In 10 Words or Less:
Emmy-winning odd squad may be funniest show on TV
For every horrendous reality show Fox foists upon America in their attempt to retard human mental evolution, as if by some infernal pact, they also put a groundbreaking show that's ahead of its time. I'm willing to exchange a "Trading Spouses" for a "Greg the Bunny," or a "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancée" for a "Family Guy." Of course, unfortunately, the groundbreaking shows tend to have a fraction of the shelf life of the crap. Welcome to popular American culture.
I don't know what idiot-box hell we suffered through to get our hands on "Arrested Development," but it had to be worth it. A part of the Fox Sunday Night line-up, the show was a critics' darling out of the chute, but the ratings have yet to grow. Yet despite suffering traditionally show-killing numbers, "Arrested Development" was renewed for another season. Winning four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy, didn't hurt.
In watching this show, I can't help but think of the current President and his family of corrupt businessmen. This country has become obsessed with lifting up the rich and mentally deficient onto pedestals from which they can urinate on the rest of us. Wealthy morons like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears flaunt their ability to have no logic or forethought, as long as there's a camera to look on. Take this social disease, fictionalize it and cast it with some of TV's best actors, and you have "Arrested Development."
Michael (Jason Bateman) is one of the middle children in the Bluth family, and the only one not spoiled by the family fortune. His sister Lindsey (Portia de Rossi) is a materialistic heiress, who chooses causes to support the way other people select socks, while his older brother Gob (an acronym for George Oscar Bluth, pronounced Jobe) is a failed magician who's leeching off his family. Then there's his younger brother Buster, who is a walking-disaster momma's boy. And that's just the kids. Add in a jailbird father (Jeffrey Tambor), a socialite psychopath mother (Jessica Walter), a bad-seed cousin (Alia Shawkat), a loopy brother-in-law (David Cross) and a good, though confused son named George Michael (Michael Cera), and you have more than enough riders in this comedy clown car.
The plot is a pretty simple one, as Michael's father hands the family real-estate development company over to his wife, instead of his more worthy son. The government moves in to arrest Daddy, sending the group into chaos. It falls to the responsible Michael to fix things, but for all his efforts, he is only smacked back with scandal after scandal, and gets no help from his family.
The show has no laugh track, setting it apart from the majority of the shows out there. It's also a single-camera show, with its editing being a big part of the appeal. Thanks to the quality production effort, the energy of the show is high, and jokes are made stronger through the visuals used. "Arrested Development" is as far removed from the standard sitcom as possible, while still airing on network television.
It's hard to believe that the Jason Bateman leading this show is the same guy who was struggling so badly in recent years. He is so smooth and in control of his character that it hardly seems like he's acting as he copes with his clan's catastrophes. His son on the show is equally as impressive, delivering the punchlines to many jokes with a simple wordless reaction. And of course, David Cross is fantastic in his off-beat role, providing some of the series' biggest laughs.
One of the amazing things about this show is the quality of the guest stars, who are anything but stunt casting. Liza Minnelli plays a neighbor, in a performance that might be her best work in decades, while Henry Winkler is outstanding in his role as an insane lawyer. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fun as a misleading prosecutor, and the fantastic Amy Poehler even stops by to play Gob's wife. Half the cast of Cross' "Mr. Show" make appearances, while several members of Christopher Guest's regular players are on hand. Even Carl Weathers shows up, playing himself in a role integral to the plot. It's a very entertaining cast, one that's unequalled in TV comedy. While the cast is top-notch, the directing is just as good, with output from Paul Feig ("Freaks & Geeks") and Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers).
The 23 episodes included here do not waver in quality from show to show, which I found to be amazing. Even the greatest shows, like "The Simpsons," have their weak links, but through 22 episodes (plus an unaired pilot), "Arrested Development" is consistently excellent. This is the rare box set that doesn't have a part you feel like skipping.
The 23 22-minute episodes of Season One (including the alternate pilot) are presented in anamorphic widescreen, on three DVDs, with seven on the first disc, and eight on the remaining two. Special features are spread over the three platters. The first disc opens with a video introduction from producer Ron Howard, who also serves as the series' narrator. The menus (also widescreen) are animated and well-designed, with scene selections and language and subtitle options. In a beautiful bit of design, the scene-selection menus, which include a "play all" option, have a background image from the episode currently highlighted. There is one main audio track, in Dolby 2.0, and select commentary tracks, as well as English, Spanish and French subtitles.
The discs are packaged in three clear ThinPak cases, inside a cardboard slipcover. The designer must have been in a hurry, because the look is less than impressive, and the visible inner side of the covers is blank. Each ThinPak lists the episodes, air dates, writers and directors, as well as the special features.
Here's a breakdown of the episodes:
• Extended Pilot - A longer version of the first show, complete with unbleeped cursing. The characters are introduced more thoroughly, but the ideas shown here are revealed in later episodes.
• Pilot - The start of the Bluth family downfall. (I just noticed that the family is named Bluth, like Don Bluth, who is blamed for Fox's animation unit tanking. Hmm...)
• Top Banana - One of the best episodes of the first season, featuring Michael against his father, and his son against Michael. The opening is a classic non-linear start.
• Bringing Up Buster - Any episode focusing on Buster is funny. Simple rule to live by.
• Key Decisions - Gob is the focus as his publicity stunt goes wrong. Gob is my least favorite character, but the episode is still strong.
• Visiting Ours - Say it with me: conjugal visits. The introduction of Kitty, the secretary from hell.
• Charity Drive - The case has an error here, as Buster does the bidding as a charity auction involving his mother.
• My Mother, The Car - An episode about the Bluth women sees Lindsey feeling down about not turning on inmates.
• In God We Trust - This episode's final scene is a thing of beauty, as God runs away from Christmas.
• Storming the Castle - Michael struggles with his feelings for Gob's girlfriend.
• Pier Pressure - The first time Gob's "hot stripper" friends appear. A hilarious climax.
• Pubilc Relations - Michael's efforts to make his family look good backfire.
• Marta Complex - Against his better judgment, Michael helps Gob spy on Marta.
• Beef Consomme - A classic Cross episode, with Tobias trying to stop being a never-nude.
• Shock and Aww - Michael dates his kid's teacher, played by Heather Graham.
• Staff Infection - The Bluths' paychecks will stop if they don't take up jobs in the company.
• Missing Kitty - A ridiculous plot involving Kitty and a disappearing yacht.
• Altar Egos - This is sort of a two-parter, with the main storyline, involving Julia Louis-Dreyfus' lawyer dating and prosecuting Michael.
• Justice is Blind - The conclusion to "Altar Egos" has a terrific scene with Louis-Dreyfus and Cross playing cat-and-mouse.
• Best Man for the Gob - A bachelor party for Gob becomes a fiasco when George Sr. and Buster get involved. A terrific Buster moment involving buckets of blood.
• Whistler's Mother - The introduction of George Sr.'s twin brother Oscar comes as the family tries to decide what to do with their new-found money.
• Not Without My Daughter - Shoplifting and murder reign supreme when Tobias and Lindsey get new jobs.
• Let Them Eat Cake - George Sr.'s sins are laid bare as the war in Iraq turns over some stones.
"Arrested Development" was shot on digital video, so the quality of the image differs from daylight to indoors to night, but these DVDs present the show in its best possible quality. The details, shadows and blacks are reproduced cleanly, while the colors are good, but not perfect. Bright hues, like the orange of George Sr.'s prison uniform, tend to shimmer a bit when under direct light. In dark scenes, shadows can diffuse a bit, but that's a camera problem, not a transfer error.
The audio is good, but nothing too taxing for your receiver. The Dolby 2.0 keeps the dialogue separate from the music and sound effects, and is clear, without distortion. Note, the cursing is still bleeped, for humorous effect, though not in the extended pilot.
There are three commentary tracks, found on the extended pilot (with series creator Mitchell Hurwitz, directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo and Jason Bateman), "Beef Consomme" (with Hurwitz, Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Wil Arnett, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Walters, Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross) and "Let Them Eat Cake" (with Hurwitz, Bateman, de Rossi, Arnett, Hale, Cera, Shawkat, Walter, Tambor and Cross). The tracks were recorded before the big Emmy wins and the series' renewal, so there's some cynicism about the show that's expressed, but they are generally fun to listen to.
All three discs feature deleted and extended scenes (over 20 minutes worth in total), many of which make what sees airtime on other shows look bad. The clips are presented in full-screen, with narration from Hurwitz and editor Steven Sprung. A "play all" feature lets you watch it all at once.
A pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, "Breaking Ground: Behind-The-Scenes of "'Arrested Development'" (Disc One) and "'Arrested Development': The Making of an Future Classic" (Disc Three) give an in-depth look at how this show comes together, while remaining entertaining. The first (presented in full-screen) was created for this disc (or as an EPK piece), and contains plenty of interviews with the cast and crew. The construction of the series is dissected, from start to finish, including audition tapes and scoring sessions. It's rare that a TV show gets a making-of featurette this in-depth, but "Arrested Development" deserves it.
"The Making of a Future Classic" (also full-screen) is taken from the TV Land channel's awards show, and has plenty of real moments with the actors behind the scenes, along with some fun interview clips. It's followed by "TV Land Awards: The Future Classic Award" which is presented to the show by Minnelli. "The Museum of Television & Radio: Q&A with the Cast and Creative team of Arrested Development", a heavily edited clip, has more interesting info about the show.
A quirky extra comes in the form of a jukebox on Disc One, with 28 original songs by series composer David Schwartz. Some are as short as two seconds, while one is over three-minutes long, but they all represent the creative spirit of the show. It's an interesting listen.
A couple of promos round out the set, including a short sit-down with Ron Howard (Disc Three), in which he talks about the second season of the show, and a commercial for the show (Disc Three), centered around Julia Louis-Dreyfus' appearance. There is at least one Easter Egg included, which will be a big hit with David Cross fans (especially the ladies.)
The Bottom Line
There's very little on TV, broadcast or cable, that can stand up to "Arrested Development" in terms of quality, cast and comedy. What this meant was people avoided it in droves. This DVD set will give everyone a second-chance to get on board with a show that should be number one every week. Loaded with extras, "Arrested Development" Season One shows that Fox remains one of the best studios for DVDTV.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.