Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dr. Katz and Ben: A Great Father-Son Relationship

In the stand-up comedy heyday of the 1990s, young network Comedy Central launched an animated series with a clever format for showcasing the country's comedians.  In Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, stand-up Jonathan Katz, who long toiled in relative obscurity gaining a reputation as a comedian's comedian (someone who - like Larry David - was a favorite among fellow stand-ups, but never caught on with a wide audience), plays a version of himself as a New York therapist whose clientele consists solely of comedians and the occasional semi-famous actor.  The therapy sessions are really just an opportunity for the stand-ups to do their act, which makes sense because most comedians' material feels like things one would complain about to a psychiatrist.  The strength of individual Dr. Katz episodes is thus variable depending on each installment's two featured comedians.  Things are great if you get a Louis CK or a Mitch Hedberg, but sitting through even five minutes of Gilbert Gottfried is enough to make me want to shove a railroad spike into my ears.  The only consistently entertaining aspect of the show is the relationship between the Dr. Katz and his adult son Ben, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin.

In some ways, Ben is actually the main character of the show as his antics and schemes drive the majority of the non-therapy plot lines.  He is an aimless 24-year-old slacker who lives at home and spends most of the day watching TV and eating cereal.  When he gets bored, he calls to pester his father's perpetually annoyed assistant Laura (played by Sarah Silverman's sister Laura Silverman) or drops by the office for a visit.  Nearly every episode of Dr. Katz opens with Ben and his dad chatting over the kitchen table, and these scenes are brilliant bits of subtle improvisational comedy between Jonathan Katz and H. Jon Benjamin.

Whereas most shows would play up the conflict between the father-son duo, Dr. Katz always takes the time to show how the two fundamentally get along and enjoy each other's company.  Ben is lazy, has no job, no prospects, no friends, and is such an overgrown child that he still fears getting SIDS, even after Dr. Katz explains to him what SIDS stands for, yet Dr. Katz puts up with him because he loves his only son for who he is.  Sure, this may make the good doctor a spineless enabler, but both men are happy with their lives, so who's to say their family dynamic is flawed?    Dr. Katz is not really a realistic show, but there should be more families on screen who disagree without yelling and who can make up without descending into unrealistic sappiness.

Happy Father's Day!

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