..

THE CRITIC
The Complete Series

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Jon Lovitz, Park Overall, Nancy Cartwright, Brenda Vaccaro
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  520 Minutes
Release Date:  January 27, 2004

“Never marry an actress.  And never do blackface at the NAACP Image Awards.  Two things I've learned from experience.”

Shows ***

The Critic had a lot of potential to become television's next big animated hit when it first took to the airwaves in 1994, but it ended up cut short after two seasons.  Despite funny material and great voice casting, it may have just been a case of a show never really finding its home base.  It began on ABC, who said it was too racy.  It moved to Fox, where they said it was too tame.  It ran in reruns on Comedy Central where it started to pick up a following, but I guess it was too little, too late.

It was a great premise for a show, and certainly one near and dear to my own heart:  making a central character out of one of those TV movie critics we all know and love (or not).  In this case, the would-be star was Jay Sherman.  As voiced by Jon Lovitz, the little pudgy balding guy (a cross between Siskel and Ebert?) ran roughshod over film after film with his “it stinks!” condemnation.  This idea allowed for spoofs of every current Hollywood offering, which were sent up in mock trailers and film clips.

But of course, more than that was needed to float a series, so it focused on Sherman, the character.  He lived in New York, and the shows carried a kind of Woody Allen vibe, down to the jazzy theme song and the token shots of the city.  Sherman himself was kind of a throwback to the Allen characters:  lonely, insecure, a little neurotic.  An adopted Jewish boy raised by the waspy-ish parents you could imagine, Sherman's life outside the multiplex was one of awkward relationships with women and trying to be a father to his young son, both often with hilarious results.

Everything clicked most of the time for some of the 90's funniest moments on television.  My favorite episode, “Dukerella”, was a non stop laugh riot from start to finish.  Sometimes, as with all shows, things didn't quite come together, but overall, the show was more hit than miss…you especially have to love the feuding Siskel and Ebert, Jay's Mel Gibson clone friend (starring in movies like Crocodile Gandhi), or the remake of Pride of the Yankees with a happy ending (where they discover a cure for Lou Gerhig's Disease).

There was enough good material packed into the show's short two year run to make you believe that it could have succeeded, darn it all.  But at least on disc, we can always go back and relieve the adventures of Dennis the Menace II Society to our hearts' content.

Video ***

Animation almost always looks good on DVD, even if it's standard made-for-TV stuff.  The Critic is bright and colorful with a clean, crisp presentation…not exactly the stuff of feature films, but certainly a good representation of the source material.  No complaints.

Audio **

The standard stereo soundtrack is perfectly serviceable; these are mostly dialogue oriented shows and the spoken words all come through with solid clarity.  Little touches of music and a few effects add dynamic range.  Unspectacular by nature, but certainly suitable.

Features ***

Though nothing is listed on the box, there are a number of features included here for your viewing pleasure.  Some of the episodes have producer commentary, though you basically have to hunt around to find them if you're interested.  Disc one also includes some bonus trailers and an amusing animated menu (the longer you wait to pick something, the more impatient Sherman gets).

The second disc also features a branching episode, “A Pig Boy and His Dog”.  With that feature activated, you can click on the icon when it appears to get some extra goodies.

The third disc includes a “Top Ten List” (highlights of Jay's movie reviews), and a collection of the show's trailer parodies, plus a making-of featurette.  There are also ten web episodes from when The Critic took to the internet over 2000-2001.  Each feature begins with a pre-movie spoof, where you see “fun facts” and trivia flash on the screen before the show (“Know your Baldwin Brothers:  Alec – fat and smart.”)

Summary:

The Critic was a gem of an animated show that finally seems to be finding its following…too bad it's nearly a decade after it was canceled.  This three disc set is a great way to relive the laughter.