Retro Recaps: The Critic (Season 1, Episode 9) – L.A. Jay
Almost 20 years later, it’s surprising how often I find myself referencing the animated series, The Critic.
Touted as being from the creators of The Simpsons, the show followed New York film critic Jay Sherman, as he attempted to put up with reviewing plenty of dreck from La-La-Land, dealing with his crazy socialite parents, and getting into strange situations on each episode.
Sadly, the show didn’t fare too well. After its 13-episode run on ABC, the show was picked up by FOX, for what would become a 10-episode second season, before being cancelled completely from television.
Jay did return to the public eye in 2000, in several animated webcomics. However, unlike the original television series, Jay simply was there to review recent films, not have a series of wacky adventures.
In light of a certain film sequel coming out this week, that has been verbally reviled online since it was announced (I’ll let you figure out what film it is), I thought I’d do a Retro Recap, regarding one episode that could almost be on the same wavelength as that internet vitriol.
After reviewing Al Pacino’s latest film (Scent of a Jack@$$), Jay confides to his stylist Doris, that he’s written a screenplay. He asks her to read it to give her opinion, but she turns down his request.
Fortunately, Jay gets positive feedback from several of his closest friends, as well as his sister.
He also ends up getting a ‘celebrity endorsement’ from his friend, action-film star Jeremy Hawke (though it wasn’t Jeremy who read it, but his script-readers who gave Jay’s work a positive endorsement). Of course, Jeremy has some additional ideas on how it could be improved:
“All it needs is a few car chases, a rap song by Salt N Pepa, and a ‘message’ of some sort!”
Of course, Jay isn’t easily swayed by these suggestions, but when Jeremy sees the script as having true potential to become a successful film, he takes his friend’s advice, and decides to take his script to Hollywood!
Before heading west, he asks to take a sabbatical from his boss Duke Phillips. Jay’s feelings are that making a film and reviewing them at the same time, might be considered a conflict of interest.
“You want to hear a conflict of interest?” asks Duke. “I own a cigarette company, and a company that sells nicotine patches. I own a baseball team, and I bet against them. I love America, but for tax purposes, I’m a citizen of the Dutch Antilles.”
“Gee, thanks for sharing all that with me,” says Jay. “Now that I know all your secrets, you don’t have to kill me, do you?”
“If I do,” says Duke, narrowing his eyes, “you’ll never see it coming.”
Those words are on Jay’s mind, as he and Jeremy take off in an airplane. As they fly over the Midwest, Jeremy remarks how in the space between New York and Los Angeles, are all the people that see his movies (which are often not so thought-provoking).
Down below, a farm father and his son are working in a field.
“Look Pa, the 9:25 to Hollywood,” calls out the son, pointing skyward.
“Yep,” says Pa. “Those are the folks that fill our lives with blockbuster movies, moronic situation comedies…award shows, where award shows win awards?…get my gun, boy!”
Shortly afterwards, the plane’s pilot tells the passengers that they are being shot at by farmers (again).
Eventually, the plane lands in Los Angeles, and Jay and Jeremy head to Quality Pictures.
Jeremy introduces Jay to the head of the studio, Gary Grossman…who at first wants to throttle Jay for how he has bad-mouthed so many of the studio’s pictures (“your bad reviews have cost my Japanese Masters over one billion yen!”).
Luckily, Jeremy steers the conversation to Jay’s script. Gary skims it, and offers Jay $100,000 for it!
Jay eagerly accepts, but is shocked when Gary explains that Jay has agreed to take payment, for the studio to NOT make his script into a film.
Gary claims it is ‘too good,’ and quickly puts it in a bin with a number of other scripts, that were also ‘too good.’ These scripts include topics such as a lesbian love story, and a biography on Galileo.
Gary then offers Jay a consolation, by asking him to write the script, to Ghostchasers III.
Jay is at first against this, since he hated the previous Ghostchasers films. Plus, he’d be becoming his own worst enemy: the kind of person who writes the kind of films he often hates to review on his show!
However, Jeremy tells Jay that this could be his chance to make the series better. If the film is well-received, it could be his stepping-stone to making the kinds of award-winning films with deep subject matter, that Jay yearns to make!
Jay decides to give in, and quickly falls into the Hollywood nightmare.
Talking to several of the studio executives, he finds that the only cast member they got back from the first sequels is (in their words), “The Black Guy.” When asked about possible improvements to the story, they tell Jay that merchandise sales didn’t do so well on Ghostchasers II, and they pitch a few ideas that could turn that around, leading to Jay taking “copious notes.”
Jay also has to deal with Grossman providing ideas, one of which is a 50 foot battery with the voice of Pat Morita (his idea, since a battery company is willing to give money to finance the film).
Feeling that talking to people in the studio is getting him nowhere, Gary allows Jay to meet with some directors, to get some ideas on where to take the plot of the film. His guests include Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, and Spike Lee. But even here, he finds little respite.
Jay meets up with Jeremy again, and explains that things aren’t getting any better. Jeremy soon recommends that Jay just try to enjoy himself out in Los Angeles, feeling that he’s focusing too intently, and that relaxing might help him.
Jay gets a makeover and a sports car, and invites his son Marty out to partake in sightseeing. However, Marty soon makes Jay see that he’s doing little more, than being “a showbiz phony.”
“My God, you’re right, son,” says Jay. “I’ve forgotten why I came to Hollywood: To write the sequel to the sequel to a movie I didn’t think they should have made in the first place!”
(actually he came to sell his script and get it made into a film, but it seems that Jay has forgotten all about that part of the plot)
Marty’s pep-talk causes Jay to get ‘back on track,’ and soon completes the script, noting that it feels as if a divine force was guiding his hand…though, not quite (see right).
Jay then turns in his script to Gary…but when Jay asks for an opinion on it a few hours later, Gary takes off in his sports car, with Jay giving chase. Eventually, Gary crashes, and Jay demands to know what he thought of it.
Gary quickly spews forth words such as ‘crummy,’ excrement,’ and ‘junk.’
The next day, Jay finds his parking spot moved, and his office now being redecorated as a private bathroom for Tom Cruise. The writing is on the wall that Jay has been canned, and that his script is most likely not going to be used for the sequel.
Jay returns to New York, and three months later(!), Ghostchasers III is released.
Jay immediately lashes out about it on the air, even going so far as to list the addresses of the studio executives of Quality Pictures! However, the scene cuts to the following disclaimer:
This is followed by the video feed returning, with Jay in a towel, as he’s hauled off to New York State Penitentiary for 30 days.
Along with having a rather forward bunkmate (“let me give you a shiatsu massage”), Jay soon finds there are worse things, when one day, the prisoners are subjected to a screening of Ghostchasers III.
“Is there no end to my torment!?” he wails.
The clip we see, shows a Rick Moranis-like character, telling the Ghostchasers that New York is being attacked by an 80-ft Ed Koch! This is soon followed by a giant version of the city’s former mayor, causing chaos, as he asks loudly, “How’m I doin?”
The response from the audience isn’t good, and they soon start a riot.
“They hate it,” says Jay, growing happy that the men in the room also see just how bad the film is. “For once in my life, I truly belong!”
His bunkmate returns with some popcorn (“no salt, just the way you like it”), leaving Jay to think that his remaining days in the penitentiary, might not be so bad after all.
And that was L.A. Jay.
Definitely not one of the best episodes of The Critic, but I did love how it poked fun at the often ridiculous ways that Hollywood seemed to work against good taste.
The struggle to make something tasteful, while being brushed up against an army of P.R. and marketing people, is definitely shown in how noone at the ironically named Quality Pictures, seems to care about story, but only about making money.
We’ve all seen plenty of examples of studios putting product placement over story in many films (*cough*BatmanandRobin*cough*).
A surprise several years after I saw the episode, was the revelation that Gary Grossman, was voiced by Billy Crystal! Billy manages to alter his voice enough, that the tone seems a perfect fit for the illiterate ex-gigolo turned film-studio head.
What’s also funny are how some references have taken on a different meaning all these years later.
Notable is a quote given to Coppola as he lays out his ideas for where the third Ghostchasers film could go: “I think one of the Ghostchasers should be a woman. She should be strong, intelligent. Someone like, oh I don’t know, my daughter, Sofia.”
In 1993, Sofia was still taking the slings and arrows for her role in The Godfather Part III. Though almost a decade later, she’d be seen as an up-and-coming director in the independent film world, garnering plenty of praise for the film, Lost in Translation.
The show could also poke fun at Hollywood making sequels to current films (like Jurassic Park, Speed, and even Home Alone).
In going over his pile of ‘too good’ scripts, Gary Grossman is surprised, when he finds a script for Revenge of the Nerds IV.
“What are you doing here you beautiful thing, when you could be making me a mint!”
At the time the show aired, Fox had actually released Revenge of the Nerds IV as a TV-movie, so once has to wonder if the show writers knew about this, and if it might have been a little jab at the studio.
It’s also fun to see the Variety headlines that Jeremy is reading (circa 1994):
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
There is also a running gag throughout, as every other thing Jay is given, from a director’s chair, to his office at the studio, has his name papered over the name of Andrew “Dice” Clay.
This may have been a jab at Clay, who after being an actor in the late 80’s, largely switched over to stand-up material at the time the show was made.
Another fun bit is when Jay daydreams about being able to one day write something, that could garner him an Academy Award.
In his imagination, he accepts the award, but also uses the win as a platform to bring attention to something he feels needs to be addressed: “Independence for Quebec!”
This is followed by a number of Quebeckians cheering for him from their basement viewing area, chanting: “Viva Jay Sherman! Viva Quebec!”
Of course, much of the recap was truncated, as the writing gets so intricate at times, I could have spent another 1500 words itemizing everything. Though I think the recap works pretty well in this “abridged” form.
I have another Retro Recap coming up soon for a Season 2 episode of The Critic, so we’ll see how that one fares compared to this one.