Created by Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Starring Jon Lovitz, Judith Ivey, Nancy Cartwright, Gerrit Graham. Maurice LaMarche, Charles Napier, Doris Grau
The Critic was an odd duck in network animation. Usually, the shows were family comedies, where the group – no matter how bizarre – would come together at the end to resolve their issues. But this show was going for something a little different, which may have been one reason it had so short a run.
The show is about Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz), a movie critic with his own TV show, Coming Attractions. Jay was a short, dumpy, and besieged by life. His mother Eleanor (Judith Ivey, doing a Katherine Hepburn imitation) was a harpy, his father Franklin (Gerrit Graham) a man with the attention span of a flea. He took guff from his hairdresser (Doris Grau*) and his egotistical boss (Charles Napier). The only bright spots were his sister Margo (Nancy Cartwright) and his son, plus his friend Jeremy Hawke (Maurice LaMarche, channeling “Crocodile” Dundee).
Jay was conceived as the anti-Homer-Simpson, educated and something of an elitist**, who’s committed to choosing what he thinks is best. His attempts at braggadocio often backfire, but he retains enough common sense and humanity to survive. Lovitz is absolutely perfect in the role.
The show had many pop cultural references, mostly in the movies Jay would review (ending most reviews with his catchphrase, “It stinks”). Creators Al Jean and Mike Reiss were writers on The Simpsons*** and deliberately tried to be the anti-Simpsons. Jay was the opposite of Homer, and they did some wonderful things with it.**** Some real film critics also had cameos.
But the ratings were there. ABC canceled the show halfway through the first season. But Jean and Reiss called in a few favors and got the remaining episodes to air on Fox. There was even a crossover, where Jay shows up at the Simpsons.*****
The show had improved ratings on Fox, but evidently not enough to keep it from being cancelled. Attempts were made to find another network, but failed. However, in 2000, Atom Films revived it as a stripped down web series, mostly with the movie parodies.
The Critic has been hugely influential. Some have even said that Family Guy stole entire scenes from it. In any case, it was a comedy before its time and poor network decisions kept it from achieving it’s greatness.
*Lunchlady Doris from The Simpsons. RIP.
**Though perfectly normal compared to his mother.
***The got the show on the air because Simpsons producer James L. Brooks was offered a commitment for a new animated show.
****I loved that the theme song was an hommage to Rhapsody in Blue.
*****Bart shakes his hand, praising him, then says, “I feel so dirty,” since everyone knew that this was a way to promote The Critic.