Arrested Development: Season One review by Mike Long

If you've paid any attention at all to the DVD market over the past year, you've no doubt noticed how the studios have flooded the market with DVDs of TV shows. This is a no-brainer money-maker with older shows, as they've already been paid for and they've no doubt made money in syndication. But, when newer shows, that is, those which are still airing new episodes, they can be great marketing tools. If someone checks out the DVDs and likes the show, they'll most likely watch the program when it's broadcast during its regular schedule. I typically like to think that I'm immune to marketing, but now that I've absorbed the Arrested Development: Season One DVD, I must say that I can't wait to see Season Two.

Arrested Development follows the rich and powerful Bluth family, who have made their money in real estate and through a frozen banana stand. As the series opens, patriarch George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested by the SEC (during his retirement party) for committing many financial crimes (which get more detailed as the show progresses). Now that George is imprisoned, his son Michael (Jason Bateman) takes the reins of the company. Michael is the most centered of the Bluth clan, as he has a strong work ethic and is attempting to do a good job of raising his son, George Michael (Michael Cera).

But, now that the Bluth Company is in shambles, Michael must deal with his wacky family as they hound him for money. His mother, Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), is a narcissistic harpy who is constantly criticizing her children. George Oscar Bluth II, better known as Gob (Will Arnett) is the oldest child and is a part-time magician. Gob fancies himself to be a ladies' man and is quite cocky. Lindsay Bluth Funke (Portia de Rossi) is Michael's twin-sister. She has moved from back to California from Boston with her husband, Tobias Funke (David Cross), a psychiatrist who has lost his license, and her daughter, Maeby (Alia Shawkat), a natural-born troublemaker. The youngest of the clan is Buster (Tony Hale), a man who has been caudled by his mother and acts like a child. As Michael attempts to hold his fathers company together, he is also forced to try and keep the family together, as the Bluths are a group of back-stabbers who only look out for themselves.

Simply put, Arrested Development is one of the best sitcoms of all time, as it totally destroys and rebuilds the genre. The show is shot in a quasi-documentary style, as its full of handheld camera and the shots go in-and-out of focus. The actors are constantly moving around the sets and the show never slows down. (One of my favorite moments occurs in a courtroom where the judge announces that cameras wont be allowed and the shows camera backs out the door.) Unlike most sitcoms which are locked into one or two sets (three is their lucky), Arrested Development makes use of many locations and offers new scenery in every episode.

So, Arrested Development looks different,, you say, Im not here for cinematography. Yes, Arrested Development doesnt look like other shows, but its the writing that makes the program a true winner and a very deserving winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy. This may sound odd, but the only other show that I can compare Arrested Development to is The Simpsons, as the writing is incredibly tight. Each episode is peppered with many jokes and many shows have an overriding running joke. There is some broad, slapstick humor in the show, but much of it is very clever, based on language and a knowledge of the characters. Arrested Development isnt the kind of show that you can watch while youre folding your laundry. To fully appreciate the show, one must truly pay attention to it, as its constantly throwing references and visual jokes at the viewer. And while each episode presents a stand-alone story, the show is very episodic and being able to see all 22 episodes on this DVD makes for great viewing. (ie: its addictive.)

The great writing is only bolstered by the fantastic cast. I never liked Jason Bateman during his child-star years, as I found him to be obnoxious. But, hes great in Arrested Development as he perfectly captures a man who truly cant win with his crazy family. Those who hated Portia de Rossi on Ally McBeal will find her very refreshing here, as she shows a true knack for comedy. Every scene in which David Cross appears is comedy gold, as he makes a truly neurotic character even crazier. I could go on and on with these accolades, and Im not even going to touch on the shows guest stars, such as Henry Winkler, Heather Graham, and Julia-Louis Dreyfus, just to name a few. Having watched Arrested Development, its now very clear why critics loved it, but it slumped in the ratings. This show doesnt pander to the lowest common denominator and it truly takes some work on the viewers part to get the show (but not to get into it.) (I must admit that I avoided that show because I felt that FOX had truly over-hyped the show. My loss.) Arrested Development isnt for everyone, but if youve always wondered why the broadcast networks couldnt deliver shows that have the same level of quality as those from HBO, then wonder no more.

Arrested Development embezzles its way onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This three disc boxed set contains all 22 episodes from the shows first season. The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The show was shot on digital video making the image very sharp and clear -- there is simply no grain here, nor any defects from the source material. The show makes use of natural lighting, so some scenes look overly white on this transfer. Yet, the colors look excellent and the fleshtones are realistic. There is some minor artifacting, but it wont distract most viewers. The episodes all carry a Dolby 2.0 Surround audio track which provides very clear dialogue and sound effects. The bulk of the audio comes from the front channels, but there is some nice use of surround effects for crowd noises and musical cues. The transfer rivals digital broadcast quality.

The Arrested Development: Season One DVD boxed set contains many fine extra features. Disc 1 features an extended version of the Pilot, which contains some 7 extra minutes of footage (and some uncensored F-bombs.) This show offers an audio commentary from creator/writer Mitchell Hurwitz, actor Jason Bateman, and director Joe Russon and Anthony Russo. This is a very fun commentary, as the men discuss the evolution of the show and how many things were changed or created for the pilot. All 3 discs feature Deleted & Extended Scenes from several episodes (which feature series creator Mitchell Hurwitz and some of the shows editors filling in for Ron Howard as narrator). These scenes often provide some comedic gold nuggets, once again showing how well-written the show is. Disc 2 & 3 feature Hurwitz and the main cast (Bateman, de Rossi, Walker, Arnett, Hale, Cera, Shawkat, Tambor, and Cross) providing commentary for the episodes Beef Consomme and Let Them Eat Cake. These chats are hilarious, as the cast members constantly joke with one another and David Cross throws in many odd asides.

Breaking Ground: Behind-the-Scenes of Arrested Development (17 minutes) can be found on Disc 1. This making of featurette contains comments from series producer/narrator Ron Howard and Hurwitz as they discuss the origins of the show. We then get an overview of the cast and characters and the music. (Be careful, this featurette contains many spoilers for Season One.) Disc 1 also has Original Songs by David Schwartz which features 28 audio-only music selections. Disc 2 has The Museum of Television & Radio: Q & A with the Cast & Creative Team of Arrested Development (10 minutes). This short segment contains some good information and funny lines, but it feels very brief. TV Land - Arrested Development: The Making of a Future Classsic (7 minutes) is a mock documentary on the show with behind-the-scenes footage and amusing on-set comments from the cast. There is also a clip from the TV Land Awards show where Arrested Development won The Future Classic Award. The extras are rounded out by a promo spot for the show.

10 out of 10 Jackasses

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