Emmy-winning odd squad may be funniest show on TV
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 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:
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.
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.)
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