"I don't know why I'm so depressed, Doctor. I mean, well, I lost my grandmother recently."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"No, she didn't die. We lost her. She actually shrunk to the point where we can't find her anymore. I think she's napping in a box of Kleenex."
Stand-up comedy from cartoon characters lying on the couch of a pensive psychiatrist. What else could it be but the return of "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," Comedy Central's animated cult hit about a Manhattan shrink with lots of problems?
The Emmy Award-winning series from comedian Jonathan Katz starts its fourth season tomorrow night, still as quirky and wry a delight as you will find anywhere on television.
Visually, I am happy to report, "Dr. Katz" has not improved a whit on its primitive, jittery look. The producers call the computer animation process they use "Squigglevision." What it amounts to is animated characters drawn with comic-strip simplicity who appear to be constantly moving in and out of focus. They actually shimmer like something on a blacktop highway at high noon in midsummer.
But as cheesy as the look might seem to some at first glance, it is the perfect landscape for this Katz-ian universe of off-center, highly nervous characters. The patients all happen to be stand-up comics and actors who are trying to work out their neuroses, psychoses, nightmares and fantasies on Katz's couch.
During the first three seasons, the voices for those characters have been supplied by performers ranging from Garry Shandling to Judy Tenuta. Shandling took the self-absorbed whine to a new high during his turn on Katz's couch, while Tenuta wound up screaming at Katz, "You're constantly wavering! Why can't you be definite?"
Guests this season will include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Al Franken and Steven Wright. Comedians Ron Lynch, Fred Stoller and Louie C.K. appear as patients tomorrow night.
The season opener centers on Katz's unemployed Gen X son, Ben, deciding to write his memoirs. Katz is encouraging in his own passive-aggressive way, even supporting Ben in his choice of such possible titles for the book as: "What We Did to Make Mommy Go So Far Away," "The Sound of My Father's Voice Is Killing Me" and "What's Up, Pussycat?" Ultimately, he has to tell Ben the "Pussycat" title has already been taken.
Meanwhile, cutting back and forth at its own strange pace, the episode moves in and out of Katz's office and the waiting room presided over by his spiky secretary, Laura. One patient is always late, another talks into a telephone receiver that's connected only to his pants leg, a third says he's depressed because he "forgot to start playing the saxophone" when he was 10 years old and now he can't find any jobs as a saxophonist. The best moments with the patients come when one of them goes off on a rant.
"You know, doc, I can't stand these guys who have no concept of themselves when it comes to women," a patient named Dominic (Ray Romano) says in next week's episode.
"Like my cousin, Louie, he's 37, fat and living at home. He looks like he should be one of Mary Lou Retton's brothers -- a dwarfy, midgety-looking guy.
"But we walk in a restaurant and he says, 'Hey, Dom, that waitress over there, I think she's looking at me.'
"And I say, 'Yeah, Louie, what do you think that 19-year-old ballerina noticed about you -- your big, hairy, sweaty, beer belly hanging over your belt? Or, maybe, she noticed that mutant mole in the middle of your forehead. You think maybe she wanted to jump up on your tummy and take love nibbles off that? Huh, Louie, is that what she noticed about you?'
"What d'ya think about that kind of guy, doc?"
Katz, of course, has no answers for Dom or Louie -- or Ben, Laura or himself, for that matter.
Dr. Katz is a Jewish version of Dr. Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) done in Squigglevision -- doomed to listen to an endless song of modern-day madness, resigned to ultimately curing no one. And yet, he goes on with such neurotic good cheer.
What: "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist"
When: Tomorrow at 10 p.m.
Where: Comedy Central
Pub Date: 6/21/97