The Critic: The Complete Series

The Critic: The Complete Series

The DVD revolution has many beneficiaries, but the greatest may be cult animated shows that never found a mass audience, but attracted too devoted a following to go off the air without a fight. DVD releases have done much to increase the visibility and popularity of Futurama and Family Guy, both of which struggled through a gauntlet of preemption, hiatuses, and arbitrarily changing time slots. The Critic began life on ABC, where it aired alongside the Tim Allen juggernaut Home Improvement before being cancelled, picked up by Fox, cancelled again, then carried on via an ill-fated half-season online stint which was less a series extension than a regrettable string of cheaply animated death throes. Internet episodes and all, The Critic has found a permanent home on a three-disc DVD set, and, like a lot of its peers, it benefits greatly from the deluxe treatment. Without the distractions of commercial interruptions and long breaks between episodes, The Critic's strengths—its visual sophistication, its endearing characters, its Simpsons-like speed and comic density, and its brisk movie parodies—are thrown into much sharper relief. In their audio commentaries, creators Mike Reiss and Al Jean (Simpsons veterans, like much of The Critic's creative team, including executive producer James L. Brooks) say they set out to differentiate The Critic from The Simpsons as much as possible. They failed, which ironically helps make the show a creative success. Like Futurama, The Critic probably has a lot of Simpsons DNA in its bloodstream, but the show has a strong personality of its own, rooted in its cosmopolitan New York setting and its pop-culture-crazed show-business milieu. The Critic's focus on movie criticism lends itself to parodies, which it doles out regularly while documenting the string of professional and romantic humiliations constituting the life of film critic Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz). Since Brooks is a key creative voice, many of The Critic's relationships are tender as well as funny, particularly its walrus-shaped protagonist's relationship with his loving son and adopted sister. But the show's most inspired comic creations may be Jay's wealthy adopted parents, especially his genially insane stepfather (voiced, with just the right tone of deadpan lunacy, by Gerrit Graham), who, like Ralph Wiggum in The Simpsons, seems to live in a different and more wonderful universe than everyone around him. As its creators lament, The Critic was too raunchy for ABC and not raunchy enough for Fox, but, dire "webisodes" aside, people who find The Critic on DVD are likely to find it just right.

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