Gone Too Soon: The Critic
by Jason Hughes, posted Nov 17th 2009 10:12AM
Before The Simpsons begat Futurama, current executive producer of The Simspons Al Jean, along with Mike Reiss, created a short-lived animated series about a film critic who hated almost every film he ever saw.
Starring Jon Lovitz in some brilliant voice work, The Critic ran through two networks in two seasons. Like Futurama and Family Guy, it found some success with reruns on cable -- in this case, Comedy Central -- and a subsequent DVD release. But unlike those series, The Critic remains but a distant memory.
I still think The Critic has what it takes to be a hit on television; if not on a major network, then certainly on Comedy Central or Cartoon Network. Hell, shorten it to fifteen minutes and make new installments a part of the Adult Swim lineup. The series had a madcap zany streak running through it that audiences of the mid-'90s just weren't prepared for. Looking at the animation we embrace today, it looks like The Critic was truly ahead of its time. Our own Adam Finley touched on The Critic as part of our Short-Lived Shows series, but I think it's worthy of a more extensive homage.
What was it?
"It Stinks!" Jay Sherman was the host of Coming Attractions, making him "New York's third most popular early-morning cable-TV film critic." Mainly, though, he was a bit of a schlub. He was known for his mostly negative reviews of virtually every film he ever saw. And The Critic was known for putting goofy spins on real movies for Jay to critique. It was also known for quick cutaways to moments throughout Jay's life, much like (but slightly less fanciful than) the way Family Guy uses them.
Jay was the adopted son of a very well-to-do New England family, so despite his own slovenly existence, there were regular peeks into the world of eccentric socialites. He was also divorced, and had an equally overweight 13-year-old son, Marty. I say equally, but the show often made a special point of saying that Jay weighed an obscene amount, despite him not looking anywhere near that heavy.
With its quick wit, sharp satirical tongue and wacky characters, The Critic is a show that might have fared very well in the post-Seth MacFarlane era on FOX. I always felt that both the quick jabs at film and the lackluster home life of Jay Sherman were great fodder for ongoing adventures, but the series never seemed to find a foothold with a large enough audience to satisfy its networks.
In the two half-seasons it was on, The Critic managed to flesh out quite an impressive roster of characters, and like The Simpsons, it kept adding new and more intriguing characters seemingly every week. But it was far more over the top than its sister series, and perhaps that was the problem.
Why did it have to go?
ABC premiered it as a 1994 winter series, but quickly punted it to the summer to wrap up its first and only season there. FOX picked it up for a second season, which seemed a logical choice considering it was the home of The Simpsons. They tried again in the winter of 1995, but again the series didn't catch ratings fire, and FOX let it go as well. Rumor has it there were scripts prepared for yet a third shift to UPN, but that never panned out. I still think the show was a little "out there" for prime time audiences of the time.
How do I find out what happens next?
Creators Al Jean and Mike Reiss did bring back Jon Lovitz and The Critic in 2001 for a series of short 3-5 minute webisodes where Jay continued lampooning the movies, and trying to make it with his new make-up lady. While there's been nothing done with the character since, it remains a strongly remembered chapter of Lovitz' career, and a highlight of the '90s for fans of animation.
Where did the cast wind up?
- Jon Lovitz (Jay Sherman) continues to do voiceover work for The Simpsons, as well as appearing in myriad television series and movies, most notably replacing Phil Hartman in the final season of NewsRadio.
- Nancy Cartwright (Margo Sherman) continues to voice Bart Simpson and many other cast members, but has also done other voiceover work, including as Rufus on Kim Possible.
- Christine Cavanaugh (Marty Sherman) continued working in animation voiceover until her retirement in 2001, notably working as the voice of Chuckie on Rugrats, and the first Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory.
- Gerrit Graham (Franklin Sherman) continues to work in animation, film and on television, notably in the starring role of Roger Bender on Now and Again.
- Doris Grau (Doris Grossman) continued doing voiceover work, notably as Lunchlady Doris on The Simpsons, until she succumbed to lung disease in 1995.
- Judith Ivey (Eleanor Sherman) finds most of her work in the realm of theater these days, appearing as Ann Landers in The Lady with All the Answers and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie.
- Nick Jameson (Vlada) works extensively in video game voice work, but continues to appear in guest roles on television and in film as well.
- Maurice LaMarche (Jeremy Hawke) went on to voice The Brain in Pinky and the Brain, as well as myriad characters in Futurama and simply tons of other animated series and films.
- Charles Napier (Duke Phillips) continues playing badass military types in film and television. He was also the first voice of the Sheriff on Squidbillies.
The creators and Lovitz seem to, as there are always talks cropping up of a revival of The Critic, either as an animated project, or possibly a live-action one. There are fan sites out there, but as time passes with no new material, many of these are becoming floating time capsules.
When can I see it?
At this point, it looks like your best bet is to pick up The Critic: The Complete Series on DVD. The set offers all 23 produced episodes, as well as the 10 webisodes from 2001.
[via Wikipedia, IMDb and more!]