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The Critic, ABC/FOX
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Caution: potential spoilers maybe.

This originally aired on ABC in 1994, for a 13-episode season, before it was cancelled. Ten more episodes later aired on FOX. There was also at least one episode of The Simpsons that did a crossover with this series. I don't know that I ever had the chance to see the show in its original run on ABC or FOX, but I may have seen a few episodes at least on the latter network. Surely I saw more of them later still, in reruns on Comedy Central. But my viewing of the series was scattered at best, so even though I liked it, I don't think I got a good, cohesive idea of the show until watching it on DVD, years later. In fact I hadn't even known it was originally on ABC, though it makes sense, considering that in the last episode of season one, there's a joke about viewers just tuning in to see Home Improvement, which aired in the slot after this, apparently.

Anyway, it was a really funny show. Jon Lovitz voiced Jay Sherman, a film critic whose catch phrase was "It stinks!" (though he had several other catchphrases such as "how awkward!" and "hachi machi!" and even... uh, a sound he made when eating, kind of like "achm achm achm.") Jay's show was called "Coming Attractions," and he hated pretty much every movie he reviewed (which were made up, but clearly satirized countless real movies). His boss was a rich Southerner named Duke Phillips (apparently a parody of Ted Turner, though that went over my head). Anyway, Duke was pretty self-involved and had some rather crazy ideas. He and Jay didn't always get along, and sometimes they really didn't get along, but on balance I think they were... closer to allies than enemies. There was also an elderly, sarcastic, chain-smoking hairdresser named Doris Grossman, with whom Jay was sometimes vaguely friendly and sometimes they exchanged barbs, and once they even thought she might be his mother, since she had given up a baby for adoption around the time Jay had been born. Which brings me to Jay's adoptive parents, Franklin and Eleanor Sherman. They're rich and elitist and Eleanor, at least, kind of puts me in mind of Emily from Gilmore Girls, though she's certainly an exaggerated, cartoony version of that type of character. Franklin, meanwhile, is just off his nut. He's a pretty nice guy, but his grasp of reality is fleeting and intermittent at best. If he wasn't rich, he'd definitely be in an institution. Um... and they also have a biological daughter named Margo, who's 16 (twenty years younger than Jay). She's the most normal person in the family, and she has a really good relationship with her brother. She's a fairly sweet, intelligent kid, though a little rebellious, and she's one of my favorite characters on the show.

And I feel like starting a new paragraph now, even though I still have more characters to mention. I suppose I should say Jay is short, balding, and pudgy (though the series frequently makes fat jokes about him that are far in excess of the degree to which he's actually overweight; but I do kind of enjoy the running gag of his stomach talking to him). He has an ex-wife named Ardeth, who finds him disgusting, with whom he apparently shares custody of their 13-year-old son, Marty. Marty is a lot like his dad, and they have a close relationship, even though Marty spends most of his time living with his mom. He also attends United Nations International School, along with kids from around the world (including one from Easter Island, who has one of those statue things for a head). Now, moving on from family, Jay's best friend is an Australian actor named Jeremy Hawke. They seem to get along pretty well, even though Jay doesn't seem to like most of his movies (though it's said that he was the only critic who gave Jeremy's first movie a good review). There's also a guy named Vlada, who runs a restaurant where Jay often eats. He treats Jay better than most of his customers because, apparently, Jay's large appetite means he spends a lot of money there. I suppose I should also mention in passing that Jay's parents have a butler named Shackleford, who is a sort of stereotypically dour old Englishman, who always mocks Jay in his dry, British butlery sort of way (at the very least, always referring to him as "adopted master Jay"). I also wanna say Shakleford kind of puts me in mind of Prof. Polidori from Frankenhole. And at the start of season two, Jay meets a divorced Southern woman named Alice Tompkins, who has recently moved to New York with her young daughter, Penny. Jay befriends Alice, and gives her a job as his assistant, though they almost immediately develop a romantic relationship. (I should say that it wasn't until watching the series on DVD that I realized Alice and Penny hadn't been in the show since the beginning.) Anyway, Alice is a talented artist and a sweet, intelligent person who makes a pretty good match for Jay. She's definitely another of my favorite characters in the show.

Um, so, what else? The series is clever and sarcastic and hilarious and whatnot, but it can also be absolutely ridiculous and over-the-top. There are of course tons of pop culture references, and perhaps some slightly more upscale culture references, and social commentary of some sort or other, mostly on the dumbing down of Hollywood in particular and the American public in general. But the show itself isn't just highbrow or condescending... it really is a mix of both smart and dumb humor, both of which are great. I suppose I should also say Jay himself is clearly Jewish, perhaps to a degree that could be called caricature, even though he doesn't know who his parents are and wasn't raised Jewish... it's not his religion, but his way of talking, at least occasionally... well, quite often in fact.... and clearly he has an affinity for the Jewish culture. (Then again, he also has an affinity for French culture.) Jay himself is the butt of many of the show's jokes, rarely has luck with women (at least prior to meeting Alice), is generally not well respected by most people. And he can be fairly acerbic about things he finds objectionable, from the movies he reviews, to Duke's crazy plans, to... well, just about anything. But mostly, he's a really nice guy, a good father, a good older brother, etc. Or at least he tries. And in spite of the fact that his show is frequently on the verge of cancellation, he makes a very good living. And as often as he's annoyed or frustrated with life, he's also often quite jolly, and seems pretty comfortable in his own skin. Anyway, it'd be nice if the show had lasted longer....

Five years after the TV series ended, there was a series of ten webisodes.


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