Sunday, 30 December 2012

Scene 39: The Critic, A Cartoon Review

It's fascinating where a single memory, or a thought, can take you. 

Years ago I saw a Simpsons episode a character from another animated show, outside of the Simpson's universe, crosses over into the world of Springfield. I had never seen this other animated show, or heard of it, so I don't think I paid much attention to the character at the time. 

Then a few days ago, for some reason, I remembered that character again  - he had been a fictional film critic. This intrigued me. I promptly searched the internet, and I found what wanted - the episode had been A Star is Burns, the character was Jay Sherman and the show was The Critic. 

Still intrigued I then went and watched The Critic. This wasn't particularly difficult since there were only  two series, plus a clutch of webisodes much later on in 2000-2001. 

The show is set in New York  and centres around Jay Sherman, voiced by Jon Lovitz, an overweight, balding, film critic in New York, who pans nearly all the movies he reviews. In the first series he also doesn't have much luck with women either. The supporting cast include his billionaire boss Duke, his make-up lady Doris, his parents, his sister Margo, his ex-wife, son and his Australian actor friend Jeremy. 

The episodes generally deal with Jay's relationships with his friends, family and women, and the struggle he has with his boss over the ratings for his show, Coming Attractions - Jay is not very popular with the viewers because he thinks every movie stinks, which is in fact, one of his catchphrases. 

The show was created and produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, with producer James L. Brooks who owns Gracie Films, in the early 90's - and yes, those names may look familiar because they have all been involved with The Simpsons, and there was fact actually some controversy over The Critic/Simpsons crossover episode, which Matt Groening apparently complained was just an advert for show, which had just moved to FOX.

Now, I have been trying not to compare to The Critic to The Simpsons, because even though it has a lot of links Springfield it is a totally different show.

However, the Simpsons is the biggest mainstream cartoon and I was introduced to The Critic through the same said cartoon, so perhaps its not to unsurprising, if I end up comparing Jay Sherman to Homer Simpson.  After all they are similar - fat, balding, attention seeking, useless at times, but also think Jay Sherman shares alot of qualities with another Simpsons character - Lisa Simpson.

Yep, Lisa. Why? Because Jay Sherman is often, like Lisa, the voice of integrity and reason in a world of stupidity. For example, in the episode Uneasy Rider where Jay quits his job rather than promote a chewing tobacco, pointing out to his boss that his audience includes children.  In other cartoons, including Family Guy and American Dad, the protagonist might have spent the whole episode realising that they should quit - Jay does in five seconds. 

Not to say that he doesn't put up with promotions for cigarettes and beer in his show in other episodes, but he does so unwilling. Much like Lisa, he can also be sensitive, considerate, insightful and sometimes unselfish. Jay generally wants to make the world better, though mainly in the film department.  

To be fair of course, the show isn't perfect. The stories, like any show, can be a bit hit and miss - and one episode even ended, annoyingly, without properly resolving a storyline. 

The fact that it was done in the early 90's does show too, from time to time - for example in a gag about Princess Diana. 

Also, if you are not American some of the cultural and political jokes may go over your head, more so than in current American cartoons - I am British, so I don't know who Milton Berle is, and whether its funny or not if he acts like a ninja. 

Nonetheless, I think it is an enjoyable cartoon which has a good mix of intelligent humour, silliness and slap-stick - and its I think its theme song by Hans Zimmer is  wonderful, especially the second series version. 

So it is rather a shame that The Critic was cancelled so early on. Though the series is on DVD now, and I hear that it has become something of a cult programme - so gone, but not forgotten at least!  To find out more about the series, check out this website: The Critic - starring Jon Lovitz.

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