If you liked the Comedy Central cartoon Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist -- but not enough to spend over $100 to buy the 13-disc complete series on DVD -- you'll probably be very pleased to hear that Paramount Home Entertainment has seen fit to offer The Best of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, a 110-minute compilation of funny moments from the show, for a far more reasonable price.
That said, if you're not already a fan of this squiggly-animated, celebrity-voiced show from the late 1990s, this DVD will not convince you otherwise. Perhaps it's because some of the material here is just less funny when taken out of the context of a full half-hour show. More likely it's because the highlights here were chosen more to throw the now-famous names of the guest comedians involved -- folks like Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Denis Leary and Dave Chappelle -- onto the cover of the DVD and wring a little more money out of a long-dormant property that Comedy Central owns outright. Or perhaps both.
If you're unfamiliar with Dr. Katz, the premise is thus: Comedian Jonathan Katz plays Dr. Katz, a therapist. Stand-up comics, some famous, others less well-known, play his stable of neurotic clients. Sometimes this leads to very funny exchanges, both scripted and improvised. Other times, particularly when his clients are non-stand-ups like David Duchovny or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the conceit is less successful. Recurring characters include Dr. Katz's assistant, Laura (Laura Silverman) and his layabout son, Ben (H. Jon Benjamin).
The whole thing is animated in a style called "Squigglevision," which was inexpensive to produce and lacking in aesthetic appeal. The technique was used to better effect in Home Movies, a later series from the same animation studio, Soup2Nuts, but even there it was eventually abandoned because audiences disliked it so much. Fortunately, neither series depended much on visuals to sell the humor.
In fact, a large part of what made Dr. Katz (and Home Movies) so successful was the art of what they called "retro-scripting" -- deliberately open-ended scripts with only the sketchiest of dialogue so that the actors could beef up each scene through improvisation. The result is more naturally conversational, with a lot of unexpected humor and even occasional giggles from the voice actors, who genuinely had no idea what might be said next.
This brings us to the new Best of Dr. Katz DVD, which offers a number of genuinely funny moments from the show -- but it's arguably not the very best of the program. A mere 18 clips are offered over the course of the disc's 94 minutes, culled from six seasons of episodes -- if this was, indeed, the cream of that material, every moment on this DVD would be hilarious. And there would be at least one bit by Jim Gaffigan, whose appearances were among the very funniest. Check out Gaffigan riffing on the subject of manatees:
You won't find that clip on the Best of compilation. You will, however, get an extended sketch with Conan O'Brien that involves Dr. Katz's consternation that Conan stole some of his jokes, and it's just not funny. Ditto Duchovny, yammering about his dreams while stuck in a broom closet. And the usually reliable Louis C.K. does a rambling five minutes that doesn't translate well to animation.
Bur some of the clips are indeed very funny. Margaret Cho offers some of her classic material about her Korean mother, Dave Attell discusses scary animals (explaining that monkeys have "feety hands") and David Cross does a bit about what Jesus would have been like as an effeminate Southern man. The highlight is six minutes with Patton Oswalt, which includes his ruminations on how much better Star Wars would have been with Nick Nolte playing Han Solo and veers into Oswalt asking Dr. Katz to be a villain, because he'd function so much better if he had a nemesis. If everything on the disc was this good, it would truly be a "best of" compilation.
The quality of Paramount's DVD is solid, but then the "Squigglevision" is deliberately low-tech. Extras include droning, unexceptional commentary on a few of the clips, a "tour" of Katz's favorite Ben and Laura moments, and trailers for other Comedy Central shows. Bottom line: For fans of this show, there needs to be a middle ground between the full-season box set (suggested retail $139.99) and this weak, 90-minute toss-off. If nothing else, Dr. Katz serves as a time capsule of '90s stand-up comedy, with the best in the business offering samples of their sets. It would be nice to be able to collect one's favorites without breaking the bank.
Dawn Taylor will tolerate Squigglevision whenever Patton Oswalt is involved.