It took two months, but the big bust of a fall season is finally getting a cheery shot in the arm thanks to Fox’s “Arrested Development.” With faith in its own inspired goofiness, the net’s newest Sunday entry reinvents what works — and mocks what doesn’t — within the confines of the undernourished sitcom world. Critics and viewers clamoring for something unique since the sesh began back in August finally have something to champion … and boy, is it funny.
Fox has, in bits and pieces, been able to do what no other network has been able to for what seems like years: put an entirely fresh spin on the half-hour laffer. Even though “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “Greg the Bunny” never clicked, well, at least they tried. Here’s hoping Imagine’s stab at weird and wonderful earns a better fate.
“Dysfunctional” is the best that can be said of the Bluths, a rich and snotty Orange County family that features one idiot after another. Dad George (Jeffrey Tambor) is a flaky real estate developer who gets busted for money problems while celebrating his success on a booze cruise. Mom Lucille (Jessica Walter) and sis Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) are shopaholic brats. One brother (Will Arnett) is an outright moron who wants to be a magician, while Buster (Tony Hale), the youngest, is a book-smart mama’s boy prone to panic attacks.
The only one with a brain is Michael (Jason Bateman), a solid citizen whose wife died and who now lives with his son in one of the family’s model homes. In episode one, he thinks he’s taking the company reins but decides, out of frustration, to leave the nest when plans go awry. He’s eventually persuaded to come back and run things, even though he can’t stand everyone involved.
The premise is simple enough, but the show derives its dastardly fun from little moments. Everyone is fed up with everyone else — a source for endless bickering about who’s the worst family member, who’s the dumbest and who hates Dad the most. And the verite style — pilot was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (“Welcome to Collinwood”) — makes all of this look, sound and feel like every other day in the life of a family with serious issues and little enthusiasm to work them out.
By combining the reality craze with “Soap”-like insanity, the Russos and writer-creator Mitchell Hurwitz have drummed up terrific energy, drawing humor from even the randomness of discussions — anything to do with bro George’s magic career, for example, is odd and hilarious.
The disarmingly simple tech credits lend an appropriately cheap homemovie feel to every shot. The family squabbles are made more ironic thanks to voiceover from Imagine’s very own Ron Howard; this unit is a long way from Mayberry and “Happy Days.”