The Critic Sherman, Woman and Child

Voices: Jon Lovitz, Nancy Cartwright, Christine Cavanaugh, Gerrit Graham, Doris Grau, Judith Ivey, Nick Jameson, Maurice LaMarche, Charles Napier, Park Overall, Kath Soucie, Russi Taylor, Sam McMurray, Rhea Perlman. Periodically clever but still better in concept than execution, "The Critic" at least returns where it belongs -- following its sister animated half-hour "The Simpsons"-- after what the title character wryly describes as a run of "about a week" on ABC. Yet, despite several funny moments, diminished expectations may be key to whether Fox votes thumbs-up on the show's future.

Voices: Jon Lovitz, Nancy Cartwright, Christine Cavanaugh, Gerrit Graham, Doris Grau, Judith Ivey, Nick Jameson, Maurice LaMarche, Charles Napier, Park Overall, Kath Soucie, Russi Taylor, Sam McMurray, Rhea Perlman. Periodically clever but still better in concept than execution, “The Critic” at least returns where it belongs — following its sister animated half-hour “The Simpsons”– after what the title character wryly describes as a run of “about a week” on ABC. Yet, despite several funny moments, diminished expectations may be key to whether Fox votes thumbs-up on the show’s future.

Jon Lovitz is still a hoot as the voice of Jay Sherman — the corpulent, acerbic movie critic whose proclamation, “It stinks,” has the making of a TV catchphrase.

Still, Jay’s virtually unrelenting nastiness doesn’t make him a pleasant personality to hang around, and the show lacks even the occasional warmth and humanity found in “The Simpsons.” In addition, the bizarre supporting characters created here by “Simpsons” alumni Al Jean and Mike Reiss — while at times amusing — remain a test for viewers whose taste steers clear of the surreal.

The show’s most accessible element continues to be its movie parodies (including “Dennis the Menace II Society” and “A Few More Good Men,” with Jack Nicholson grilling Christian Slater about stealing his shtick), which are more abundant in this return but still represent a relatively small portion of the half-hour.

Sherman’s personal problems prove far less intriguing, as he becomes entangled with a new character, a mother (Park Overall from “Empty Nest”) estranged from her country-singer husband. Sherman also fears for his job, as he’s getting beaten in the ratings by a religious variety show.

Many of these gags doubtless looked better initially when they were kicked around by writers than they do on animation cels, and “The Critic” scores points in part with its willingness to take chances creatively, throwing in wrinkles like “The Nightmare Before Hanukkah,” a parody in the stop-motion style of Tim Burton’s production.

All told, it certainly doesn’t stink, but the show still needs a firmer hand from someone, anyone, in the writers’ room.

The Critic Sherman, Woman and Child

(Sun. (5), 8:30-9 p.m., Fox)

Production: Produced by Gracie Films in association with Canal Plus, Ufa and Columbia Pictures TV. Animation produced by Film Roman. Exec producers, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Mike Reiss; supervising producer, Steve Tompkins; producers, Richard Sakai, Richard Raynis, J. Michael Mendel, Rich Moore; co-producers, Patric Verrone, Ken Keeler, Tom Brady, David Cutler; director, Bret Haaland; writers, Reiss, Jean; animation exec producer, Phil Roman; animation producers, Bill Schultz, Miles Lewis Horst, Anne Luiting.

Crew: Editors, Michael Bridge, Lee Harting; sound, Ronny Cox; music, Alf Clausen.

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