Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sarcasm That Burns And Then Burns Out: The Critic The Complete Series!

The Good: Funny, Clever, Satirical, Well-written
The Bad: Repetitive humor
The Basics: The short-lived exploits of film critic Jay Sherman and his highbrow antics make for a decent DVD alternative to The Simpsons.

The Critic is a strange example of a show that could not seem to find its niche, yet had its chance and now lives on in DVD with reasonable success. Unlike Family Guy, which was killed prematurely by Fox when their repeated scramble to randomly air the show netted it low ratings and then saw the groundswell of support in the DVD sales so it will return with new episodes soon, The Critic moved from ABC to Fox to DVD where it will likely remain. The Critic had peaked and as the last episodes of the show, featuring new characters, illustrate, the retooling of the show was not going well and it was probably axed before it could degenerate significantly.

The result is a show that is consistently funny and on three discs, The Critic is largely a crowd pleaser for those who enjoy The Simpsons or Family Guy. Like both, The Critic takes on popular culture with a series of spoofs and character-driven satires that seems geared toward those who enjoy The Simpsons.

The Critic tells the story of Jay Sherman, a movie critic whose education and sophisticated tastes often isolate him from the movie-watching public and leave his show, Coming Attractions, in jeopardy of being canceled. Accompanied by his son, and later a love interest named Alice, Jay struggles to keep his show on the air while maintaining his artistic integrity. He is threatened almost every episode by his boss, billionaire Duke Phillips and plagues by his ultra-rich parents.

This is a funny show and much of it relies on the comic timing and voice talents of Jon Lovitz who creates the character of Jay Sherman. Lovitz has a wonderful voice and a great sense of timing that he manages to transfer to the animated character perfectly. Lovitz can take a catch-phrase like "It stinks!" and infuse all sorts of energy into it.

The problem with The Critic is that while it is funny and intelligent, it gets buried by its competition. The Simpsons, for example, does a far better job of making more robust social commentary and Family Guy makes funnier media parodies. Even the short-lived Clerks: The Animated Series (reviewed here!) had a more distinctive ensemble to work with than The Critic. As a result, The Critic is funny (I prefer it to King Of The Hill), but not the top of the genre.

Part of the problem, which becomes apparent when one sits down and watches the discs one after another, is that the show is comedically repetitive. There are only so many times that Duke can insinuate that Jay Sherman is gay and for Jay to refute it and it be even mildly amusing. In Jay's son's exclusive U.N. school, the kid from Easter Island bears a giant rock head, a joke that becomes increasingly tiresome as the series progresses.

What makes the series worth it is that it has the wit and sparkle of The Simpsons, but provides an alternative for those of us who have seen every episode of that show over and over and over again. And The Critic is intelligent. Outside the largely repetitive obvious jokes, there is a whole host of subtler humor, especially involving Jay and his lunatic family members. When Jay's father Franklin, for example, recalls his conversation with George Bush where he appealed to the president for help in getting Jay out of Iraq, the delivery on "because they demanded it!" is one of the funniest reads ever.

If you've never seen The Critic, you're in for a treat. The voice talents of Jon Lovitz, Gerrit Graham, Christine Cavanaugh, and Charles Napier lend the series a distinctive sound. Written by many of the people who wrote episodes of The Simpsons, the format is a standard thirty minute comedy with decent animation and an above average sense of wit. Like the best of Family Guy, it helps to watch this show with your knowledge of pop culture engaged and your eye for detail catching everything that is on the screen.

For other animated comedies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Sealab 2021 - Volume 1
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Volume 1
Family Guy - “It’s A Trap!”


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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