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Arrested Development: Season One

Fox's sit-com Arrested Development was one of the most critically acclaimed new shows of the 2003 television season, and, despite being buried in the typically unforgiving Sunday 9:30 p.m. time-slot, fulfilled its promise by winning five Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series. With a win for its debut season, AD brushed past traditional network heavyweights "Will and Grace" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." It also, unexpectedly, triumphed over the swan song for perennial nominee (and 2001 winner) "Sex and the City" and Larry David's brilliant "Curb Your Enthusiasm," both on HBO and often touted as top examples of cable television's cutting edge comedy programming. How did AD do it? By splitting the difference. Stylistically, AD owes much to HBO's reinvigoration of TV comedy, beginning with "The Larry Sanders Show" 1992, in that it disposes of the laugh track and adopts a filmed, cinema verité aesthetic that allows for quick, overlapping dialogue and the underplaying of gags. Only a few other broadcast productions have attempted this within the sitcom format ("Sports Night," "Undeclared"), but despite equivalent acclaim, none has made it past its first full season, if that. Arrested Development honorably climbs atop the decayed corpses of its noble forebears, and it does justice to their sacrifices. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, veteran of a handful of failed traditional sitcoms, AD chronicles the exploits of the spoiled and corrupt Bluth family after its self-made scion, George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), is arrested for a litany of questionable business practices. This leaves serious son Michael (Jason Bateman) in charge of wrangling the wayward intentions of his manipulative mother (Jessica Walter); his two wildly deficient brothers, Gob (Will Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale); and his twin sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), her foppish husband (David Cross), and delinquent daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat); while also trying to save his studious son George Michael (Michael Cera) from the family's nefarious influences. The show's jokes are varied, from zany absurdity to throwaway sarcasm, and they come so quickly and in so many layers that repeated viewings are duly rewarded — the quality of the ensemble is such that the nuances of each individual performance alone offer almost endless amusement. Newcomers Arnett and Hale are particularly wonderful discoveries, while Tambor has unbelievably found a role that will rival his perfect run as Hank Kingsley on "Larry Sanders" as one of the peaks of his long and admirable career. It's also a delight to finally see Bateman fulfill the promise he displayed 20 years earlier as a teenager on the short-lived series "It's Your Move" before he slipped into obscurity. He's the perfect straight man for this group, which also gets the best from the versatile talent of Cross and de Rossi's daffy beauty. The first season also includes excellent recurring and guest appearances from Liza Minnelli, Henry Winkler, Heather Graham, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. If there's any fault to this first season, it's that the jokes come so fast and aggressively and from so many directions, it is occasionally disorienting and numbing — but that's a problem most other shows would do well to strive for. The dry, sometimes redundant, narration is provided by executive producer Ron Howard. All 22 episodes of the first season of Arrested Development are presented by Fox on three discs in crisp anamorphic transfers (1.78:1) and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Hurwitz and select members of cast and crew offer commentaries on three episodes (the "extended" pilot, which is included in addition to the originally aired version, and which runs 28 minutes; "Beef Consommé;" and the season finale, "Let Them Eat Cake"). There are also deleted and extended scenes provided for each episode, as well as a 10-minute featurette about the show, excerpts from David Schwarz' score; excerpts from a cast panel Q&A at the Museum of Television and Radio; an interview with Howard looking forward to the second season; two clips from TVLand's "Future Classics" program; and a promo spot. Three slim keep-cases inside a paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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