In 10 Words or Less
Stand-up comedy as psychological therapy
Loves: "Dr. Katz", H. Jon Benjamin, Stand-Up Comedy, Dave Attell
Likes: Jonathan Katz, Ray Romano
Hates: Wendy Liebman
Back when Dave Chappelle's biggest job was a guest spot on "Home Improvement," Jonathan Katz was ruling as one of Comedy Central's top stars, giving voice to Dr. Katz, therapist to the world of stand-up comedy. The concept of taking stand-up acts and recasting them as therapy sessions feels like such a natural idea, as stand-up at its best is essentially a comic spilling his guts on a stage instead of a couch. Add in animated representations of the comics' acts, and you have a very funny series.
In the first season, the roster of acts included Bill Braudis ("Home Movies"), Dom Irrera, Wendy Liebman, Ray Romano, Joy Behar, Dave Attell (with hair!), Laura Kightlinger, Larry Miller, Anthony Clark and Andy Kindler. Though Romano is the best of the bunch easily, with his bits about his daughter's daydreaming and his wife, there's no one who fails to get a laugh, and Attell, Kightlinger, Miller and Kindler are extremely funny. Attell's act, which is often nonsensical, lends itself best to the animation, while Irrera integrates the most into the overall series.
The show complemented the therapy sessions with Dr. Katz's home and office life, both of which can get very surreal. Though Dr. Katz is very laid-back, his son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin, "Home Movies") is an emotional eternal child, getting himself into some weird situations, like raising pot-bellied pigs or driving without the ability to drive. Ben has an infatuation with Laura (Laura Silverman), Dr. Katz' acerbic receptionist, who has a stand-offish relationship with just about everyone. When Dr. Katz isn't listening to comics, he's listening to his pal Stan (Will Lebow) at their friend Julie's (Julianne Shapiro) bar.
The whole set-up really just allows the show to move from punchline to punchline. The show never lingers very long on a joke, separating scenes with musical transitions. Without the commercials that ran between transitions, the pacing can get to be a bit manic, bouncing from moment to moment, but after a while it all sorts out if you give it a chance.
Unfortunately, there are just six episodes here, which is really a tease, as once you get into the show, it's over. Later seasons had 13-episode runs, so what you get is a taste of Dr. Katz. Instead, Comedy Central should have combined it with Season Two, the way "Newsradio" was released.
On a side note, it's kind of cool to see the old "Presented by Comedy Central" end screens on these episodes, including the original (I think) version with voice-over by Penn Jillette. It makes me nostalgic for the old days of the network when stand-up was king.
The six first-season episodes of "Dr. Katz" are presented on one DVD, which comes in a clear keepcase with a promotional insert. The nicely-designed cover is two-sided, with episode descriptions and images on the inside. The animated full-frame main menu has choices to play all the episodes, select individual ones, and check out bonus features. There are no audio options or subtitles, but the disc does have closed captioning.
The first episode you watch will shock you, as Squigglevision is genuinely jarring. You get used to it quickly, but it's off-putting at first. It's presented very nicely, with a very clean full-frame image, solid color and no signs of any kind of wear, dirt or damage. Over 10 years old, this show doesn't look its age at all.
The audio, delivered in a Dolby Digital Stereo track, is just as it should be, with crisp dialogue. There's not much else to the show's audio, so this is more than acceptable, though a DTS mix of two characters just talking would be a blast, wouldn't it?
The disc has six episode-length audio commentaries for five episodes.
Pot-Bellied Pigs - Tom Snyder, Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin
Pretzelkins - Tom Snyder, Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin
Bully - Tom Snyder, Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin
Bully - Jonathan Katz, Ray Romano
Everybody's Got a Tushy - Jonathan Katz, Ray Romano
Family Car - Tom Snyder, Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin
Due to the low-key style of the commentators, these tracks can be slow in spots and they do slip into inside bits at times, but they are having a good time reminiscing. I expected much more from the Katz/Romano tracks, but the second one has long breaks of silence, and neither lets loose. Yes, they are funny, but not as funny as one would expect. These tracks really show what kind of effect personality can have on a commentary
The packaging indicates there's a commentary with Dave Attell, but oddly, his episode is the only one without a commentary track. That's because his commentary is actually presented as a separate extra, titled "A Conversation with Dave Attell." It's really an audio commentary with Katz and Attell, over only Attell's scenes from the fourth episode. It's a bit random, as they quickly seque from the show to the early Comedy Central line-up and a frozen Walt Disney.
The packaging gets it wrong again, listing a special feature titled "The Biography of Dr. Katz." Close, but it's actually "The Biography of Mr. Katz," which is like a pilot for the series, as Katz talks about his life, and that life is animated in an early example of Squigglevision. It's cute and will appeal to fans of Katz' understated comedy, though the laughter from an unseen woman could have been disposed of. "Shrink Wrapped", another early Squigglevision effort follows, but the 48-second short is neither all that fun or interesting, though as an animation artifact it might have some value. It also shows an unusual interest in psychiatry in the creators.
Two shorts from the old "Short Attention Span Theater" are also included, though these may just be clips from other episodes. "Too Attached" features Cathy Ladman while "Food and Law" has Larry Miller. They are very brief, but funny nonetheless.
The disc also has three Central Quickies (clips from "Drawn Together", "Mind of Mencia" and "South Park"), and a few previews for other Comedy Central shows.
The Bottom Line
These episodes are still very funny, thanks in large part to the presence of some hilarious comedians and a main cast that works great together. A mix of quality stand-up and Katz' oddball sense of humor, the show is a great deal of fun. The DVD presents them in very nice quality, with a good spread of extras, though it has a slight case of quantity over quality. Fans of the show will need to pick this set up, and the curious should give it a chance, even if they don't think they can deal with the squiggle. It's too funny to not check out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.