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Posted February 01 2008 - 02:27 PM
Studio: Paramount Home Video
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Street Date: 20 November 2007
I suppose my experiences are rather backwards; I first discovered Squigglevision animation a few years ago when I first reviewed Shout Factory’s release of “Home Movies” on DVD. I thought the dry wit and understated delivery was novel and refreshing. Having grown up without access to cable television I was unaware that for a half decade “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” was setting the standard for dry humor.
Starring Jonathan Katz as the titular doctor, “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” is an excuse for the day’s top comedians to showcase their material while simultaneously breaking down stand-up traditions. Baring their souls yet remaining in their professional characters the comics lay on the couch and bare their souls and deepest fears. While many of the bits come across as scripted, recycled from a public routine, there is no denying that they aren’t brilliant. Enhanced by Katz’s deadpan queries, the nutty seem even crazier.
Dr. Katz is surrounded by madness in every facet of his life. His son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin) is as aimless as a broken arrow. His secretary Laura (Laura Silverman) is absorbed in her own world, emerging only to annoy patients and berate her boss. Even his friend and confidant Stanley (Will Le Bow) give him no credit and seem to take advantage of him.
The structure of each episode of “Dr. Katz” is routine: Dr. Katz and his son Ben awake and have an odd discussion that continues to play out during the course of the show. It seems to break up the stand-up routines. The dialogue feels largely improvised, and is resultantly hit-or-miss. There are bits that have the potential to be funny, but just don’t seem to work. Fortunately the majority do, and the program as a whole works. I couldn’t watch more than a few episodes at a time because of the monotony and dry delivery, but the fact is that I was utterly entertained every time I put Dr. Katz in my DVD player.
For a series that ran for five years and had 81 episodes, I have remarkably little to say. If you like this style of dry, nigh droll humor then you are likely to enjoy this set. It has more than a few fans, and I know they will not be disappointed by this collection. Housing all 81 aired episodes and 3 that never made broadcast, this truly is a complete collection. And I haven’t even gotten to the extras.
Now is as good a time as any to talk about Squigglevision. Developed by Tom Snyder in the early 1990s as a cheap and efficient way to animate using a computer. Looping a few frames over and over again, the style limits motion which makes animating easy. The quality is mediocre, but it was never meant to compete with the latest blockbusters from Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks. The animation never detracts from the dialogue, nor is it particularly engaging. You could listen to Dr. Katz as a radio play and truly not suffer for the experience.
That having been said, the video quality of these sets is hard to judge. The animation was poor when it first aired on Comedy Central, and has not gotten any better. The dark, think lines that surround every character are as noticeable today—if not more so—than they were a decade ago. But I noticed no major flaws or artifacting, nor any problems with compression on this 4:3 aspect ratio set.
Like the video, the audio is hard to judge. Recorded on the fly and, it sounds, on the cheap the quality varies. H. Jon Benjamin always sounds like he is hot, as though he is eating the microphone. By contrast Katz is soft and quiet, his words almost slurring together as I struggled to hear him. Of course this is to the benefit of their characters, but as a listener it was occasionally difficult to interpret.
That’s not to say that the track or transfer is bad at all. I believe it properly and faithfully reproduces the original audio track. The track is a Dolby Digital mono, I spread it out across my main channels via Dolby Pro Logic.
Paramount has been gonzo of late for comprehensive DVD sets with extensive extra features. This complete Dr. Katz collection is no exception, housing a host of commentaries, documentaries, specials, and bonus episodes.
The first thing you’ll notice when opening the box is a booklet with an introduction to the character of Dr. Katz and “testimonials” from his patients. I quote testimonials intentionally, because they are sardonically written by comedians who, thankfully, understand the joke. A nice touch.
The extras are contained on discs 1, 2, and 13. They include a rudimentary Squigglevision test that finds Jonathan Katz on the couch, dictating a basic biography of his father. It’s called, “The Biography of Mr. Katz.” Clever, no?
“Shrink Wrapped” is an original Squigglevision short. It runs a brief few seconds and is just a tech test.
“Short Attention Span Theater” is a really just a commercial for the program. Cut from what appear to be videotape masters, this shows how good the actual episodes look, as compared with how they could.
The first disc wraps with a conversation with Insomniac Dave Attell about his experiences working on the program. The conversation is overlayed by clips from the show.
The commentaries include Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin, Ray Romano, Laura Silverman, and Tom Snyder among others who sit around and chat about their inspirations, influences, and crack random jokes. The cast rotates without rhyme or reason, but none are uninteresting. They don’t impart anything particularly notable, but they are interesting enough.
Emo Phillips, Joy Behar, and Steven Wright do follow-up calls on the second disc, which is a nice value-ad. Think of it as more episodes.
The 13th disc features a live, stage performance of Dr. Katz with guest comedians Kathy Griffin, Maria Bamford, Laura Silverman and more. It’s almost eerie watching the program come to life.
Dr. Katz and his cast of characters engage in phone conversations about why they haven’t been coming to the bar. I don’t get the joke.
An interesting show, although not everyone’s taste, “Dr. Katz” is fascinating. The quality of this set is high and the extra features plentiful, adding a lot of value. If you enjoy extremely dry comedy you’ll definitely like “Dr.Katz, Professional Therapist.”
[PG]Dr. Katz Professional Therapist[/PG]