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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Critic: The Complete Series (1994-1995)

"It stinks!"
- Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 16, 2004

Stars: Jon Lovitz
Other Stars: Christine Cavanaugh, Charles Napier, Gerrit Graham, Doris Grau, Judith Ivey, Nick Jameson, Nancy Cartwright, Maurice LaMarche, Park Overall, Russi Taylor, Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, Gene Shalit, Rex Reed
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild mature humor)
Run Time: 08h:40m:00s
Release Date: January 27, 2004
UPC: 043396016170
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B+B-B B+

DVD Review

The history and background of the animated series The Critic, which rose out of the resurging prime-time animation boom of the early 1990s, is almost as interesting as the show itself, from its seemingly golden-boy creators (The Simpsons Al Jean and Mike Reiss), to a white-hot executive producer (James L. Brooks), to the show's doomed two-season run across not just a pair of different networks, but the internet, as well. Much like Futurama and Family Guy, The Critic was a victim of poor scheduling and poor network support, and in the end it was the fan base that really suffered. So in a stab at apparent absolution, Columbia TriStar has gathered up the entire 23-episode run of the series (plus all 10 of the internet-only episodes) into one spiffy package.

The Critic is Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz), an overweight, balding, slightly neurotic New York film critic who has a television show called Coming Attractions, and who uses catchphrases like "It Stinks!" or gimmicks like The Shermometer to rate movies. The basic premise of the show flops back and forth between Jay's daily worklife hassles, under the ratings-watching eye of Ted Turner-ish station owner Duke Phillips (voiced by Charles Napier), and his personal life, which includes an endless stream of bad dates and the occasional visitation from his young, equally overweight son Marty (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh). The show also showcases Jay's wacky adoptive family, spacey father Franklin (voiced by Gerrit Graham), Katherine Hepburn-esque mother Eleanor (voiced by Judith Ivey) and level-headed teenage sister Margo (voiced by Nancy Cartwright), as well as his best friend, Aussie film star and ladies' man, Jeremy Hawke (voiced by Maurice LaMarche).

One of the appealing things about The Critic is the fact that Jay Sherman is not the typical self-centered buffoon portrayed as the lead in most prime-time animated series (Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin). That is not to say that his character is particularly three-dimensional, he is still just a cartoon character, but he does have a certain level of conviction (he loooooves movies), he cares for his son, and in general is a well-meaning guy. He's the butt of the joke, as opposed to the cause of, and though there is still the same abundance of oddball, spontaneous visual gags (ok, he's does develop a talking stomach in the second season), Jay Sherman is likeable, and while I worship at the almighty altar of Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, they are always basically "me, me, me" kind of characters.

The brainchild of The Simpsons' writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, The Critic is a cleverly-written series that is top-heavy with industry in-jokes and pointed satirical jabs, more often than not just a quick line here or visual gag here or there. There are the expected trailer parodies, some of which are funnier than others, mostly using films from the early 1990s as fodder. It is the industry jokes and parodies that I found to be the most consistently entertaining, and more indicative of the core humor of the show, than were the attempts at traditional animated sit-com humor (Jay's dates, his relationship with his son). But maybe that's why I'm just a movie nerd at heart. Things like the spot-on Misery send up in the first season's Miserable, where Jay gets abducted by his number one fan, is classic stuff, as was the guest appearance by film critic overlords Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, in an episode that had the duo breaking up. It is that kind of humor that really makes a show like this kind of so unique, as opposed to the unevenness of some episodes, when the plot ventured into more mainstream comedic subplots.

Watching the complete eight-hour-plus run of the series back-to-back it is easy to catch some the fallback gags, like one too many jokes centered around Marlon Brando, Dudley Moore, Orson Welles (no doubt designed to show off Maurice La LaMarche's dead-on impression), or Woody Allen/Sun-Yi, and these are some decidedly dated bits that don't have the same lasting comedic punch as a good old-fashioned trailer parody. Likewise, the look of the show went through a noticeable transition during the second season, with not-so-subtle character redesign (larger eyes, rounder edges) and seeing drastic changes in Jay or especially Margo, are obviously more jarring and apparent when you have the opportunity to watch the entire run in one fell swoop.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All episodes are presented in their original fullframe aspect ratio, and while this isn't the most vivid looking animated disc I've ever seen, the presentation is relatively clean. There are some grain issues, and some minor debris evidence that might indicate that the sour prints were not put through any kind of substantial remastering process. I did notice a fluctuation in the hues of some colors across a given scene once in awhile.

This isn't an awful transfer by any means, it is just not a particularly remarkable one.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It may not be flashy, but I certainly didn't have any complaints on the fine 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix, with character voices coming across resoundingly clean and crisp. No hiss, crackle or other annoyances to be found.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 115 cues and remote access
3 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
9 Feature/Episode commentaries by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Maurice LaMarche, Nick Jameson, Rich Moore
Packaging: Four fold case
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Webisodes
Extras Review: Writer/creators Al Jean and Mike Reiss, along with visual designer/producer Rich Moore and voice talent Maurice LaMarche and Nick Jameson provide full-length commentaries on nine of the episodes found here, though star Jon Lovitz is conspicuously absent. Generally I'm not a big fan of an overcrowded commentary, but Jean and Reiss do a decent job keeping the salient info flowing, and with me being such a big fan of LaMarche, it was a treat to hear to his recollections and comments. Of the 23 episodes, it is revealed that Season Two's Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice (with self-effacing guest appearances by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) is the odds-on favorite of Jean and Reiss. Commentaries are available on the following episodes: Pilot, Miserable, Eye on the Prize, Every Doris Has Her Day, L.A. Jay, A Pig Boy and His Dog, Sherman, Woman and Child, Sherman of Arabia, and Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice.

In addition to a commentary track, A Pig Boy and His Dog is also available with a branching option that will take you to storyboards and animatics, giving a quick overview of how an episode is created.

Creating The Critic (11m:48s) is a featurette featuring Mike Reiss, Al Jeans, James L. Brooks, Rich Moore, Maurice LaMarche and Nick Jameson, and centers on not just the show origins, but on how many of the individual characters were designed

Also included here are the ten internet-only Webisodes (each running about 03m:25s), that were put on the net after the show's demise. The animation is noticeably less fluid, but the level of humor is as biting and satirical as the first season material, and even throwaway visuals like Jay watching his body slowly "download" are good for a laugh.

Wrapping things up are a collection of Trailer Parodies (04m:35s) and Jay's Top Ten List (06m:23s), both of which are essentially "best of" clips culled from past episodes.

Each episode is cut into 5 chapters.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

This three-disc set of every episode of The Critic, including all of the so-called "webisodes", is a nicely-packaged tribute to a show that never could find the audience it seemed to so deserve (no thanks to two networks that made it practically impossible to watch, even if you wanted to).

Funny stuff.

 


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