Animation Cel-ebration
February 2, 2024 posted by Michael Lyons

Let’s Review: The 30th Anniversary of “The Critic”

The 90s in entertainment was a time when television film critics held tremendous sway over movies, and it was also a time when animated series populated primetime airways.

It’s somewhat perfect that the show The Critic debuted during this era, as it was a prime-time animated series about a movie critic.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, The Critic centered on Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz), a single dad, cynical film critic, and host of the fictional movie review show Coming Attractions. “It stinks!” was Sherman’s catchphrase, providing insight into his favorable-to-unfavorable review ratio.

The colorful supporting characters on the show included his son, Marty (Christine Cavanaugh), his eccentric adoptive Dad, Franklin (Gerrit Graham), his gruff boss, Duke (Charles Napier), Doris (Doris Grau), the crusty make-up lady on his show, and in the second season, Jay’s love interest, Alice (Park Overall).

With well-crafted animation from the Film Roman Studio, the episodes revolved around different situations Jay and the other characters found themselves in, such as the pilot, in which a budding actress begins dating Jay so that he will give her upcoming film a positive review.

In another episode, Jay and his son Marty go to a weight-loss camp, where Marty loses weight and becomes more popular at school, but Jay hides out from action movie star Jean-Paul LaPope, who wants to hurt Jay after the critic gave his latest film a bad review.

With the backdrop of a movie review show, the shining moments of The Critic were the sharp, funny parodies of movies that Jay was reviewing. Among them were Home Alone 3, where Kevin is left alone by his family but now, at 23-years-old, sports stubble and a cigarette while doing the film’s famous hand-on-each-cheek-scream; the stop-motion animated film Nightmare Before Hannukah; Dennis the Menace II Society, which combined John Hughes’ family comedy with the dramatic, violent film about the projects in California; Al Pacino starred in Scent of a Wolfman and there were the sequels, A Few More Good Men and Snow Man, the follow-up to Rain Man.

The Critic was the brainchild of Al Jean and Mike Reiss, both showrunners on The Simpsons. Simpsons creator Matt Groening had approached them to create a spin-off series centering on Krusty the Clown. Their idea would have had Krusty as a single dad living in the city. When the spin-off didn’t move forward, Jean and Reiss adapted this concept to The Critic after producer James Brooks approached them about developing a new show.

In the second season, Jean and Reiss returned to their Simpsons roots, with the “crossover episode” of that show and The Critic, entitled “A Star is Burns.” In the episode, Springfield holds a film festival with entries by its residents (Moe Better Blues is a highlight), and Jay is invited to be the judge.

There were also a number of truly “meta moments” on The Critic, when famous film critics of the time voiced animated versions of themselves on the show, such as the Today Show’s Gene Shalit, who had a cameo in the pilot episode.

The cast.

Famed “thumbs-up/thumbs down” critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert provided their voices for the episode “Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice,” in which the critics break up (in a hysterical, knockdown, drag-out fight) and each vie for Jay to be their new film review partner. In the episode, fellow critic Rex Reed also provides his voice for a cameo, and Shalit returns, as well.

Before appearing in animated form during the second season, Siskel and Ebert reviewed the series on their show when The Critic debuted, giving the series a mixed review. The critics enjoyed the show’s film satires but noted that the other portions of The Critic needed some development.

“Obviously, the show needs two things,” said Siskel, “another critic, and for Roger and me to write some of the scripts. We could save this show, and I, for one, would like to.”

This mixed review was, unfortunately, reflected by many when The Critic debuted on ABC on January 26, 1994. Despite anticipation for the series’ debut, the network canceled the show after 13 episodes. It returned to television on Fox the following year but was again canceled after ten episodes.

As the show developed a cult following, Jean and Reiss created ten short “webisodes” of The Critic that were shown on and from 2000 to 2001. Here’s one that was posted to You Tube.

Thirty years after its debut, The Critic still has a devout following from the many who admired it and have now discovered its snappy writing and creative parodies. So, how about that, Jay Sherman? Your show doesn’t stink!


  • The biggest problem the show had was the lack of good supporting characters. Duke Phillips was the perfect foil for Jay but everyone else was forgettable. Thankfully, there were plenty of hilarious parodies and last but not least, the terrific impressions by Maurice LaMarche.

    • Franklin Sherman was also great. Along with Duke, he’s responsible for some of the bigger laughs in the series.

      • He was a good gag character but not a strong supporting character.

  • Should be noted that the reason the show was cancelled on Fox wasn’t due to bad ratings- it actually performed pretty well, not hurt by following The Simpsons. It was because the new president of Fox at the time couldn’t stand the show and wanted it gone.

    Anyway, it’s one of my favorite short-runner cartoons ever, even if some parts of it haven’t held up very well.

  • Anyone else remember the ending of the original broadcast of the Siskel & Ebert episode where Jay, having turned into a giant blueberry a la Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, rolls offscreen and explodes, splattering goo over the seats on the set? Ebert then zips in, dips his finger into the residue and tastes it , then quickly exits. This bit was edited out of all subsequent airings as well as the DVD collection. Gee, I wonder who had that removed?

  • Honestly felt more sympathetic to Matt Groening demanding that his name be taken off A Star is Burns after watching a few episodes of The Critic. As it never aired in the UK (to my knowledge), I didn’t see it until it was uploaded to YouTube.

    The show is truthfully more like Family Guy than The Simpsons, though Family Guy is generally funnier and not as beholden to movie references. Jon Lovitz can be hilarious in supporting roles (in otherwise rotten comedy films like Rat Race or the remake of The Stepford Wives, he’s easily among the highlights) but I don’t think he’s well suited to playing the lead in anything.

    Mark Colangelo mentioned years ago that the show was originally designed by Rich Moore in a style closer to his own personal style (influenced by Ronald Searle and UPA). Unfortunately, Gracie Films preferred the ugly designs that were eventually chosen. If the early designs still exist, I’d love to see what could have been.

    • It aired on UK Satellite\Cable Television c.1996, if I recall correctly on the Paramount Channel, but I don’t think it ever made it to terrestrial.

      • I recall it aired on the short-lived channel Bravo
        In the UK. God, I used to love Bravo. The Critic was pretty good, too.

    • I’ve really only seen “The Critic” from the Simpson’s episode..and maybe some other brief clips from the show itself. But I never understood Matt Groening’s insistence on removing his name from the credits, and also not appearing in the Simpsons DVD commentary of this episode.

      It was a one episode crossover. You would think he would have at least tried to help out “The Critics” producers (Reiss and Jean). They were responsible for a great many of the episodes in the Simpsons golden years.

  • It’s best for a series not to be so dependent on show biz in-jokes.

  • Loved the mention of a company called “Mattress in an Hour”. “I had to deliver a mattress to Madonna’s house. And then another. And then another!”

  • Guess it’s one of those cartoons that aren’t cartoons?

  • watching it with my 16yo kid on the Tubi streamer. I have to explain the jokes every two minutes. Some of it is relentlessly mean to Jay, loses me there, but that’s just my opinion.

    • The producers realized that Jay often looked too pathetic hence the introduction of Alice.

  • I recall seeing the show on Comedy Central and liking it, but rewatching it now as an adult, I absolutely enjoy it more. It’s actually better than I remember it! The Critic is every bit 90s, yet something about the writing felt like it was a head of its time.

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