One of the funniest sitcoms in years (along with NBC's "Scrubs") and certainly one of the best in the dysfunctional family genre, "Arrested Development" managed a cult following in its first season, excellent reviews, award wins and...ratings to the point where Fox nearly cancelled it. Thankfully, the series was eventually picked up by the network for an additional season.
The show concerns the Bluth family, a wealthy bunch headed by George, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor). In the opening episode, the police raid George's retirement party, with the SEC dragging him off to jail for scamming his investors. Michael (Jason Bateman) had arrived at the party hoping to be named the heir to the business, but it instead went to his hard-drinking, manipulative mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter). His father's reasoning for the move - "You can't arrest a father and wife for the same crime."
"So why is Michael so happy?" the narrator (exec producer Ron Howard) asks. "Because he's decided to never speak to these people again." Despite that warning, Michael eventually is won back into the fold by his family, including shopaholic (to her father, "That's all I've ever wanted, Daddy, for you to spend money on me.") Lindsay (Portia De Rossi), irritable musician George Oscar Bluth II (Will Arnett), who prefers to be called GOB, Lindsay's odd husband, Tobias Funke (David Cross), who lost his medical license after giving CPR to a sunbathing man who didn't need it; Maebe (Alia Shawkat), the trouble-seeking daughter of Lindsay and Tobias; Buster (Tony Hale), the dim son who has spent his recent years studying eccentric subjects in school (everything from Native American tribal ceremonies to cartography (the mapping of uncharted territories.) and finally, George Michael (Michael Cera), Michael's nervous son.
The show's central plot, that the formerly rich family will now have to figure out ways to live without dipping their hands in the company pot, isn't entirely original, but thanks to extremely good writing, gets major laughs. While the main joke is Michael trying to keep all his plates spinning - trying to keep the family from taking hunks out of the crumbling company - other episodes spin off hilarious stories. Lindsay's attempts to be charitable are often hilarious: calling Michael, she states, "I'm in the wetlands, I've got a poker thing and I'm going to clean them up." Moments later, it's "I hate the wetlands, Michael. They're stupid and wet and I think I maced a crane." When Lindsay joins a protest in a tree above one of the family's potential developments, Michael tells her, "Okay, I'll see you when you realize what that bucket is for."
The show shifts the focus around nicely. GOB gets the focus in some episodes, such as one where, in order to try and give his career as a magician a boost, he puts himself in the same prison as his father in order to attempt a break-out. Unsurpisingly, things don't exactly go the way he planned, nor does his other major stunt: getting the family's yacht to vanish. Another episode has Lucille planning a lavish party, only to find out that no one in the family had ended up going, doing their own thing - including Lindsay's futile attempts to gain attention from her father's fellow prisoners. A second party, same results. Running jokes also include Buster's relationship with his mother's friend, Lucille (Liza Minelli) and George Michael's feelings for his cousin Maebe.
The performances are first-rate across the board. Bateman's biting, yet good-intentioned sarcasm makes for a winning lead performance. De Rossi fits like a glove into the role of a glam shopaholic who finds herself without a prime selection of credit cards. Arnett is charming and hilarious as the scheming brother, while Walter makes her character compelling, sharp and highly entertaining. Tambor is perfect as the father figure who actually manages to scheme his way around jailhouse politics and, at least early on, enjoy the vacation.
Hilarious and imaginative with a great cast, "Arrested Development"'s first season provides 22 episodes that are consistently first-rate. This DVD set includes all 22 episodes, plus the extended pilot episode.
2. Top Banana
3. Bringing Up Buster
4. Key Decisions
5. Charity Drive
6. Visiting Ours
7. In God We Trust
8. My Mother The Car
9. Storming the Castle
10. Pier Pressure
11. Public Relations
12. Marta Complex
13. Beef Consomme
14. Shock and Aww
15. Staff Infection
16. Altar Egos (1)
17. Justice Is Blind (2)
18. Missing Kitty
19. Best Man for the Gob
20. Whistler's Mother
21. Not Without My Daughter
22. Let 'Em Eat Cake (1)
VIDEO: In a very pleasant surprise, Fox presents "Arrested Development" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on high-definition video, the presentations generally look quite good, aside from a couple of minor faults. Sharpness and detail are often quite solid, as while there were a few soft-looking moments, the majority of the episodes looked somewhat crisper and more well-defined than their TV broadcast.
The only fault that's really noticable with the proceedings is some mild edge enhancement that turns up in some scenes. No pixelation shows up and, of course, no wear is present on the source material. Colors appear bright and natural, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The show is presented in 2.0 audio. Sound quality is perfectly fine, with clean-sounding music and effects and clear, crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Three episodes include audio commentaries. The "extended pilot" ep includes an audio commentary from creator Mitchell Hurwitz, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and star Jason Bateman. "Beef Consomme" and "Let Them Eat Cake" include a commentary by creator Mitchell Hurwitz and the entire main cast. The commentaries are amusing, as members of the cast joke about various scenes and discuss some of the behind-the-scenes stories. The first commentary focuses more on production aspects - the look of the show, development of the series, etc.
On the first disc are "deleted/extended" scenes for "Top Banana", "Bringing Up Buster", "Key Decisions" and "Visiting Ours". "Breaking Ground" is a "making of" documentary that offers interviews with the creators, producer Ron Howard, some of the directors of the series (such as brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who previously helmed the indie comedy "Welcome to Collinwood") and members of the cast. Although the documentary starts off fairly usual, a few minutes in it starts to get towards more interesting topics, such as shooting the show handheld, working on a show that's handheld and with some room for improv, working with the actors, developing the characters, casting and post-production issues, such as editing a show where there's a major amount of footage.
Finally, the first disc includes audio tracks of 28 of composer David Schwartz's musical contributions to the show.
Disc two has deleted/extended scenes for: "My Mother, The Car", "In God, We Trust", "Storming the Castle", "Marta Complex", "Beef Consomme" and "Shock and Aww".
Also on the second disc is a "Q & A" session at the Museum of Radio and Television with the cast. The fairly brief piece offers some interesting insights into the show, but doesn't go too terribly in-depth.
Disc three has deleted scenes for "Staff Infection", "Missing Kitty", "Alter Egos" and "Best Man For the Gob". The third disc also offers the TV Land specials "Arrested Development: Making of a Future Classic" and "Arrested Development: Future Classic Award". Rounding out the final disc are producer Ron Howard's sneak peek discussion of the second season and a promo for the series.
Final Thoughts: "Arrested Development" is a marvelous sitcom that's smart, funny and superbly acted. The first season spins the well-developed characters into plots that are inspired and always unpredictable. Thankfully, Fox has renewed the series, which returns in November. Fox's DVD edition is also terrific, with very good audio/video quality and a solid helping of supplements. Highly recommended - fans will enjoy having the first season and those planning to start with season two should watch these episodes first.