Vantage point

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Hearty Recommendation

I take a break from what has been the busiest weekend yet for me in the PhD program to recommend to you all a very under-rated, ill-fated and brilliant TV series. The next time you are buying DVDs to gift someone (or yourself), buy any or all seasons of Arrested Development. There were just two and three quarters seasons though. FOX, the channel where it aired, cancelled the show in its third season last year.

The reason why the show did not take off is the very reason that makes it so special. It is probably the most un-American sitcom ever. Shot like a documentary, with no laugh-tracks or snappy 2-second-jokes, it is a multi-layered comedy with so many in-jokes, pop-culture references and situations steeped with political satire, that each episode has to be viewed multiple times to really "get" it. If you think American entertainment is being dumbed down, cancellation of the show confirms your biggest suspicions.

The basic premise of the show is simple, and it is repeated by its uncredited narrator (Ron Howard) at the start of every episode - it is the story of a rich family which lost everything and a son who had no choice but to keep them all together. The star-cast has to be the best since Seinfeld - Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Portia De Rossi, Will Arnett, David Cross and Jessica Walter are effortlessly hilarious. The writing has to be best since Seinfeld, whether it has to do with sharp references to front-page news like WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Terry Schiavo, Enron, etc or pop-culture references like Henry Winkler playing a probably-gay lawyer hopping over a shark (if you don't get why this is hilarious, you must read this), OC, a wall falling over Buster but Buster being saved because of the window, how Rita (played by Charlize Theron) looked very ugly a year back etc.

It really is one of the series you need to buy a DVD for, because repeat viewings are much more fun, kinda like Coen Brothers' movies. Of course, if you are too cheap, you can always watch the show for free on MSN Video. MSN purchased the rights to the show after Fox cancelled it (the cancellation drama itself being the source of millions of in-jokes in the third season) and is releasing episodes one-by-one. So far they are up to the end of Season 1.

Its cancellation, because of a conscious decision not to reach out to the "idiot demographic", was really sad. I hope the show makes a comeback in some form. Watching just 2.75 seasons of a show of such high quality is like eating just 2.75 oz of a prime-rib steak. I hope that Ron Howard delivers on the promise he dangled in front of the show's niche cult following in the last scene of the series finale and makes a movie.

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