Fox Home Entertainment presents
Arrested Development: Season One (2003-2004)
Michael: Tell me the truth, OK, because there's been a lot of lying in this family.
Lucille: And a lot of love.
Michael: More lies.- Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter
Stars: Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter
Other Stars: Ron Howard, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Lipton, Henry Winkler, Amy Poehler, Liza Minnelli, Judy Greer, Justin Lee
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, sexual humor)
Run Time: Approx. 512 min.
Release Date: 2004-10-19
DVD ReviewSomething is askew in the world, because Fox has finally failed to cancel a ratings-challenged critical darling that I enjoy. For the first time since The X-Files, the network has backed a struggling show and its small but vocal fan base, and though I wish they'd done so sooner (so long, Firefly, nice knowing you, John Doe, see you later... What was your name again? Wonderfalls? Sorry, it's hard to remember after just three episodes), as far as I'm concerned, it couldn't have happened to a better series than Arrested Development. Awarded "future classic" status by re-run haven TV Land after less than a full season, the series has since picked up a slew of critics' prizes and five Emmys, including one for best comedy.
It's classified as a sit-com, I suppose, but only in the loosest sense of the genre. There are situations, yes, and certainly comedy, but there isn't a laugh track, or a cast of wacky neighbors, or the typically bland three-camera set-up, punchy line delivery, and pauses for laughter. The plot defies the audience-friendly one-sentence summary that guarantees success, but it's by no means inaccessible. Just as Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is about to quit the family business after his father, George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) passes him over for a promotion, the feds roll in and arrest dad for "questionable accounting" at Bluth Enterprises ("There's a chance I may have committed some light treason," George Sr. tells Michael from behind bars). With his family on the brink of ruin, Michael is forced to take over a business in shambles (the only things left after the government seizures are a cheaply-constructed model home in the middle of a barren wasteland and a truck with an attached stairway that used to serve the company jet). Heaven knows there's no one else in his family who can do it.
His mother Lucille (Jessica Walters) is an alcoholic narcissist. His brother Gob (Will Arnett) is a blowhard who fancies himself a master magician ("Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money."). His other brother, Buster (Tony Hale), is a social recluse who can't go five minutes without his mommy (and still lives at home despite an education that includes $80,000 of calligraphy lessons). Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), his sister, is a misguided activist concerned about helping the poor as long as it doesn't interfere with her shopping schedule, and she's got her hands full with her flamboyant, deeply closeted husband Tobias (David Cross), who recently quit his job as a successful psychologist (and author of books like The Man Inside Me and Families with Low Self-Esteem) to become a bad actor, and her sullen daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat).
Michael moves into the model home with his son George-Michael (Michael Cera) and tries to keep the business and his family together, a challenge considering his father's criminal practices and his relatives' general incompetence (none of them have ever worked a day in their lives, yet they are all still collecting checks from the Bluth Company). The series is shot like a documentary that follows the exploits of the "Enron" Family, with a single camera, hand-held, improvisational feel (though the show is, by all accounts, carefully scripted) and sardonic narration from executive producer Ron Howard. Stylistically, Arrested Development is pretty out-there in terms of broadcast television, but would feel right at home next to cable forebears like The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm (the latter being Arrested Development's only competition for the title of "best live-action comedy on American television," as far as I'm concerned). The humor is, in general, very broad, but the quick pacing and dry delivery might be off-putting for audiences used to being told when to laugh (imagine watching an episode of some insipid sit-com like Married to the Kellys without the canned laughter). The uniformly excellent cast (perhaps the best ensemble on television) plays the material straight, for the most part, which only makes it funnier. Witness Gob's righteous anger and paralyzing insecurity, or George-Michael's fumbling, uncomfortable attraction to Maeby—tricky, potentially alienating material, played just right.
Whether through its strong critical rep or serendipity, Arrested Development attracted some great guest stars during its freshman season. Henry "The Fonz" Winkler does his pal Ron Howard a favor and plays George Sr.'s closeted, sex-obsessed, and totally incompetent lawyer (George Sr.: They can't convict a husband and wife for the same crime! Michael: Yeah, I don't think that's true. George Sr.: I have the worst [bleep]-ing attorneys.) Liza Minnelli gives her best performance in years as a society woman who mistakenly becomes involved with Buster. She tries to get a handle on his Oedipus complex, while he tries to use her to make his mother jealous. Judy Greer plays George Sr.'s scheming ex-secretary, too stupid to blackmail Michael (though she tries), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus drops by for a two-parter as a prosecutor, afflicted by hysterical blindness, in George Sr.'s trial.
The set includes all 22 episodes from the series' first season, plus an unaired, extended version of the pilot with around eight minutes of extra footage. For my money, Pier Pressure is the best. Buster asks George-Michael to buy him pot, and when Michael finds out his son has been asking around about drugs, he decides to scare him straight by hiring actors to impersonate policemen and "bust" the youth. Unfortunately, Michael puts Gob in charge of finding the fake cops and he hires male strippers in costume instead ("These guys are pros, Michael. They're gonna push the tension till the last possible moment before they strip. I told them not to, but I can't promise that their instincts won't kick in.").
"Oh no, it's the cops! And... a construction worker!"
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Arrested Development is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks as good as any television show I've seen on DVD. Colors and fine detail are very good, and I noticed no heavy grain or digital artifacting. Very nice.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Like most TV shows, Arrested Development is presented in a DD 2.0 mix. It's not flashy, but it suits the material. Dialogue is transferred cleanly, with only occasional obvious instances of ADR. The score fills out the mix in the front mains, and the surround channels are used for atmospheric enhancement only.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 110 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
14 Deleted Scenes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by series creator Michael Hurwitz, directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, cast members Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walter
- Ron Howard's inside look at Arrested Development Season Two
- TV Land Awards: The Future Classic Award
First is a trio of audio commentaries, one on a pivotal episode on each disc. Disc 1 includes a track from series creator Michael Hurwitz and directors Joe and Anthony Russo on Extended Pilot. The trio discusses the concept behind, and the creation of the series, and explains its stylistic quirks. The tracks on Discs 2 and 3, featuring Hurwitz and the entire cast (including Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walter) commenting on Beef Consommé and Let Them Eat Cake, are less substantive but more entertaining. With so many people talking, it's difficult to figure out who's who at times, but they all have fun ribbing one another and reminiscing about the series' first season (thankfully, not its last).
Disc 1 includes the featurette Breaking Ground: Behind the Scenes of Arrested Development. For some reason, Fox refuses to time-code extras, but this one seems to run around 15 minutes. The focus is on the series' unique qualities, and features interviews with Hurwitz, the cast, and executive producer Ron Howard, pimping via a logo hat his new movie, Cinderella Man (he also dons the cap for a short intro that plays when the disc starts up).
The first disc also includes over 25 minutes of original music from series' composer David Schwartz. Only a few of the pieces have lyrics, and most are just a little over a minute long, but each of these 28 tunes proves why Schwartz' jaunty, uncharacteristic music is such an integral part of the show.
Disc 2 includes a severely edited cast panel discussion from the Museum of Television and Radio. The piece lasts less than ten minutes, and features entertaining chatter about the success of the show and critical response versus big ratings. Such discussions generally last more than an hour (Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes an hour-long piece, anyway), and I would have liked to see the entire thing, but this is a good inclusion nonetheless.
In addition to a random TV spot (for the much-advertised episodes co-starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Disc 3 includes a brief documentary that ran on TV Land when the show was honored with the "future classic" award. The Making of a Future Classic features tongue-in-cheek interviews with the creators and select cast members, who discuss the award with the necessary amount of humility and self-deprecation. Michael Cera expresses hopes the show will one day play on TV Land alongside classics like Full House (though only the older episodes, when the Olsen twins were around five, because he "likes younger women on TV." He's kidding, seriously). Jason Bateman hides an open can of tuna in Will Arnett's dressing room, and David Cross comments that he believes the show will become a classic in the sense that people will go "That was a great show. I wish it lasted more than one season." Oh Cross, you kidder, you. Are you mad Fox cancelled Firefly and Wonderfalls too? The disc also includes the presentation of the award itself (Liza Minnelli does the introduction), and the cast's acceptance speech.
All three discs also include reels of deleted or extended scenes. In all, there is over 20 minutes of deleted material from 14 different episodes, all of it as good as anything that made it on the air (I particularly like the version of the old "stop calling me Shirley" gag cut from Alter Egos).
The episodes are presented in their proper production order (they aired all out of whack on Fox), and include a healthy five chapter stops each. The packaging and menus are in the style of the opening credit sequence and quite well done.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA fresh take on sit-com conventions in these dark, Friends-less days of According to Jim, Arrested Development is the best thing to happen to broadcast television comedy since Seinfeld. And, like that famous series about nothing, Fox's critical darling suffered ratings woes in its freshman season and barely got renewed. Hopefully this fine DVD release, and new viewers like you (right?) will help eliminate the problem this year.
Joel Cunningham 2004-10-18