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Quirky Makes a Comeback

“Arrested Development” pushes the limits of network TV.


You could even make a good case that quirky now even encompasses a well-written and beautifully acted show with great production values — simply because that’s not the norm anymore.

“Arrested Development” is certainly quirky. Not because it’s beautifully written and acted and staged, which it is, but because its premise is idiosyncratic and engagingly wacky. And because the writers and actors make the most of what’s possible or even allowable on network TV.

We, the viewers, are jaded. “Arrested Development” shakes things up a bit. Not as much as, say, “Six Feet Under” or “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” but they’re cable shows and “Arrested Development” is on broadcast TV.

The premise of “AD” allows everybody involved enough latitude to either mightily amuse us (and themselves) or to flame out and crash in a spasm of self-absorption. So far, the show flies high.

Network TV hasn’t seen a family this dysfunctional since Archie, Edith and Meathead ruled the ratings. It might even be stranger than “Soap.” The centerpole of “AD” is Michael Bluth — even the family’s patronymic is quirky — played by Jason Bateman. Michael is the widowed father of a 13-year-old boy, George-Michael (Michael Cera). Michael is passed over as a partner in the family business and vows to quit. But when his father (Jeffrey Tambor of “The Larry Sanders Show”) is arrested for cooking the company’s books and the family’s assets are frozen, Michael is trapped into helping his screwball relatives get on with their lives.

And what a collection of eccentrics they are! Mother (Jessica Walter) is a martini-fueled meddler. Michael’s older brother (Will Arnett) is an unemployed magician. Michael’s younger brother (Tony Hale) is a professional grad student. His sister (Portia DeRossi) is a dilettante who is married to a hapless doctor (David Cross) who lost his medical license. And just in case that’s not enough, the show is now in the middle of a story arc featuring Liza Minnelli as a family friend with vertigo and Henry Winkler as a homophobic attorney.

Is it possible for viewers to overdose on quirky? Now that would make an interesting study for some professional grad student.

It seems like everybody loves “AD.” Time magazine named it the season’s best new sitcom. Entertainment Weekly calls it the best new comedy. TV Guide says it’s “smart and sharp.”

They’re all correct. Quirky works. “AD” is proof that if you do it well enough, people will pay attention. And you should. S

“Arrested Development” airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox TV. Fox will air a minimarathon of “AD” episodes Dec. 31 from 8 to 10 p.m.

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