3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 127 minutes
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“The Critic” probably ranks up there with “Dr. Katz” as two cult TV shows I’ve been hoping would show up on DVD. I can watch “Friends” and “Seinfeld” reruns any time I want—even “The Simpsons” is so overplayed that I haven’t felt a burning desire to pick up any of its seasons on DVD. But the lifespan of “The Critic” was so brief and its episodes so underplayed that it still feels fresh and new 10 years after it originally debuted.
True, many of its movie parodies are dated—and hearing Gene Siskel’s voice in the episode where he and Roger Ebert guest-starred fills me with melancholy—but at its heart “The Critic” was about a lovable schlub, Jay Sherman, who often mirrored our exact thoughts when confronted with yet another two hours of Hollywood drek: “It stinks!” I always thought it was a shame that Jay’s signature catch phrase—“Ahtchie mahtchie!”—never caught it on; it was right up there with Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!”
Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz) is a film critic with a cable TV show and a life constantly filled with chaos. His boss is a tough guy, in the Ted Turner mold, who barely tolerates him. His ex-wife hates him. His adoptive parents are crazy (literally). Even the cranky, middle-aged make-up lady is barely able to put up with him. His only real ally is his 11-year-old son, Marty, who mirrors his hopes and fears and gives him a sounding board when needed.
Sadly, “The Critic” lasted a mere 23 episodes over two seasons at ABC, which thought it was too risqué, and Fox, which thought it wasn’t risqué enough. (It later lived on in reruns at Comedy Central.) All 23 episodes are presented across three discs, complete with commentaries on 8 of them that star the principal creative personnel (sans Lovitz) and highlight the many struggles they went through while making the show. In a move reminiscent of the butchering of the Alien 3 documentary on the Alien Quadrilogy set, Sony’s legal department deleted many of the more brutal comments made about the guy who was president of Fox at the time “The Critic” aired on the network. Writer Mike Reiss, who participated in the commentaries, detailed this during a recent interview, so don’t be surprised if you hear some dead air in the season two commentaries.
For whatever reason, neither the commentaries nor the rest of the bonus features are listed on the back of the DVD box, so be assured that they’re really there. Aside from the commentaries, we also get a 12-minute featurette called “Creating the Critic” that offers interviews with Mike Reiss and Al Jean, creators and executive producers on the show, as well as executive producer James L. Brooks, designer Rich Moore, and voice-over actors Maurice LaMarche and Nick Jameson. It’s a decent, if too brief, retrospective about the making of the show.
The featurette is on disc three, which also houses a series of the best film parodies from the show strung together, a “Top Ten” of the best film reviews from the show (which also include film parodies, of course), and 10 “webisodes” that were available for download on Atom Films in 2000.
The webisodes feature simple animation geared for optimal downloading from the Internet, but the artists still did an excellent job of retaining the show’s look and feel. Unfortunately, I guess the producers couldn’t attract all of the voice talent back for the project, except for Lovitz, LaMarche, and Jameson, so Jay’s supporting cast is gone, replaced by an attractive make-up woman who he falls for. The jokes are as funny as always, but it’s a shame they couldn’t get all the characters back.
All the bonus materials on disc three start with a theater style setting in which we can see and hear Jay munching popcorn as amusing “facts” appear on the screen in a parody of those trivia cards that are supposed to entertain you before a movie starts.
Disc two includes the last bonus feature: the “A Pig Boy and His Dog” episode with an optional branching feature that brings up a storyboard comparison when a film reel appears on the screen and you press the Enter button on your remote. Interesting stuff if you care how an animated show moves from rough storyboards to the finished product.
I only have a couple quibbles with this set: there should have been some deleted scenes, even as storyboards, since they’re mentioned in a couple of the commentaries (it’s a bit frustrating to hear “There was a great deleted scene here where…” without being able to see it in some form), and they crammed so much on the third disc that much of the bonus materials suffer from a bit of edge enhancement. Like I said, they’re quibbles.
Overall, this collection is a must-have if you’re a fan of the show. I’ve heard that it’s been selling quite well, so maybe a network will sense a bit of profit potential and bring it back. It could become the only show in history to air on every network, plus the Internet.

Posted on March 29, 2004 in Reviews by

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