Friday, June 17, 2005

Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist

My good friend Jamison recently sent me the entire series of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist on DVD. This has brought much joy to my heart, because none of the episodes from this series are yet available on DVD. My friend bought it off of Ebay from someone who essentially put his dubbed off the TV VHS tapes into the DVD format. The quality ranges from really quite excellent to something more akin to rather unwatchable garbage. Most of the episodes have that old VHS tape that’s been sitting in the attic for too long look. But it’s Dr. Katz on DVD and I’ll take what I can get.

The other, quite humorous, bit in this collection is that whoever mastered the DVDs didn’t manage to edit out most of the commercials. A few of the episodes are presented commercial free and look quite professional. The rest retain the commercials, but the creator has done us the favor of fast forwarding through them. This creates a nice nostalgic effect to the collection, reminding me of my days of recording favorite TV shows and fast forwarding through the commercials myself. He even does the guesswork on when the commercials will end, and the show will begin. Many times he’ll hit play only to find another commercial coming on. Or be a little slow, fast forwarding through the first few moments of the show.

The commercials themselves are also quite interesting. Craig Killborn is still hosting the Daily Show, Comedy Central is overhyping their sure to be hit show “Bob and Margaret” and Dell computers with 8 megs of RAM and 10 gig hardrives sell for only $2600!

The show itself is classic. It’s one of my all time favorite television comedies. The set-up for the show has Jonathan Katz playing Dr. Jonathan Katz, a professional therapist (high concept, I know). His patients consist of guest stars who are generally professional comics, whose “problems” are generally bits from their acts. Other characters are Dr. Katz’ perpetually lazy son, Ben (H Jon Benjamin), his sarcastic secretary Laura (Laura Silverman – how did they come up with these character names?). There is also the bartender and regular customer at a local pub Dr. Katz frequents (Julianne Shapiro and Will LeBow respectively).

Ben: "I'm saying, Dad, that it's lonely at the top. So if you wanna ride my gravy train, you better hop on, now."
Dr. Katz: "Why do you think this is the top? I mean, you could be lonely for any number of reasons."
Ben: "What are you trying to say?"
Dr. Katz: "I'm saying, you're a lonely guy. ... Don't blame it on being at the top."



The best part of the show is the interaction between Katz, Ben and Laura. The three have great chemistry and often feel more like three hilarious friends sitting around trying to one up each other. I doubt the show ever had much of a script, for it all seems rather improvised on the spot.

Ben: "I bought a, uh, one of those fake fountains. You plug it in, and the water runs constantly."
Dr. Katz: "A urinal."


The only problem with the show is when the guests aren’t all that funny. In the early days the guests consisted solely of stand up comics. Generally, these guys are spot on hilarious, doing their best bits. But, sometimes the guest is more annoying than funny (Judy Tenutu anyone?) Since an individual guest’s bits can make up 1/4th of the show, a bad guest could really drag the show down. This is especially true, when as the show got popular, non comedian’s made appearances. I loved Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld, but here she says nothing funny, and her only gag seems to be that she goes to the toilet a lot while she’s pregnant. Katz makes the most of poor guests, though and milks the material for all its comedy potential.

Dr. Katz: "Hold on one second, Ben, let me play the Devil's advocate here, just for one minute."
Ben: "No Dad, don't, okay please, I don't like the Devil's advocate thing; you're too good at it."
Dr. Katz: "What about ‘Duck Duck Goose'?"
Ben: "Okay, you got a deal."


In the last season, the show did what too many television shows do when running out of steam: it tinkered with its own premise, and added characters. While in the previous five season, the only people with speaking parts were the main characters, and the guest patients. In season 6 suddenly there are miscellaneous extra’s popping up. Why, suddenly is there an exchange between Ben and his dentist? Todd, the video store clerk has become a running regular into this season as well. The actor portraying Todd (Todd Barry) had previously been a patient on the show. While the bits between Todd, the clerk, and Ben are usually funny, it is an additional character to a show flooded already with too many characters, and not enough time.

These are minor complaints in what is one of the funniest series to have ever hit the airwaves.

To sign online petitions to have Dr. Katz released on DVD click here.

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