“Dr. Jay” (season 1, episode 10; originally aired 06/29/1994)
Unlike the chameleon-like master impressionist Maurice LaMarche, Charles Napier was not an actor who did voices. He was a strapping man-God who did a voice—his own—and that was enough. Hell, it was more than enough for him to be the perfect voice of alpha male of the Western world Duke Phillips, Rambo’s enemy and, if all that weren’t impressive enough, The Incredible Hulk’s scream during the 1970s television show.
Yet the muscle-bound B-movie icon cut such an imposing figure that he probably could talk in a Mike Tyson-like squeal and still terrify and intimidate people. But to The Critic’s eternal benefit, there was a perfect synchronicity between the way Napier looked and the way he talked. It was all part of the macho grand gestalt of Napier, who began his career as one of the prized stallions in Russ Meyer’s stable of outsized studs and ended his career playing cops, generals, and various other macho men.
Napier was also the subject of one of my all-time favorite Random Roles. When I asked him how he met Meyer he off-handedly said he was dating, “some stripper” who understandably was a little concerned that the famous pervert would behave in a perverted fashion towards her. When, upon their first meeting, Meyer asked Napier if he trusted him, Napier drawled that he trusted Meyer, “about as far as I can fucking throw ya.” The incorrigible Meyer liked the cut of Napier’s jib and a fortuitous partnership was formed between the two men. Napier didn’t just talk the talk: He also walked the walk and lived the life.
So even though on The Critic Napier was voicing a character very clearly patterned after eccentric mogul Ted Turner, Napier also brought a whole lot of his own brawling charisma and outsized personality to the role. Duke Phillips, is, in some ways I suspect, the man Ted Turner wishes he could be.
Nowhere is the Duke-Turner connection stronger or more hilarious than in “Dr. Jay,” the first episode largely devoted to his larger-than-life breakout character. The episode’s clever premise crossbreeds the plot of Lorenzo’s Oil with Turner’s notorious and controversial colorization of classic movies.
But before Duke can contract a deadly disease and Jay can develop some heretofore-unknown scientific skills to save him we first enjoy some delightfully mean-spirited digs at the French’s expense, as Jay, at the Cannes Film Festival with his boy Marty, reflects on how the French seaside city was once the armpit of France before its internationally renowned film festival catapulted the city to world renown.
Jay and Marty’s French waiter has a different take on the city’s evolution: In flashback, he fondly recollects a favorite boyhood memory of encountering a friendly and genial Adolf Hitler on the beach with his equally delightful beach-bunny wife Eva Braun. The affable Führer gives the overjoyed young scamp his armband to use as a kite before cradling his adorable dog Schnitzie. The reverie ends with the proudly Nazi-sympathizing collaborator (truly a poster boy for the Cannes division of the Hitler Youth) Heil Hitlering nostalgically as he gets lost in cherished memories.
When Jay tells the waiter that his son is too young to drink alcohol, the morally challenged waiter replies that that is puritanical American nonsense: Why, in France, the waiter crows proudly, “children drink wine all the time like their cartoon hero Winey Jacques.” We then meet Winey Jacques, a giant sentient wine bottle with a French accent who smashes through a wall like Kool-Aid Man, then lurches painfully over to a couch because he is hungover and “he has to sit.”
Family Guy has given cutaways a bad name and a reputation as a cheap vehicle for easy pop-culture-reference-as-punchline gags but it’s worth remembering that The Simpsons elevated such gags to an art form and The Critic used them almost as ingeniously, if not more so. After all, the first two cutaways here riff on the French people’s equivocation to the will of its Nazi occupiers and the French’s famously libertine, laissez faire attitude toward drinking, even where children are concerned. Not exactly lowest-common-denominator jokes.
Jay and Marty then proceed to get hammered together on a single glass of wine before Jay must confront the worst idea his boss has ever sprung on an unsuspecting public: Phillips-Vision. Not content to merely colorize classics and dub in new, less profane lines (“Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a ham,” “Rommel, you magnificent bus stop!”), Duke is now set on completely changing films to suit his philistine tastes and the angry demands of a free market that requires a happy ending for every film and none of that obnoxious “art” or “ambition.”
In Phillips-Vision, for example, Casablanca now ends with Elsa announcing she’s come back for Rick and leaping out of a plane, accompanied by Sam (and his trusty piano, gloriously enough) narrating the new happy ending—and, as a final offense to all that is good and true about movies, admonishing viewers to stick around for the local news and Magnum P.I.
With Duke in the driver’s seat, Spartacus has been drained of all that Kubrickian dead space and transformed into a Roman-era answer to Smokey And The Bandit.
In a fit of arrogance, a power-mad Duke enthuses, “If I want Citizen Kane’s last word to be ‘schwing’ then that’s what it’s gonna be! I’m a God I tell you! A God!” But he ends up paying a steep cost for such hubris. After collapsing at the press conference announcing Phillips-Vision, Duke discovers that he has a rare condition “previously” only seen in the progeny of first cousins who marry and has only four years to live. Duke is the kind of titan of industry who only needs to pick up a phone and write a check to enforce his will on a submissive universe but even he cannot cheat death or mortality.
Thankfully, he has Jay and the real-life premise of Lorenzo’s Oil on his side. In a veritable replay of the 1992 film, Jay, despite his lack of scientific credentials, ends up creating a serum that saves Duke—who is so grateful he agrees to kill Phillips-Vision—and, in a final dark joke, also a Klansman, a Neo-Nazi and a Joseph Hazelwood-like drunken oil tanker captain who brags that because of Jay’s oil, now he’s feel free to spill his oil. For Jay, you see, no good deed goes unpunished and every act of kindness had unintended and tragic consequences.
“Dr. Jay” is a great showcase for Napier and his animated alter ego, but of the series’ Duke-centric episodes, I like a later episode (“All The Duke’s Men”) based on another classic film (All The King’s Men) even more. That The Critic was canceled before more Dukealicious episodes could be filmed is one of animation’s true Duketastrophes.
- “They love you here because you resemble Babar, KING of the elephants!” (I love how Duke says “KING of the elephants!” so proudly, probably because he identifies so strongly with other alpha-males, even of the pachyderm variety)
- “Rosebud. I mean, schwing!”
- “How about that other word I invented? Dukelicious? Nobody’s using it? What a Dukeastrophe!”
- “Like most members of America’s cultural elite I worship Pan, the Goat God!”
- “I don’t want the guy from My Left Foot to become a punter for the Bears. I want Debra Winger, Ali McGraw, and Bambi’s mother to die!”
- “On behalf of the other presidents, I’d like to dedicate this song to the man we call ‘The Boss!’”
- “I’ve had every disease there is except for delusions of grandeur! And that is why God has chosen ME alone to do his work on Earth!
- “I’ve invented the first Fishmobaby Whirlimagig! It’ll be bigger than the Badgomoblaster!”
- “Chief get down with nurse. Makum Bacon!”
- That Rod McKuen cameo is a blatant ploy to appeal to kids. Shame on you, The Critic. I expect more.