David Cross, Jessica Walter
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s hard enough to create a successful television comedy these days, let alone one that has already been praised as a future classic by TV critics, but Fox’s incredibly funny and ingenious mockumentary sitcom, “Arrested Development,” has risen above the junkyard of traditional one-liners and set gags for a unique look at the American family. Complete with a savvy writing team that isn’t afraid to cross the line of indecency every so often and an ensemble cast that couldn’t be more perfect together, “Arrested Development” is the smartest comedy on network television.
Produced and narrated by Ron Howard, “Arrested Development” tells the humorous story of the Bluth family following the incarceration of father George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) for corporate fraud with his company’s bank account. The only sane member of the bunch, middle child Michael (Jason Bateman), is left to pick up the pieces and save the failing business while also warding off his avaricious relatives from their accustomed lives of wealth and luxury. His mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) is only concerned that her social status will decline after the club house membership is revoked and his youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale) has begun to revolt against his mamma’s boy lifestyle. Michael’s older brother, George Oscar Bluth (nicknamed Gob, pronounced "Jobe" and played by Will Arnett), is a struggling magician who comes and goes on his annoyingly strange but nonetheless trendy Segway. Rounding out the family tree is Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Michael’s twin sister and self-proclaimed activist who has married failed psychologist Tobias Funke (David Cross) out of spite. Tobias, in turn, has made her life a living hell with his sudden aspirations to become an actor. The Funke’s daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) is a bonafide troublemaker that has decided to share her rebellious methods with Michael’s son, George Michael (Michael Cera), a younger counterpart of his father’s upstanding qualities with only one known flaw: he has a crush on his cousin.
Joining the main cast of characters is a group of talented guest stars that often steal scenes from the show’s lead actors. With hilarious casting like Henry Winkler as the incompetent family lawyer and Liza Minnelli as Lucille’s socialite arch-nemesis, both guests make several appearances during the entire season. Among the best one-time cameos during the first season include three of four members of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Julie Louis-Dreyfus as a blind lawyer and even “Inside the Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton as the new prison warden. Much like HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the BBC’s “The Office,” “Arrested Development” lacks any sort of studio audience laugh-track and uses documentary-styled camera work in an effort to fictionalize reality television. What’s great about the show is that it doesn’t take itself seriously and concludes each episode with a fake “Next Week On” segment that doesn’t offer any advanced footage of the next episode, but instead ties off any loose ends with a few final jokes. “Arrested Development” is a rare comedic gem that really depends on its cast ensemble and sharp writing to keep it ahead of the game. While every cast member is absolutely brilliant at their individual roles, Bateman’s straight-man role and Arnett’s cartoony debonair never fail to make me laugh. As one of few genuinely witty television shows on today, “Arrested Development” is a comedic godsend that Fox studio execs need to nurture into becoming a future classic.
The DVD release for the series has been constructed with its fan base in mind, offering plenty of behind-the-scenes action and more. Presented in a three-disc box set with each disc stored in its own keep case, all original 22 episodes have been kept intact in their 1.78:1 anamorphic broadcast video transfer and has been given a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio soundtrack. Great detail has been given to the first season's bonus material, including a handful of featurettes and deleted scenes, but the three audio commentaries are one of the box set's greatest strengths: "Extended Pilot" (disc one) with series creator Mitchell Hurwitz, star Jason Bateman and directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and "Beef Consomme" (disc two) and "Let Them Eat Cake" (disc three) with Hurwitz and the entire cast. Each commentary is hilarious, giving much attention to the origin of the show and other on-set secrets, but the last two commentaries are comparably better with guys like David Cross and Will Arnett putting in their two cents. Also featured on all three discs are a series of deleted/extended scenes that are categorized by their individual episode titles. Unlike most DVD bonus scenes that always seem worthy of throwing out or horribly tedious, each and every edit should have been left in the final cut. Whether it is a continuation of a joke that was cut for time or a completely separate subplot, all 27 scenes are just as amusing as the material that hasn't been touched.
The remainder of the extras can be found dispersed among all three discs. On disc one, fans can watch the "Extended Pilot" of the show and experience a slightly longer, but much more comical version, listen to a collection of 28 songs by series composer David Schwartz, or watch the behind-the-scenes featurette "Breaking Ground" and learn about the initial making of the series. Disc two only offers one supplemental item, a short cast panel discussion at the Museum of TV and Radio, but it's a very interesting bit to watch as actors entertain a sold out crowd by answering a series of audience questions. Disc three carries the rest of the load, mainly commercialized crap like a promo spot for the "Justice is Blind" episode and a "sneak peak" at season two, but the "Making of a Future Classic" featurette and its accompanying "TV Land Awards" clip are definitely worth sitting through for a few more laughs. As a critically praised show with low ratings and a small cult following, "Arrested Development" probably didn't need such a brilliant DVD release, but I'm glad that the producers of the series didn't slack off. Combining an eclectic assortment of special features with the riotous first season that you'll want to watch over and over again, "Arrested Development: Season One" is the perfect choice for anyone wondering if television is still funny.