Before the mind-numbing, non-sequitor-laden cartoons of today (Family Guy, Aqua Teen Hunger Force), and even before Trey Parker and Matt Stone unleashed the glories ofÂ South Park on the world, there was a quiet, bald (er, “balding”) doctor who gave Comedy Central their first hit animated series, and in fact was the very first animated series toÂ appear on Comedy Central.Â For six seasons, Dr. Katz Professional TherapistÂ brought in viewers andÂ awards (winning the Peabody, Emmy, Cable Ace, and Nova Awards), while simultaneouslyÂ laying the groundwork for future television programming schedulesÂ teeming with animated shows.
Animated in a strange jerkyÂ style known as Squigglevision,Â designed by co-creator and executive producer Tom Snyder, the show was almost like a narrated comic strip or an animated stand-up routine. With a minimal cast of regulars and a seemingly neverending flow of celebrity guests, Dr. KatzÂ dished out dry humor and witty banter along with his questionable psychiatric help. Each episode focused on Dr. Katz’s daily life, dealing with apathy in the form of his his lazy son Ben and his sarcastic secretary Laura (voiced by the sharp-tonguedÂ Laura Silverman, currently on The Sarah Silverman Program), conversing with patients, and occasionallyÂ stopping in to Jacky’s bar for a drink with his slick friend Stanley and theÂ bartender Julie.
While the show can easily be viewed as a clearÂ predecessor to current hits like Curb Your Enthusiasm (an episode featuring Dr. Katz delivering a eulogy while trying not to laugh has Larry David written all over it) or Family Guy (the laconic Chris Griffin is nothing if not a younger, less eloquent,Â Ben Katz), it is much more than that. Viewed over a decade after it first aired, it’s surprising how much of the show’s humor still holds.Â Many of the exchanges between Ben and Dr. Katz are monumentally funny, with each character playing offÂ the other to theÂ edge of hilarity and, again like Curb, having the ability to raise the bar higher byÂ laughing at themselves during these moments. The general lackadaisical and meanderingÂ storylines are also precursors to contemporary plotlines and awkward-moment humor (see The Office).
Unsurprisingly, the celebrity guests are the hit or miss portion of the show. Luckily, though Jonathan Katz describesÂ the show as aÂ ”dump for unused stand-up material,”Â there are manyÂ more hits than misses. While some comedians exert a bit too much effort, for theÂ most part the sessions on the couchÂ come off likeÂ nonchalant, almost candid conversations. Like Ricky Gervais’ show Extras does now, Dr. Katz Professional Therapist gave actors and comedians a chance to exploit and poke fun at their own public personas, while also laying down some good stand-up as well.
Ray Romano features prominently as a patient, as do Dom Irrera and Fred Stoller. Other guests include Kathy Griffin, Dave Chappelle, Rodney Dangerfield, Dave Atell, Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Jim Gaffigan, Richard Lewis, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Cross, David Mamet, LisaÂ Kudrow, Conan O’Brien, Margaret Cho, Jeff Goldblum, Carrie Fisher, Laura Kightlinger, Tom Kenny, Wanda Sykes, Catherine O’Hara, Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, Gary Shandling, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Stewart,Â and even the late Mitch Hedberg (and thoughÂ his particular brand of comedy doesn’t lend itself to the tone of the show, an animated version of him is enough to make most fans smile).
The new box set includes over 30 hours of footage, including all six seasons, three unaired episodes, a short animated biography of Dr. Katz (mostly featuring him talking to an interviewer about his life), a few SquigglevisionÂ shorts (around a minute each), audio commentary on several early episodes, and audio tracks of Dr. Katz checking in with several patients. Though 13 discs can sound a bit daunting,Â this isÂ the kind of collection that makes an obsessive-compulsive relax a little. Yes, this is everything. So sit down on theÂ therapyÂ couchÂ and enjoy it.
Zach’s Rating: A-
Perfect For: An unending stream of intelligently dry comedy
Stay Away if: You prefer flashy animation to achingly funny plotlines