears at his doorstep. With Emily and Shred nearly succumbing to their feelings for one another after a playful marker mustache session, it’s an emotional rollercoaster that is on a strong pause now. But as the award-nominated Lovell tells Collider in our Q&A, “there’s definitely conflict coming up,” and the feelings between Shred and Emily “aren’t going anywhere.” But how will it all break down this season and what more can we see? Lovell shares all that and more, including some “musical elements” ahead for the lovable precinct.
COLLIDER: Congrats on Animal Control! I love that it’s getting funnier and funnier, and this last episode had me laughing out loud. What’s it feel like to be on one of the season’s funniest new shows?
VELLA LOVELL: Oh my gosh, I mean, thank you for those compliments. It’s one of those things where you’re making it in a bubble, so it’s really nice to know that it’s translating. Because a lot of times when we’re making it, we think we’re having a lot of fun and this is fun for us and we’re vibing. But you’re just hoping that the thing that you make translates, and you don’t really know. So that’s great that it’s translating, but I don’t know — what’s it like? It’s awesome. We finished in January, so you’re just waiting and watching along with everyone else and being like, ‘Oh, well, that came together.’ Or, ‘They used that take.’ We’re experiencing it alongside everyone too.
And you’ve done so many comedies over the years — Mr. Mayor was one of my favorites. Both of them are workplace comedies though and stem from this commonality of connecting with others. So what was different about this one that you were like, ‘Oh, I really want to try this out!’ Because I feel like you’re somebody who likes a challenge and you like comforting, but also different. How did Emily stand out?
LOVELL: Thank you so much for saying that. I really love, well, I just very much respond to writing. So it’s just that feeling you get when you’re reading a script, and you’re like, ‘I like this!’ or something speaks to me. So I get that feeling from it. I’m a really big fan of Bob [Fisher] and Rob’s [Greenberg] anyways, so I knew that they were good people, and we have mutual friends and stuff, so it was just, I’m also drawn to good people, I think. I’m drawn to it if it’s a good vibe.
I liked how Emily was so different from the other characters I’ve played. And truthfully, I think Emily’s closer to me than any character I’ve played. Just because Heather [in My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] was so over it. And then Mikaela, from Mr. Mayor, was almost over, like I said, she was 30% more confident than she should be. Emily is just deer in headlights, terrified, and a people pleaser, and wants everyone to like her, which I thought was a really interesting dynamic for a boss. You’re like, ‘These things don’t go together.’ And so that just felt really attractive to me, I guess. I just love ensembles in general; I also loved the script… Everyone’s pulling their weight. It’s not resting on one person. It really is an ensemble show and so that was really attractive to me too.
And I love that you say that because I think the endearing quality about Emily is that she has imposter syndrome, she has anxiety, and we can see it. And I think that’s what makes her so relatable to audiences. People love that character because they’re like, ‘Oh, I can see myself in Emily.’ And then even the choices you make are like, ‘That’s what I would do!’ Like, accidentally looking up a co-worker you really like — whatever, it happens!
LOVELL: It happens!
Tragically, it does! But I think that is just something that we don’t really talk about, especially the imposter syndrome thing. It’s so nice to see Emily get into that and be like, ‘Hey, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m here, and I’m trying.’ That’s really empowering, I think, for your character.
LOVELL: Yeah, no, it’s so true. And I feel like we’re all faking it until someone calls you out, and Emily just wears that a little bit more on her sleeve, and it’s harder for her to hide things. But it also is endearing to me as hopefully when you’re starting TV, it’s such a living, breathing thing. You’re hoping that it goes for a long time and so you’re hoping you get a journey with a character, and I thought it was a really good place to start from that she’s so insecure and needs everyone’s approval. Because it’s like, ‘Oh, well, hopefully, she can get to a different place.’ We have a really fun journey ahead of us. Or as an actor, it’s a really exciting thing to look at, and just to be like, ‘I hope she comes into her own’ and I’m sure she will fail a lot. But you’re hoping as an actor, you get to go on that journey with your characters, and you fall in love with them, and you’re rooting for them too.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That also brings up the conversation of how TV’s one of those things where it’s very relational, more so than movies because you get to be on that arc with them, and you get to relate to them. But I also really love that this show deals with animals and you guys get to spend a lot of time with some of them. What has been the wildest thing that has happened with maybe these furry co-stars?
LOVELL: The puppets really crack me up. I like watching it back and seeing when we go into a puppet, it tickles me so much every time. I got to do a scene a couple of episodes ago covered in kittens and I can’t describe to you the endorphins I got being covered in kittens. It was — I felt high [laughs]. It was just such an insane feeling to have seven kittens crawling on you. I highly recommend it. And actually, our script supervisor adopted one of the kittens. So a lot of the animals are up for adoption or are coming from the Humane Society. So that’s really sweet to just be able to see. You get little updates, how’s the kitten doing? It’s the best. Pretty much everyone who works on our show, hopefully, is obsessed with animals. So it’s just a really fun set to be on. If you’re ever tired, or you’re feeling low energy, you can go over and pet a cat, it’s really good therapy.
I have to just shout out, Joel is really good with animals. It’s so bizarre. He really connects with [the animals], he’s like his character in that way. And we had a pig on set and the pig was a little nervous, so Joel just cradled the pig. And I have these videos of Joel saying, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ And the pig just really calmed down, and you watched it happen. And yeah, it’s an awesome set to be on if you’re an animal lover. It’s really special.
Let’s talk about the episode, “Peacocks and Pumas.” I love that there’s so much happening already this season. We’re getting close to a relationship maybe, or a ‘situation-ship.’ Who knows? The last scene we saw was, Emily and Shred, coming together, almost kissing, which I was really rooting for. But then his ex-girlfriend Camilla knocks on the door and my dreams are dashed. How did you feel reading that script and going through like, ‘Okay, great, they’re going to have their moment, it’s going to build up!’ and then finally Camilla’s coming in?
LOVELL: Yeah, I had the same reaction when I read it, when I saw that at the end she shows up, you’re like, “No!” And it doesn’t help that Maria Gabriela, who plays Camilla, is charming. I mean, she is just stunning and charming and so sweet. It’s so juicy in that way, and I mean, the truth is Shred did have a girlfriend of many years and that can’t compete with someone that you have these burgeoning office vibes with. But I also think the Emily-Shred dynamic is really fun because — and this also comes so much from Michael, who’s amazing — I feel like they’re really good friends. They’re just buddy-buddy right now. They’re really good buds, which I think is so fun because it could go so many different ways. I think that the best way for a relationship to start off is by having fun together and being friends. But they’re drawn toward each other. So it’s one of those things where I think, in that scene specifically, you’re getting to see them vibe, and you’re getting to see them hang out. I think it crosses their mind for the first time that they could maybe cross that boundary, and then of course the doorbell rings. I think you see them contemplate it for the first time.
You really do. There’s a lot said in that quiet moment; you guys give a great performance with the way you’re looking at each other and there’s a lot said that’s not said, and it should have been said. I was so sad.
LOVELL: I know. But then it’s also so complicated because they work together and when you’re thinking about crossing that boundary with a colleague, you’re also thinking about, ‘Is that going to ruin the dynamic? Is going to work going to be awkward?’ You’re thinking about all those things. It’s not just someone you’re meeting online. You’re affecting the work dynamic.
Oh, I get that. And then the work dynamic gets weird because your character is someone that complies with HR and all those things, and then you’re in a position of power with a co-worker. So it’s like, ‘What have I done? This is wrong,’ I get it.
LOVELL: And for a people pleaser like Emily, it’s her worst nightmare, I think, that she would cause a problem or that she would be the person to break the rules or anything.
No, I get it, 100%. So, what can you tease us about the direction that Emily would go in, especially after this thing? Because now there’s a triangle happening versus just the two of them before being able to communicate.
LOVELL: I think she’s having to face her own feelings about Shred, but also facing the realities that he has this past that’s very real and has shown up at his door, literally. I think she’s having to name them and look at them in the eye and wonder if it’s the best thing… I think her feelings are becoming increasingly harder to deny. It’s a really fun thing how they’ve set up because the circumstances are, she’s realizing how hard it would be to, how many obstacles there are. I mean, he’s her employee — it would affect the workplace. He has an ex that’s there. But she’s realizing that once you say the feelings out loud or once you start naming them, it becomes more real.
For sure. So, what can you tease us about the three of them, especially coming up? What can we expect?
LOVELL: Just that on this show, which I love, they don’t shy away from conflict. There’s definitely conflict coming up. I’m going to tease that the feelings aren’t going anywhere for Shred. They’re definitely there, but the conflicts are real. And again, they cast the most charming people on the show that are gems in real life, so you’re also rooting for everyone else too. It’s just getting more complicated… and the feelings are probably increasing.
Will that bring out maybe a competitive side in her, do you think? I mean, it is a competitive workplace.
LOVELL: I feel like Emily is less competitive and more just frazzled [laughs]. She’s more just a frazzled Muppet than competitive because she wears her heart on her sleeve. So she’s bad at hiding things, but she’s also not one to claim anyone or stake her territory or anything. She’s more just can’t help but feel how she feels and figuring out as it’s going, and in a very awkward way.
There are a lot of different stories happening this season and one that I thought was interesting was Victoria and Frank. I feel like there’s a lot of tension between them.
LOVELL: I think those two are, it’s almost the opposite side of the spectrum from Emily and Shred, [who] are almost these innocent, optimistic, sweet innocents. And then Frank and Victoria are a little more jaded, a little more denying of feelings… So I think they’re really fun opposite dynamics to watch because I think as Emily and Shred can’t help but react to their feelings, Frank and Victoria are a little more layered and pushing feelings down…. I feel like that is a slower burn to me. But it’s there. I think it’s definitely there. [But] if we’re talking animals, Emily and Shred are little more puppies, and Frank and Victoria are a little more horses maybe… They are pumas! I think we have pumas and puppies.
You know, we were talking about Joel earlier, and I’ve found him to be one of the nicest people ever, and being the veteran on set, what’s it like working with him? What have you enjoyed about developing the relationship between your characters?
LOVELL: I have to say, Joel is such an amazing example of a number one on set. He’s so experienced, but he’s so kind, and he looks out for all of us and advocates for all of us. And he’s a really great example of just how to lead a show, so I’m really grateful to him. But I feel like our dynamics are similar to Emily and Frank in that Joel is so deadpan, and he will poke at you. And that’s him, the sense of humor that you know him for, it’s totally his sense of humor. But I am so gullible, I didn’t grow up with siblings, so I don’t get comebacks. So sometimes with Joel, I’m like, ‘Oh God, really?’ And he’s like, ‘No, I’m kidding.’ It was so funny because I don’t even think the writers knew this, but there’s a line coming up in one of the episodes that just perfectly encapsulates our dynamic. I think I say something like, ‘I don’t know when you’re joking and when you’re not joking.’ It weirdly mirrors our friendship.
You guys seem to have the most fun on set and there are a lot of jokesters around you. Is there a lot of room for improv?
LOVELL: I will say, especially Ravi [Patel] and Grace [Palmer], their dynamic I’m obsessed with. Whenever I have scenes with the two of them, it’s always wild because they are just really riffing off each other, and they’re both so good at it. I think it just was a dynamic they found right away, and so I have found, especially when I have scenes with Patel and Victoria, I have to be on my toes because I’m not an improv-er by nature or training at all. But that’s really fun because all these unexpected things happen when you get to improv. Then I realized Michael and I in the last episode with the ring, we had improved that little thing at the end about getting married with the ring and stuff. It’s exciting when those things make it in because it’s the dynamic that’s popping up at the moment. It’s really honest… But a lot of improv has made it into the show. I’ve been surprised.
I feel like it’s so much more of a jungle gym than a set for you guys, especially when seeing your interactions behind the scenes and considering your comedy backgrounds. When considering the entire cast and their histories in comedy, what was something you learned about your own comedy when sharing scenes with everyone?
LOVELL: Every time you’re on a new show, the tone is different, and you’re really finding it, and these creators wanted, I think maybe because the animals are so wacky and so out there, they wanted as grounded of humor as possible. So it has been a new dynamic for my acting in a comedy. I don’t even know if it’s translating, but just for me, it feels like it’s way more grounded than Mr. Mayor was, and it’s just a slightly different approach, which has been really empowering actually to know that I can still tell a joke and things can still come across, even if I’m coming at it from a more subtle approach. I don’t know if that’s translating. That’s just from my experience as an actor. I’m coming at it from a more grounded approach, and that’s been a cool tone to play with.
In addition to some amazing comedy chops, I know that you’ve got some great singing chops, too! You did a lot of singing on My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and inquiring minds want to know, would we ever have a musical episode of Animal Control maybe?
LOVELL: Oh my gosh, that would be so fun. I mean, I did, I guess sing on shrooms at the end of the second episode [laughs]. Actually, there is, I’m just going to tease — I’m not going to say who’s doing it, but there is a song in the finale. Someone sings a song. There are some musical elements coming up. But it would be really fun to do an all-musical episode, that I’ve not heard about, [but] I would fully be here for it.
Animal Control airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox and streams on Hulu.
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