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tv: arrested development, the office
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2

It's not that I don't appreciate a good hearty ha-ha. But when it comes to television, I have a definite tendency to favor the dramas over the comedies. And in the TV on DVD realm, as well, I generally find myself seeking out the weightier stuff. It's not that I think serious plots and serious characters are inherently more interesting than lighter, funnier fare. It's just that the vast majority of the offerings in the typical 30-minute comedy format are just so very, very wretched. Still, every once in a long, long while, a genuine gem emerges from the sitcom muck. And I watch, and I laugh, and I remember how great good comedy can be. Looking for a good chuckle that won't make you feel like you're sacrificing brain cells in the process? Here are two excellent TV comedies that are well worth seeking out on DVD…

arrested development
Starring: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor
The First Season

The presence of former teen tv idols from my youth does not, generally, send me scrambling to check out a new television show. So when I first started hearing about Arrested Development, my brain got as far as processing the words "starring Jason Bateman" -- and then pretty much tuned out. That guy from The Hogan Family? Pretty much hadn't thought about him in over a decade. And frankly, his absence hadn't exactly left a gaping hole in my entertainment needs … or so I thought, until I actually started watching the show. As it turns out, Arrested Development is exactly the sort of smart, dark and unabashedly idiosyncratic comedy my life's been missing since Seinfeld went buh-bye. And Jason Bateman -- yes, he who once played sidekick to Ricky Schroder on Silver Spoons -- is pitch-perfect, crush-inducingly, brilliantly funny as the show's protagonist.

Arrested Development centers around the wealthy and deeply dysfunctional Bluth family, with Bateman starring as the least crazy of the bunch, Michael Bluth. For years, Michael's put up with his selfish, freeloading family members and worked hard to keep the family empire flourishing. While the rest of his family has been living it large for years courtesy of embezzled company funds, Michael and his teenaged son, the delightfully bemonikered George Michael, live modestly in a model home in one of the Bluth corporation's developments (in the attic, actually, so as not to mess up the main house for prospective buyers). Michael's more than paid his dues, and at his father's retirement party, he's expecting he'll be duly rewarded. So he's stunned when George Sr. announces that he'll be passing control on to Michael's mother Lucille, whose talents lie more in the realm of spending money than in making it grow. For better or worse, Michael doesn't have much time to contemplate this unexpected turn of events: just seconds after the announcement, the police descend upon the party to arrest the family patriarch for his years of corporate crime. In the aftermath of the arrest and with the family's assets frozen, Michael's twin sister Lindsay, a pretentious socialite, finds herself broke and homeless. She moves into the model home, along with her prissy actor-wannabe husband, Tobias Fünke, and their daughter Maebe. Big brother G.O.B. (that's Job with a long-o in case you were wondering), a magician, keeps turning up at the model home when he's having girlfriend problems, and little brother Buster, who's possibly intellectually impaired and decidedly socially retarded, gets dumped upon the doorstep whenever Lucille decides her baby boy is driving her nuts. Thrown together and forced to deal with one another, the remaining non-incarcerated Bluths find themselves reluctantly reunited in an effort to keep the Bluth corporation running (for Michael) and get its cash flow going (for everyone else).

Not since Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer left the air have I felt such a guilty love for characters who are really rather terrible people. Yeah, Michael's basically a good guy and George Michael -- disturbing crush on his first cousin notwithstanding -- is a sweetie. But there's really no reason in the world I should like any of the other members of the Bluth clan -- not Lucille, who's pretty much emotionally abusive to her children, or G.O.B., who's smarm personified, or Buster, who is, how shall we say it, a complete loser. These are not nice people, and the show's writers never make apologies for their behavior by trying to give us a good reason for why they say or do the mean or idiotic things they do. And that's one of the best things about it -- it doesn't particularly care whether a joke is appropriate or a character is sympathetic, as long as it's funny. In an age when most sitcoms are so worried about making sure that the audience "gets it" that they add a cheesy laugh-track to cue us in, it's incredibly refreshing to find a tv comedy that actually dares to let sharp dialogue, clever visual gags, sharply drawn characters and excellent acting speak for themselves.

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