In 10 Words or Less
Take the entire couch trip with Dr. Katz and friends
Loves: Stand-up comedy, animation
Likes: Dr. Katz, old-school Comedy Central
Hates: Emo Phillips, Judy Tenuta
The Story So Far...
Jonathan Katz has a quirky stand-up act that's remarkable even-tempered. It's a stage persona that translated perfectly to the role of psychotherapist, especially psychotherapist to stand-up comics. Done as a cartoon, with the somewhat reviled Squigglevision technique, each episode mixed a story about Dr. Katz, his son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin) and his friends, with two couch sessions. The series became one of the first hits for Comedy Central, until stand-up comedy became just a stepping stone to sitcom stardom The first season was released in May of 2006, followed by season two in November. DVDTalk has reviews of both sets: Season One | Season Two
Buying a TV box set of your favorite series can be an investment or a gamble, depending on your tastes. If you like recent shows, it's more likely you'll get everything you want (though those Simpsons sets have been awfully slow in arriving.) But if you like an older series, whether its a popular show or cult hit, there's no way to know if you'll ever complete your collection without the help of bootleggers.
After two releases from the vaults of Dr. Katz, it looked like fans of the squiggly psychologist and his comedian patients would never achieve closure, being teased by two season releases following a lengthy wait.
Then came the announcement of a complete season set that was met with excitement and annoyance by the show's fans. After all, what Dr. Katz' fan wouldn't want to be able to watch every episode, every Ben scam, every Dom Irrera moment of madness?
Perhaps the fans who bought the first two sets and are forced to repurchase them to get the rest of the series. No one wanted to see the remaining seasons to float in limbo, but there has to be a better solution than to force loyal customers to buy two seasons of a show twice. Perhaps some sort of proof-of-purchase redemption offer? This set-up, combined with other complete-series exclusives, doesn't help sell future sets, as TV fans get more gun shy about shelling out big box-set cash, only to get screwed in the end.
While the way these DVDs arrived may piss some people off, the material on them is certain to make you smile, as the series is one of the funniest Comedy Central's ever delivered. The genius of the series is its concept. Considering how most stand-up acts are based on the comics' personal lives and idiosyncrasies, adapting their acts as therapy sessions is both natural and hilarious. Having Jonathan Katz as their therapist pulls it all together as his understated, off-kilter style is perfect as a sounding board for the stand-ups.
Dr. Katz' work, which is complicated by his less-than-helpful assistant Laura (Laura Silverman), is just half the story, as his son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin) is a nightmare of a Peter Pan, living off his father and hatching any number of ridiculous schemes (and annoying Laura to no end.) Seeing Dr. Katz's issues in his home life juxtaposed with his patients' troubles makes for humorous observations on the good doctor's part, while the give and take between father and son is frequently ridiculous and very funny, as are his visits to the bar, where he muses with his pals Stanley (Will Le Bow) and Julie (Julianne Shapiro.)
But, of course, the comedians are the reason we're all here, and looking at the series as a whole, it's obvious the group has its strengths and weaknesses. It's hard to argue against Ray Romano and Dom Irerra as the best patients. Both men brought their act to the table and supplemented it to create a real character as a patient, while personal acts, like Louis C.K., Andy Kindler and, in his sole appearance, Rodney Dangerfield, fit the therapy concept perfectly. Others, like Brian Regan, Gilbert Gottfried and Wendy Liebman, may as well have sent tapes of themselves, as they wedge their act into the sessions.
The list of comics that sit on Dr. Katz's couch is impressive, including Garry Shandling, Jon Stewart, Joan Rivers, Dave Chappelle, Patton Oswalt and David Cross, while several non-comics make memorable appearances as well, such as Winona Ryder, David Mamet, Carrie Fisher (as Ben's mom,) David Duchovny, Ben Stiller and Jeff Goldblum. The non-comics are normally a bit more fun, mainly because they don't have acts to rely on, and it results in something new and different.
While there are a lot of big names on the show, there are just as many names that will ring zero bells, like Jann Karam, Tom Hertz and David Juskow. Interestingly, many of these lesser-known performers, quite a few of whom are comic writers, are funnier than the established pros. Perhaps its the fresh feel of their jokes, or their hunger in attempting to establish their career. Of course, it didn't really work, since now, 10 years later, they still are pretty much unknowns, but hey, nice effort anyway.
Though there are some extremely funny jokes in this show, special credit has to go to the animators, who could make a good joke great and wring a laugh out of a dud thanks to a brilliant sense of timing and an art srtyle that worked just right. Yes, the show is animated in the Squigglevision style, which irritated any number of viewers, but in the surreal world of Dr. Katz, it was the perfect match visually, putting you on edge, just like the couch dwellers. (Plus, it kept costs down enough to get six seasons out. )
I may take issue with the decision to skip four season sets to jump into a complete series set, but I can't complain much about the packaging. A stack of 13 thin, clear, hinged disc trays are wrapped in a thin book-like cover, with a pocket for the included booklet. This all fits into a sturdy cardboard keepcase, which is embossed and spot-UV coated, giving it a unique look and feel. The discs have an animated full-frame main menu with options to play all the episodes or select individual shows. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but there is closed captioning.
Apparently, Squigglevision holds up well over time, as these episodes look great, with no noticeable aging evident in the image. The colors are vivid and there's no dirt or damage in the transfers, though there's a considerable amount of pixelation on the characters, a condition inherent in the technique. I was surprised at how good the original sets look, and I'm still surprised.
Nothing to impress about the sound from the dialogue-driven series, but there's nothing wrong with it either. A center-channel presentation brings clear speech and distortion-free transition music from beginning to end. Some neat audio tricks are heard in places, playing with the volume, but there's nothing dynamic about the mix.
The first two seasons return in this set with their extras intact, with the exception of some previews on the first set. Since they are the same, I'll post the same review:
The first 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
"A Conversation with Dave Attell" is 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 segue from the show to the early Comedy Central line-up and a frozen Walt Disney.
"The Biography of Mr. Katz," 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 are just clips from other episodes. "Too Attached" features Cathy Ladman while "Food and Law" has Larry Miller. They are very brief, but funny nonetheless.
Disc two has a pair of audio commentaries by Tom Snyder, Jonathan Katz and Laura Silverman, on "Bystander Ben" and "Office Management." Though they sometimes lose themselves in the episodes, they do a fair amount of talking about the development of the show, revealing behind-the-scenes info and telling some jokes. The opportunity to revisit the series over 10 years later seems to have been embraced by these old friends.
A bit of original content finds its way into this set, in the form of three "follow-up" calls to his patients, Joy Behar, Emo Phillips and Stephen Wright. Though they aren't animated, presented instead as a single off-style drawing with voiceover, they are amusing. Wright's is a bit rambling, while Behar and Phillips sound just like an episode performance.
The rest of the set is bonus-feature free, with the exception of the final DVD, which has three "lost" episodes, featuring Dave Attell, Catherine O'Hara, Steve Sweeney, Kevin Brennan, Louis C.K., Whoopi Goldberg and Conan O'Brien. These episodes are quite good and features a storyline unique to the final show, where O'Brien begins stealing jokes from his therapy sessions (a very meta concept.) There's also "An Evening with Dr. Katz," a 44-minute live show, with Katz, Silverman, and Benjamin reprising their roles on-stage, with Kathy Griffin, Maria Bamford, Andy Kindler and Paul F. Tompkins as the patients. While certainly funny, the material doesn't have the same feel in person, without the energy of the animation helping out. Either way, along with the lost shows, it's nice to get some Dr. Katz that's not really been seen before.
Putting a cap on things is a set of four audio scenes, with phone calls between Dr. Katz and his friends Stanley and Julie, animated with stills from the show. They are cute, but not up to the standard of the series. A better extra is found in the 28-page booklet that's included with the set, which is printed on high-quality glossy paper and features adorable Tim Burton-esque drawings and short text entries from Dr. Katz and several of his patients, including Joy Behar, Louis C.K., Andy Kindler, Robert Klein, Laura Kightlinger, Carol Leifer, Richard Lewis, Larry Miller, Conan O'Brien, Patton Oswalt, Brian Regan, Ray Romano, Jeffrey Ross, Robert Schimmel, Sarah Silverman and co-creator Tom Snyder. I always like extras like these, as they tend to show there was some effort to put this together, unlike including yet another set of commercials that were lying around.
The Bottom Line
This DVD release is a frustrating situation, and unfortunately, the studio has the upper hand, knowing that getting the remaining seasons will be a serious temptation to fans, despite requiring a duplicate purchase. On the other hand, the studio simply could have tossed the show to the side and left it incomplete, the fate of too many shows, so in this way, this release is welcome. Especially since the newly released seasons feature some of the series' best episodes. The DVDs look and sound about as good as they could, considering the source material, but the extras are a bit disappointing, mainly on a material-to-bonus ratio, with the new seasons getting a bit gypped. If you held off on picking up the first two season sets, its almost like you're being rewarded, but we should all feel a bit shortchanged and thankful, an odd mix of emotion. I should probably find a therapist to talk to about that.
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.