2016 was a very, very bad year no matter how you slice it. In tough times, comedy is often a form of escape that people turn to when they need comforting. With that in mind, we asked our contributors to pick the one piece of comedy in any form that they turn to when they really need cheering up. We’ll be sharing their choices throughout the week in a package we’re calling “The Best Medicine.”
The Critic’s hard-hitting parodies of movies from 1994 may seem pretty dated now, but they are my go-to fuel for my depression-murdering antibodies whenever darkness clouds my thoughts. That’s one of my favorite shows of all time, but the fake movies are the indisputable highlight. I’m always a fan of quick, punchy jokes that are as funny as they are brief. That’s why I love Anthony Jeselnik’s meticulously crafted one-liners and the four-panel absurdity of Tony Millionaire’s Maakies.
Take, for example, this clip from Death Wish 9. On paper, it’s the most obvious joke you could make, especially considering Charles Bronson’s age. That’s why it makes me laugh so much. The sheer audacity of actually going for the first joke you can think of but doing it in the least lazy way possible. Bronson saying “Oy!” at the end just adds the smallest of buttons that makes the biggest of differences.
There’s also Scent of a Jackass, poking fun at one of the more serious scenes from Scent of a Woman. For whatever reason, Chris O’Donnell’s blase reaction to Al Pacino exclaiming that he’s going to commit suicide is super hilarious because Pacino’s giddiness at the prospect of blowing himself away. He yells “Charlie, I’m gonna kill myself” as if he’s a little kid announcing that he’s drawn a picture and that he wants his parents to come look at it. There’s not even really a punchline here. The clip ends with the line “I say it a lot! Hoo-hah!”
Ultimately, all of the fake movies work because of the simplicity of the anti-comedy. The jokes may be quick, but you can tell that they were labored over. I feel as if they laid the foundation for the non-sequiter cutaways that seem to be a fixture of the American sitcom now. It’s hard to imagine Peter Griffin or Liz Lemon saying “Remember that time when…” without Jay Sherman saying “And now for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest…Rabbi P.I.”.
But, of course, The Critic isn’t all wacky non-sequiter cutaways. The characters were always solidly human, even the wackiest ones like Jay’s eccentric father, Franklin. Every single character had a distinct point of view and their attempts to live their lives by their own codes and often failing were the source of most of the comedy. Since the fake movies were always seen in the context of Jay’s review show, we always knew how he felt about them and that made it even funnier because we knew the bad ones were annoying him and that the good ones were tickling his excitable brain. It’s one of the best animated TV sitcoms ever made and has sadly been sort of forgotten over the years. And while the kids today may not know what The Piano is, it’s hard to not find The Slide Whistle completely hilarious.