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ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
Season One

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter
Creator: Mitchell Hurwitz
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 512 Minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2004

“Why didn’t you just put me in charge?”

“Michael, listen to me. These guys, the S.E.C., they’ve been after me for years. I put you in charge, you’re gonna be wearing one of these orange jumpsuits, too. You’d be an accomplice. No, it had to be your mom. (Leans in and whispers) They cannot arrest a husband and wife for the same crime.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that that’s true, Dad.”

“Really?”

(Nods head.)

“I got the worst fu**ing attorneys.”

Shows ****

Perhaps the greatest achievement in the existence of DVD is what it’s done for television. Not so much what the format has done for the more popular shows (always look forward to the next DVD release of 24), but what it’s done for shows that have already been cancelled. And trust me when I say there isn’t better example than Arrested Development, which might be the most brilliant and perfect sitcom to ever air on television.

Too bad it got cancelled after only three seasons.

Though it was endlessly praised by critics and adored by viewers who were watching it, the show was never able to achieve high ratings. As it turns out, I was one of the many who ignored it while it was on the air. All I can tell you is that after finally seeing the series on DVD, I almost feel like petitioning the network to resurrect the show back. Hey, the same thing worked for Family Guy in the wake of astonishing DVD sales.

Sitcoms rarely impress me, so when one comes along that approaches its material in a different way and avoids the traditional elements. That’s why such shows as Entourage, Scrubs and The Office have become favorites of mine. And what makes Arrested Development even more unique is its willingness to elevate the material and take it to new heights, in such aspects as making the entire series a mock-u-mentary and applying itself some dead on narration provided by Ron Howard, who also serves as one of the executive producers of the show.

The show chronicles the continuous mishaps of the wealthy Bluth family, who gives every dysfunctional family in television history a run for its money. The head of the family, George Bluth, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) has been arrested during his retirement party on fraud charges. His wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter), a snobby alcoholic socialite was slated to run the company, but in the aftermath of George Sr.’s arrest, it’s clear that the only family member responsible enough to run everything is middle son, Michael (Jason Bateman).

With Michael being the only business-savvy member of the Bluth clan, he feels he can successfully run the family business and keep the family together through this life-changing event. The only problem is that everyone else in the family, who all happen to be dimwits, make it excessively hard for Michael to accomplish this. In addition, George Sr. appears to be the biggest obstacle in Michael’s quest to make things right, as it becomes apparent that he is attempting to run the corporation from the slammer.

Michael’s family consists of older brother Gob (Will Arnett), a struggling part-time magician whose magic tricks sound a lot better as opposed to actually being performed. Then there’s twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), who claims to be a passionate activist but whose only passion pretty much lies within material possessions. Her husband, Tobias (David Cross), is a would-be actor with one too many failed attempts at acting gigs, most of which come as a result of trying to hard. Lastly there’s younger brother, Buster (Tony Hale), and saying that he is mentally challenged in any way is the understatement of the century.

The one person in the family Michael is always looking out for his is son, the cleverly named George Michael (Michael Cera). The one positive thing to come out of this entire mess is that Michael is able to give his son the opportunity to experience employment in the family business by working at a frozen banana stand. The only problem George Michael is facing is that he may have developed feelings for Maybe (Alia Shawkat), who MAY or MAY not BE his cousin.

What makes Arrested Development such a brilliant sitcom, aside from its unique production qualities, is that the zaniness associated with the insanely dysfunctional Bluth family adds a great level of unpredictability to the show. If you’re able to describe a sitcom as unpredictable, then you know you’ve got something special.

Another unique aspect to the show is the non-linear storytelling. Flashbacks are incorporated for the narrator to point out mainly the truth behind the lies behind something a character may say. And believe me, lies are quite frequent with the Bluth family.

And the show is fortunate to have one of the best ensembles to ever be seen in a sitcom. It marked a nice comeback for Jason Bateman, whose career has been on fire ever since. Bateman is simply perfect as the well meaning and responsible Michael, who isn’t without flaws. As the snobby twin sister Lindsay, Portia de Rossi (such a heavenly beauty) does a brilliant job in creating a character that reminds us why blonde jokes still exist. And Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter make the perfect dementedly clueless father and mother of a disaster of a family.

For me the standout of the show is Will Arnett as the aggravated and brainless Gob. Arnett, recently seen in Blades of Glory and Let’s Go to Prison, gleefully makes himself look foolish in every scene he’s in. At one point Gob, always up for a magician’s challenge, plans to incarcerate himself in the same prison where his father is in so that he can magically break out 24 hours later. Gob also is not found of pet stores, because they don’t seem to have a return policy on dead doves.

David Cross, a renowned improv comedian, is another scene-stealer as Tobias. Cross also goes to great lengths to look completely stupid, especially when he tries to become a member of the Blue Man Group, which leads to so many priceless moments throughout the season. His misinterpretation of a scene involving a fire during an audition nearly had me on the floor.

Though it may already be gone from our TV screens, unfortunately, Arrested Development is able to prove its brilliance as one of the greatest sitcoms of our time thanks to DVD. Season One is knockout introduction to the bizarre world of the Bluth family is a nonstop romp that will have you wanting to see what happens in the following seasons right away.

Trust me, if you want to seriously laugh hard endlessly, the one show to guarantee you will is the forgotten gem, Arrested Development.

Video ****

Fox’s presentation of this show illustrates probably the best looking DVD I’ve seen to date for a sitcom series. Most of this is a result of the show’s one of a kind production values, including the use of HD cameras. Episodes consist of superb solid detail and thorough sharpness. Though I still wish I hadn’t missed this while it was on the air, I’m pretty sure that the presentation here is more impressive.

Audio ***

The 2.0 audio mix serves this dialogue-driven sitcom quite nicely. Words are heard in superb clarity, and the show also delivers some nice music playback and use of sound effects.

Features ***1/2

This 3-Disc set from Fox is loaded with a level of features a cult series deserves. Included are commentary tracks on selected episodes with cast and crew members, as well as the never before aired Extended Pilot, a number of featurettes, including "Breaking Ground: Behind the scenes of 'Arrested Development'”,  “Ron Howard's inside look at "Arrested Development"”, “Arrested Development: The Making of a Future Classic” and “The TV Land Awards: Future Classic Award”. Lastly, there is a Museum of Television & Radio cast panel discussion, Original songs by David Schwartz and a Promo spot.

Summary:

Gone too soon but never forgotten, Arrested Development has earned a striking cult status and one can hope that the fan base increases as time goes on. If you missed it when it was on the air, then you owe it to yourself to discover this hilarious masterpiece of a sitcom in its first season on DVD!

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