1990s Diamond: The Critic

My thoughts on the brilliant-yet-oft-overlooked classic animated series, "The Critic".
August 17, 2007
We just entered the year 1994. At the time, "The Simpsons" was still in it's 5th season, I had given up on "The Ren and Stimpy Show" (the Nickelodeon-based episodes were starting to get really dumb) and my mother did not want my siblings and me watching "Beavis and Butt-head". One winter evening, I happened to see an advertisement during ABC's "TGIF" lineup for a new animated sitcom series called...

My sibs and I tuned in on its Wednesday premiere and we were taken hook, line and sinker. The series was made by the same team who animated "The Simpsons" and it shared its taste in terms of pop culture, satire and movie parodies.

As a series, "The Critic" is a show about a New York film critic/cable television host named Jay Prescott Sherman. He's 36, pudgy, balding and overweight. He is not a well-respected man. Some say his design is molded after what people would think Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert would look like if they were both in the same body. Jon Lovitz's vocal talents made Jay a very memorable character. But Jay Sherman is not another Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. He's a more intelligent, thoughtful person who knows what he likes and is not stupid by any stretch. His tastes in film seems to view only foreign films in high regard; when faced with just about anything else, he would deliver his signature line: "It stinks!"

In the show, one thing that led me to think "The Critic" would be on to something was the laugh-a-minute style that "The Simpsons" did so well. But the difference in this show is the fact it is not so much about political issues as it is about the entertainment industry. We got jokes on movies like "Home Alone", "Dances With Wolves", "The Pelican Brief", "Lawerence of Arabia", "The Color Purple", "Crocodile Dundee" and "Beauty and the Beast". And that's only in the first episode. A film buff will find much to look for and laugh at.

The series also has some memorable secondary characters. Some of the more memorable characters included Jay's adoptive father, who always behaves erratically and is a little on the nutty side. His son Marty looks up to his father and always means to do the right thing. Jeremy Hawke, the Australian movie star, who Jay considers his best friend after he had given his first movie it's only good review. Margot, his adoptive parents' only biological child who always wants the best for him. Doris, his make-up lady (voiced by the late Doris Grau) is a chain-smoker who thinly treats Jay with contempt. And Duke Philips, his unsympathetic, egotistical boss who's intended as a satire of media mogul Ted Turner.

The series really kept the laughs coming. I could count on a laugh from "The Critic" even after it would air after the extremely tragic series finale of "Dinosaurs" (anybody who remembers watching ABC on July 20, 1994 would remember the last episode...and then, we get the riotiously funny episode about Jay's mother using Jay as the inspiration for her children's story, "The Fat Little Pig").

And then, ABC chose to drop the show after one season. So, it moved to Fox.

At this point, the second season was improving, even if the first season was already incredible. In this season, Jay met his finance, a Southern gal named Alice Tompkins. She is named after Alice Kramden of "The Honeymooners". she looks like she is about as old as Jay is. She may not have been a young, vivacious supermodel. She may not be built like a Barbie doll. And the fact she is a single mother suggests she's likely not a virgin. But still, I thought she was hot. I had absolutely no objections to her addition to the series. I loved her voice, personality and warmth that Park Overall could inject into her character. And the fact she's an artist is awesome. One of my favorite episodes in the series was "Lady Hawke", the episode in which Jay is stuck between choosing to stay in his soulmate relationship with Alice or move into a new relationship driven by infatuation with Jeremy Hawke's extremely attractive twin sister. This episode really helps solidify my thoughts on these two.

Unfortunately, the show didn't last nearly as long on Fox.

I think a problem "The Critic" had was like "Futurama" and "Family Guy" had later, the show was consistantly getting bumped around so viewers never got much of a chance to appreciate it. ABC would think it is 'too hot' and Fox would think it is 'too tame'. After its cancellation on Fox, the show was gone. With only 23 episodes, "The Critic" received a fate it did not deserve. And I will admit that I did not approve of the series ending on a clip show; these eps are never among the best episodes.
Some time later, in the year 2000, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, the series' producers, started to produce a new series of Flash-animated "webisodes" of "The Critic". While I appreciate the fact they considered trying to do something new with the show, and it is nice to see Jay ripping on 2000s movies (examples include "The Patriot", "Harry Potter", "Shrek", "Mission: Impossible 2", "X-Men", "Pearl Harbor", "Cast Away", "102 Dalmatians" and "Pokemon: the Movie 2000"), these new products I find some major flaws in of strikes:

1: Shorter run time.

The webisodes themselves are only about 4 minutes long. Like the Simpsons' old Tracy Ullman skits, there just isn't enough time to make a deep, involving story. Jay's "Coming Attractions" show was good for a quick laugh, but it alone was not the episode.

2: Lack of the rest of the cast.

With the exception of Vlada (the Eastern European restaurant manager who appears in one episode), forget about everyone else in the old episodes. All we get back is Jay and that's basically it. But he's not truly that funny if someone is not there to play off him. Everyone else is thrown out without even mention, and with them, most of its heart.

3: Jay's new make-up lady/girlfriend Jennifer.

I felt the chemistry between Jay and Alice in the second season. I would hate to see them break up. But apparently, in the first episode, Jay refers to a 'second divorce'. All that they went through and they still have problems after they (supposedly) got married? I know that Jay does not mention Alice by name, but it can be implied; after all that we saw happen, this is idiocy. I would blame the fact no one in the original voice cast comes back instead. But Jay's new girlfriend Jennifer is everything Alice wasn't. For one, she adds nothing to the eps and is at least 10 years younger than him; talk about lack of realism. Could you picture a short, balding man in a serious relationship with a 20-year old girl who is tall, blond and built like a supermodel? I know I can't. And her voice is totally basic; she's just a bore. Taking away what little heart is left in the "webisodes" is the fact we know that Jay loves Alice in the original episodes. His main reason for wanting to be romantically involved with Jennifer seems to be knocking her up. He is transformed into a horny toad that always wants to bunk with her, I'm serious!

In any case, I don't look at the webisodes in the same light as the half-hour episodes. It nice that they tried to do something else with the show, but I would prefer to write them off as 'non-canon' for the three outlined reasons.

While I think the show could have gone on for at least one or two more seasons before the writing turned bad (much like "The Tick", another cartoon widely recognized as never having "jumped the shark"), it also might be better the show stopped before it was dragged on and on until the episodes were just stupid and incoherent (like what Fox seems to be doing with "The Simpsons"--don't read that the wrong way, "The Simpsons" is incredible, but it kinda seems like Fox is milking it for all it's worth).

All things considered, I would strongly advise checking out "The Critic". Anyway possible, through the Internet, old VHS tapes, the "Critic: Complete Series" DVD boxset released in 2004 (I'm sure the boxset sold well enough), whatever you have to, please give the show a shot. With it's smart humor, characters, and writing, and the fact the episodes feel like they have aged just fine (not to mention Siskel and Ebert featured the show on their review series once, and they gave it two thumbs up!) and even Jay himself will have a hard time judging his series with his catchphrase.

*Proud supporter of the true girl for Jay*

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