Do you remember the adage, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?” Well, for me, it’s finally coming true—again. And if you were a devotee of Dr. Jonathan Katz, TV’s animated professional therapist to-the-stars, you should be thrilled too because he’s seeing patients once again!
The Peabody Award-winning cartoon is not being resurrected on its signature SquiggleVision, the crude but ingenious animation software designed by the show’s writer and creator, Tom Snyder. Instead, fans will now be able catch up with the doctor and his star-studded clientele (Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, e.g.) on Audible, where the show is currently making a 15-episode return—as a podcast.
During its seven-year run on Comedy Central, Dr. Katz executed one of the best Jewish comedies of all time, featuring the eponymous Jonathan Katz as a delightfully soft-spoken psychotherapist, Laura Silverman as his eye-rolling receptionist, and H. Jon Benjamin (now of Archer and Bob’s Burgers fame) as his loafing but loving adult son. Nearly every scene takes place between these three hilarious Jewish principals, or between Katz and his professional comedian patients, who deliver their stand-up routines from the sofa.
I rank the original show above more commonly reached for hits like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm because it depicts a type of secular Jewish humor that rings far more familiar to me than the neurotic existences of George Costanza and Larry David. In the absence of specific references, our ability to identity those two characters as Jewish comes from their distinctive brand of Semitic disagreeableness, which, while undoubtedly funny, drives their shows’ storylines invariably into antagonism, with the loud Jew almost always at the center of a petty clash.
Yet Dr. Katz is distinctive largely because of an entirely opposite Jewish quality: affability. Instead of ratcheting up the conflict, the temperate Katz always attempts to talk his patients down. Dr. Katz and his son bicker rather than fight, and unlike most characters in comedy shows, they actually make each other laugh.
Who knows how many hours of actual therapy Dr. Katz may have saved my own family. … It was on a truly miserable winter vacation, one on which my sister had broken her ankle on the first day, in turn causing my mother to ban us from skiing for the duration, our only planned activity—that a bootleg DVD box set of Dr. Katz episodes intervened to keep us laughing through our closely-confined hell.
American TV audiences seem to have a newfound propensity to use online fan communities to get our favorite shows back on the air, even when the result is predictably noxious. But it’s not clear to me who exactly asked for Dr. Katz, The Audio Files. The show’s Reddit page seems almost completely unaware of the acoustic revival, and Jonathan Katz’s own enchanting podcast, Hey We’re Back, which has occasionally experimented with renewing these characters—including a sketch in which Katz the comedian spills his guts to Katz the therapist—has not even bothered to direct listeners to the new series.
It’s quite possible that Audible has relegated this new old program to obscurity by choosing to host it on their proprietary listening platform rather than making it available as a bona fide “podcast,” searchable on iTunes and other apps. Though the audiobook giant had planned to make the show free to members only and $4 an episode for the rest of us, they appear to have recalculated quickly and now offer all the episodes for free.
I won’t say that Dr. Katz’s latest iteration doesn’t miss a beat. Perhaps because the podcast boasts a much smaller budget than the TV show did, with fewer writers and editors to punch up the dialogue—or because of Katz’s age (70), or the development of his MS, which was diagnosed in 1996—the podcast has some scenes that drag just a bit, a couple of punchlines that fall slightly flat, and in general, a few seams of production that you probably wouldn’t find in the show’s heyday. But the good-natured, Jewish core of the show is still very much in there, and simply by showing up, Dr. Katz’s derivative still proves funnier and more original than 99 percent of comedy podcast content available today.
Noah Levinson is an audio producer and editor. He co-created the award-winning Chemo Files podcast, and helps produce Tablet’s Unorthodox show.