“Every Doris Has Her Day” (season 1, episode 7; originally aired 06/01/1994)
The Critic didn’t last long enough to delve too deep into its supporting cast. Episodes like my all-time favorite “All the Duke’s Men” suggest that was a goddamned shame. Then again, every element of The Critic’s premature cancellation represents a goddamned shame.
At its best, The Critic could compete gag-for-gag with the best of The Simpsons. There is no higher praise. When it was on—which was most of the time—The Critic wasn’t just funny. It was also unique in a weirdly resonant way. There are jokes from The Critic that have stuck with me for decades, even if they’re not laugh-out-loud funny.
I suspect these gags have stuck with me less because they’re riotously funny than because they are so staggeringly odd and weirdly specific in their satirical targets. That certainly holds true of the last episode’s extended riff on Orson Welles’ apoplectic commercial outtakes. It’s also true of one of my favorite running gags from the series—Jay’s insistence that he has an assistant named Ethel to help him keep track of his busy social schedule (in reality, of course, his days merely oscillate between "Binge" and "Purge")
It’s beguilingly odd enough that Jay has a make-pretend assistant who talks like a wealthy dowager from an old Marx Brothers movie but the show keeps adding wonderfully perverse details, like Jay’s contention that Ethel be kept from his friends because of an unfortunate incident in which she spilled steaming hot coffee in Al Jolson’s lap.
The Critic is gloriously unashamed of its vaudevillian roots, especially when devoting an episode to Jay’s wonderfully raspy make-up lady Doris, a character ancient enough to have lived through vaudeville’s glory days. As I’ve written before, The Critic embraces humor in all its forms, from the lowest of lowbrow to the loftiest cerebral gags.
In less than a minute, The Critic goes from crowd-pleasingly broad (a parody of Howard’s End entitled Howard Stern’s End) to crowd-alienatingly dry (a bone-dry spoof of the audience-alienating obsessiveness of Oliver Stone's JFK), from a film parody that all but writes itself (the writers simply have to connect the dots separating Howard Stern and the middlebrow world of Merchant-Ivory) to a joke so conceptual and cerebral it’s hard to believe it aired on a prime time network cartoon in the 1990s. I love how incredibly bone-dry the JFK parody is. It all but dares us to look away or change the channel as its Kevin Costner surrogate repeats the same mundane phrase—back, and to the left—without even the slightest change in affect or emphasis.
The Howard Stern’s End co-star Jay interviews on his show nakedly confesses to Jay that he only took the role because, “I need the money. I have three mistresses of various ages and genders in London” before offering Jay tickets to his latest theatrical endeavor, an Andrew Lloyd Webber-written parody of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.
After scouring seemingly the sum of Western civilization for a date, Jay ends up going to the musical with Doris. Is there a bigger, easier or more satisfying satirical subject than the overblown Broadway musical? “Every Doris Her Its Day” suggests not. The writers have an absolute blast transforming Victor Hugo’s tragedy into a toe-tapping musical the whole family can enjoy. Damn near every couplet is a gem. Here are some of my favorites:
“By the smile in my spine/I’ll make you mine/I’ve got a hunch this is love!”
“Blame all your cares and whoases on the one with Scoliosis!”
“If you see a hunchback/Why not take him out to lunch Jack?!”
Jay and Doris are overjoyed to discover they hate many of the same things after they begin hanging out together. Their friendship takes a dramatic and unexpected turn after Doris reveals she gave away a baby for adoption roughly the time Jay himself was adopted.
Jay begins to suspect that Doris is his real mother. Doris begins to feel likewise and the episode takes an unmistakable turn for the melancholy. “Every Doris Has Her Day” is about as sweet as The Critic gets and it’s still filled with a gaudy abundance of bad-taste jokes about Doris’ age. When Vlada welcomes Doris and Jay to his restaurant, for example, he coldly tells his help, “Seat them where no one will be depressed by her imminent death”
In a bittersweet development for all involved, it turns out Doris isn’t Jay’s mother after all. He remains an orphan, albeit an unusually blessed one, but his relationship with Doris will never be the same. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? Of course it will remain the same. This is an animated sitcom after all and there are definite limits as to how far The Critic will go dramatically.
“Every Doris Has Her Day” strikes a canny balance between humor and heart, cynicism and sweetness, oddball references and unexpected emotional resonance. It’s a testament to the show’s richness that it could focus intently on one of its least compelling minor characters and still deliver both big-ass laughs and a lump in the throat at the end.
—“Ethel, you spilled coffee on me! Put down the perculator, honey lamb!”
—Jay/Jon Lovitz does a mean Al Jolson
—“So ladies, call in if you know the name of Spielberg’s adorable extra-terrestrial. I’ll take the 29th caller!”
—“Just tell everyone you’re a doddering heiress and I’m running through your money.”
—“This performance was sponsored by Toyota. The Hatchback fit for a hunchback!”
—“Now sit on the plastic or you won’t get any ribbon candy.” Is there any better, more succinct distillation of the weird-smelling-old-lady aesthetic?
—“Their on-again-off-again romance flies in the face of every standard of decency.”
—“This reminds me of my steamy weekend with Charlie Callas”
—“It also says I have a virus found only in pigs. And I mustn’t reproduce!”
—“I can always get my old job back. Riveting World War II bombers.”
—“Do you know how hard it is to get Saddam Hussein to play himself?
—So Jay’s Jewish. I’m glad we established that.