June 9, 1995

Comedy Central Going After Summer Laughs

John J. O'Connor New York Times
 

Now that rerun season is lumbering along in earnest, Comedy Central is hoping to snare viewers with several new and insistently wacky series. The theory: Better you should laugh while perspiring this summer. Maybe.

The best of the lot is “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” Comedy Central’s first half-hour animated sitcom, on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.

The soundtrack’s star and co-creator is Jonathan Katz, a stand-up comic, actor and writer whose credits range from appearing on Comedy Central’s “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher” to co-writing the screenplay for the 1987 film “House of Games” with David Mamet.

“Dr. Katz” relies on the work of stand-up comedians - among them Dom Irerra, Joy Behar, Wendy Liebman and Ray Romano - whose routines on therapy are audio-recorded and scripted into the final story lines. A computer animation process dubbed “Squigglevision” creates undulating color figures that move against stationary black-and-white backgrounds.

Don’t snicker. It works.

Dr. Katz is a gentle soul coping constantly with the bizarre. His son Ben (H. Jon Benjamin), long out of his teens, finds no work in his chosen field of daredevil and toys with animal husbandry at home, raising pet pigs from Vietnam.

The doctor’s secretary, Laura (Laura Silverman), tells callers: “Can I call you back? I’m on the phone.”

She complains, “You have no idea what it’s like to deal with crazy people all day.” Well, perhaps if you worked at Comedy Central.

The patients, played by guest comedians, include Dom (Irerra), who worries that his face looks bulbous.

“Was bed-wetting a problem as a kid?” Dr. Katz asks.

“No, not as a kid,” Dom replies.

Then there’s Ray (Romano), who is shattered to discover that his new marriage means being restricted to “one side of the bed for life.”

Dr. Katz’s only relief is moping with his friend Stanley (Will Lebow) over a drink called Zinfandel-on-the-Beach at the local bar.

Each episode ends with strains of music and Dr. Katz telling the viewer: “Oops, you know what that means. Our time is up.” Let’s hope not. This inventive sitcom is hilarious.

“Married Life,” on Sundays at 7:30 p.m., comes from Canada via Ken Finkleman, the writer, director and star. In the manner of MTV’s “Real World,” Frank (Robert Cait) and Ivy (Karen Hines) have agreed to let television producer George Britton (Finkleman) film their wedding and the first three years of marriage.

In a Faustian bargain, they are promised fame and fortune in return for the public viewing their intimacies.

There is the bridal shower, at which one guest asks, “You don’t happen to have just half a Valium?”

Then there’s the wedding rehearsal, when a woman announces that she is a lesbian, only to have her husband charge, “You’re trying to star in this film.”

As one Comedy Central executive put it, the series tries to capture “the absurdity of cameras filming presumably real-life events.” But in ridiculing “reality” shows like “Cops,” “Married Life” is only occasionally inspired, not the least when it uses real people who turn up on location in Toronto.

A man witnessing a staged robbery expounds solemnly on Oliver Stone’s film “Natural Born Killers.” One episode, promoting life itself as a reality show, is entitled “Think Geraldo.”

Further pokes at reality shows are delivered in “Drop the Dead Donkey,” which has its American premiere on Monday at 8:30 p.m. Imported from Britain, the series is set in a fictitious all-news station, Globelink TV, swarming with assorted misfits.

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