May 16, 2005TV ON DVD
Arrested Development: Season One
Yes, I did take notice that Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross were in the cast. But those two, so funny on The Larry Sanders Show and Mr. Show, respectively, still weren't enough to get me to pick up my remote. They were just supporting players, after all. The main stars seemed to be a former Teen Wolf and an Ally McBeal vet. I'd stick to watching HBO, thanks, where my favorite shows could be full of swears.
Finally, a friend of mine foisted the DVDs of the first season upon me, and I settled down to watch the pilot. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Here at last was a sitcom that defied conventions, that shot on location with a single, hand-held camera, that threw off the shackles of the dreaded laugh track, and that, at long sweet last, was actually funny. Not just funny enough to elicit the occasional titter, but laugh-out-loud, rewind-it-to-see-that-gag-again funny. And it had swears! Bleeped swears, yes, but those are good, too.
The show effectively manages to juggle the large number of characters in complicated comic plots that wouldn't seem out of place in a British farce, or at least on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It also has an airtight sense of continuity. Clues about the nature of George Bluth's actual crime are scattered throughout the season, paying off with the full revelation in the season finale. In addition to its crack writing staff, the show also boasts an impressive list of directors, including Paul Feig (creator of the cult-classic show Freaks and Geeks), and Jay Chandrasekhar (member of the comedy team Broken Lizard and director of the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie).
A signature aspect of the series is the voiceover narration provided by executive producer Ron Howard. Unlike voiceovers on other series (a certain highly-rated Sunday night soap opera springs to mind), Howard's narration serves not as an anchor but as a buoy, keeping the plot bouncing along with a minimum of setup, allowing the maximum amount of humor within the show's brief running time. Howard is also not above a spot of self-parody. When a vindictive publicist refers to George-Michael as "Opie," the action pauses as Howard cheerily intones, "Jessie had crossed the line, and had best watch her mouth."
The show also has fun with an endless parade of guest stars. There are regular appearances by Liza Minnelli as Lucille Bluth's social rival, the vertigo-stricken Lucille Austero, or Henry Winkler as the Bluth's sleazy and incompetent lawyer. There's a particularly inspired guest stint by Carl Weathers, playing himself, who is ostensibly Tobias' new acting coach, if only he could stop talking about stew. Even local LA news anchor John Beard shows up as himself, often to report another poor showing for the Bluth family on the nightly news. Beard's turn is both tongue-in-cheek and hilarious, as he reports scandal rag-worthy news with an impish gleam in his eye.
|This may be heresy in light of Arrested Development's constant "nearly-cancelled" status, but the show plays better on DVD than in weekly installments.|
Whether Arrested Development will have a third season is currently up in the air. Fox, displaying a strange sense of what they view as charity, shortened the second season by four episodes, so the show wouldn't be clobbered during May sweeps. In that same vein, Fox has launched a Web site where fans can rally in support of a third season. Whether Arrested Development will be back on the air or not, its longevity is assured thanks to its sharp writing, spot-on acting and the technological wonder of the digital versatile disc.
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