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The Critic

Ah, another underrated TV series that died an early death — but is reborn, like a digital phoenix, thanks to DVD! The Critic, produced by Simpsons vets James L. Brooks, Al Jean, and Mike Reiss, was an animated sitcom about an overweight film critic, his family, his co-workers, and his reviews. Debuting in 1994, the show offered ample opportunity for both pop culture satire and Simpsons-style humor. While it didn't hit the mark 100% of the time and was remarkably inconsistent in many ways, The Critic was often hilariously funny and always intelligently scripted. As the likable schlub/film critic Jay Sherman, comedian Jon Lovitz runs the gamut from Homer Simpson-like sloth to manic guile and then back to obtuse insensitivity. Unfortunately, as much range as this gives Lovitz the voice-actor, it's one of the series' biggest flaws — the main character is inconsistent, with Jay's motivations changing from episode to episode depending on the situations created by the writers. The large cast of secondary characters is better drawn, ranging from Jay's rampantly insane, obscenely wealthy parents (especially Gerrit Graham's take on Jay's father, who gets the gift of delivering the show's most surreal one-liners) to Jay's Mel Gibson-esque actor friend Jeremy Hawke (Maurice LaMarche), his boss, Duke Phillips (Charles Napier, in an obvious homage to Ted Turner) and Jay's friend-turned-girlfriend Alice (Park Overall). But the moments of sheer brilliance in The Critic are generally found in the canny film parodies, like "Dennis the Menace II Society," "Honey I Ate the Kids" and Francis Ford Coppola's musical "Apocalypse Wow!"(Howdy do, I'm Colonel Kurtz, fat and bald like old Fred Mertz/Watch me do a hula dance and shake the egg rolls from my pants!) Despite its flaws, The Critic is one very funny show, and the DVD collection is a delight. Columbia TriStar offers every episode of The Critic (which was dropped from ABC after one season, picked up by Fox … and then dropped after one season) with very clean, full-screen transfers that unfortunately show up every glitch and flaw in the original animation — which is actually interesting in itself, if you're a cartoon nut. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is superb, though. Some episodes have commentaries by Jean, Reiss, Brooks, LaMarche and Napier, talking about the creation of the show, the difficulties dealing with the networks, the background of some of the more obscure "insider" jokes, and much dissection of just why the show failed. Also on board is a branching feature on "A Pig Boy and his Dog," offering a storyboard comparison; two features, "Trailer Parodies" and "Top Ten List," which offer compilations of many of the funnier parodies; a "making-of" featurette, "Behind the Critic"; and ten Flash-animated episodes produced for the Internet — which highlight, even with the limited animation, how sharp the writing could be and what a great talent the creators had in Jon Lovitz. Three-DVD digipak.
—Dawn Taylor

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