TV Eye

How to Ruin a Series

<i>Arrested Development</i>
Arrested Development

A fabulous new sitcom is coming to network television. Now, let's see how long it takes to get canceled. Why? Because it seems the better the show, the worse chance it has of surviving on network television.

Arrested Development stars Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the only responsible member of a quirky, affluent family. While Michael works shoulder to shoulder with family patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), his siblings wouldn't know what a good day's work was if it kissed them full on the mouth. His oldest brother George Oscar Bluth -- GOB for short -- (Will Arnett) is a marginally talented magician. His youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale) is a perpetual graduate student with an anxiety disorder. And his twin sister Lindsay Funke (Portia de Rossi) is obsessed with all of the comforts money can buy. It's no surprise. Her mother (Jessica Walter) uses the family business as her personal checkbook, doling out cash to her children like breath mints from her purse.

When dad decides to name a managing partner of the Bluth Co., Michael logically assumes that his dedication to the family business will be rewarded. But things don't turn out as expected. Michael decides that he and his teenage son, George Michael (Michael Cera), should start a new life away from his crackpot family once and for all. But cutting family ties isn't as easy as Michael thinks.

It all sounds very conventional, but Arrested Development is anything but conventional. What makes it fabulous is exceptional writing and uniformly strong performances. But most importantly, its realistic take on family life through the filter of an absurd family. The Bluths are extraordinary in their wealth and circumstances, but when it comes down to family dynamics and relationships, Arrested Development squarely hits the mark. The Bluths are not always likable -- heck, they're marginally lovable -- but they're family -- that strange subset of people you would probably avoid in social situations if you weren't related to them. And no matter how much you want to fight it, they belong to you, and you to them. Sometimes you want to disown them, sometimes you wonder how you'd live without them.

As the reasonable middle son, Bateman is wonderfully perplexed at his family's antics. And Cera is charmingly timid when it comes to girls. One small complaint is the almost constant voiceover narration of Bateman. Perhaps this will be eliminated once the groundwork of the series is laid.

Not that I want to put the kibosh on Arrested Development, but here are the ways I imagine it will be ruined by TV execs. Tell me if I'm wrong:

Add a laugh track. Like in-your-face product placement and the addition of Jillian Barberie to Good Morning Miami, a laugh track is just plain annoying.

Recast the doofy-looking supporting cast with impossibly attractive people.

Add some gratuitous strip-club scenes, a car chase, or blow something up -- preferably all at once.

Have Buster take an interest in forensic science -- no, wait, that would actually work in this context.

"Rework" the original spirit of the show. If that doesn't work, move it around the schedule, so it can't find an audience.

String together a series of rim-shot jokes that don't necessarily contribute to storyline.

If all of that fails, yank it off the air till it's forgotten except by us stubborn TV watchers out in the hinterlands, still waiting and wanting a good sitcom we can adore week after week.

As always, stay tuned.

In November

Frontline will offer a trio of episodes on health care in the U.S. "The Alternative Fix" looks at the growing popularity of alternative medicine on Nov. 6. How the FDA goes about approving medicine is revealed in "Dangerous Prescription" on Nov. 13, followed by "The Other Drug War." Why do U.S. consumers pay the highest drug prices in the world? Find out why in this encore presentation. Frontline airs Thursday nights at 9pm on PBS.

On cable: The Sundance Channel features a minimarathon of four documentaries that examine the electoral process under the banner A Night at the Races. The films include:

Off the Record (D: Jonah Green) -- The teenage son of 2001 New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green chronicles the run for office that the senior Green was favored to win. The events of September 11 changed everything. Premieres Nov. 4 at 10pm.

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (D: Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler) -- A dissection of events in Florida before, during, and after the 2000 presidential election. Premieres Nov. 4 at 7pm.

A Perfect Candidate (D: R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor) -- The highly acclaimed documentary following Oliver North's campaign to defeat incumbent U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb. Premieres Nov. 4 at 8pm.

Our Times (D: Rakshan Bani-Etemad) -- The Iranian filmmaker looks at the role of Iranian women and youth through Iran's 2001 presidential election featuring 700 candidates, 48 of whom were women. Premieres Nov. 4 at 11:15pm.

Encores of all films occur throughout November. Check local listings.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Frontline, A Night at the Races, Jason Bateman, Arrested Development, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, Will Arnett, Fox

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