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.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 AtomFilms.com and Shockwave.com 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!