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DVD releases give shows a second life—or a chance at staying alive.

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The rise of multi-DVD releases of TV shows doesn’t merely allow you to relive the suspenseful conclusion of your favorite reality show, or watch that one Three’s Company episode—where Jack talks about one thing and Mr. Roper thinks he’s talking about something else—whenever you want. It offers the chance to check out series that were too smart, interesting and/or idiosyncratic to survive.

More important, however, is the chance to discover one that’s still (barely) hanging on: the brilliant and hilarious Arrested Development. On the show, handheld cameras document the farcical escapades of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his ridiculous family, who must seriously change their lifestyle—which is not to imply that they do—after patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested for illegal use of his housing-development-company’s funds. The low-rated but critically acclaimed (descriptors commonly associated with one another) half-hour comedy series had been all but buried when Fox surprisingly renewed it. Now a slew of awards and the three-DVD release of the first season offer a potential ratings surge as new episodes approach.

Home video has helped films that weren’t very successful during initial release, with A Christmas Story, Office Space and the original Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery—the latter of which has two sequels (so far) thanks to its home audience—being prime examples. The rise of the DVD boxed set has brought this phenomenon to lost TV shows, whether they have also found new fans through reruns on the Cartoon Network like Futurama and Family Guy or—like Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, Farscape or The Tick—are still unknown to many people.

While Internet fan mobilization to save canceled or soon-to-be-canceled shows hasn’t necessarily convinced networks to continue producing them, it has sent the message that there’s a loyal audience for the existing episodes on DVD. Fans of the charming Wonderfalls, which was canceled last spring after only four episodes—the best of them never even broadcast—couldn’t keep their show in production or even get the last nine episodes aired, but there will be a DVD release (Jan. 18) of the complete series.

The opportunity that the newly released Arrested Development set offers could actually save a TV show with ratings problems. I’ve personally introduced several people to the poignant humor of the short-lived Freaks and Geeks, the most honest portrayal of high school in the history of television. They then buy their own box set and show some of the incredibly re-watchable episodes to their friends, who also get hooked. Imagine if Arrested Development picks up word of mouth and people follow from the DVDs to the broadcast of season two. I may be a delusional optimist (in contrast to City Weekly’s own Bill Frost’s outlook for the show), but I have a dream.

After all, Arrested Development is hot off the kind of unexpected fortune that could keep it alive. Emmy voters, whom someone apparently injected with an intelligence serum, awarded it five honors, including Outstanding Comedy Series. And now people interested in such an acclaimed series can watch the first season at their leisure (or as fast as they possibly can once they’re hooked).

Watching the first season again all at once, I was surprised by how many brilliant storylines and moments were packed into one season of a 22-minute sitcom: Michael’s struggle with his desires for brother Gob’s (Will Arnett) Spanish-language soap-opera actress girlfriend; his brother-in-law Tobias’s (David Cross) struggle as a “never-nude;” an adopted Korean whom everyone calls Annyeong (the Korean word for “hello”); flashbacks to George Sr.’s practice of teaching his children lessons by terrifying them with the prospect of lost limbs. The list goes on.

Factor in the show’s gag-loaded format and the time restraints forced by network television, and the DVDs suddenly include extras—deleted scenes and an extended pilot—that aren’t the time-wasters that those on feature-film DVDs often are. It’s enough to make the wait for season three unbearable.


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More by Jeremy Mathews

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