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DVD Review: Get a Life – The Complete Series

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Back in the early days of FOX, the network took a chance with Get a Life, a frequently bizarre, transgressive, self-reflexive sitcom with a morally and intellectually bankrupt lead character played by the inimitable Chris Elliott. Long before Louis C.K. tried deconstructing the sitcom with Lucky Louie or Dan Harmon stretched the limits of the form while simultaneously paying homage to them in Community, Elliott, David Mirkin and Adam Resnick made Get a Life, a show whose two seasons and 35 episodes seem like kind of a minor miracle in retrospect.

Get a LifeShout! Factory has put together an impressive complete series collection for the cult favorite, presenting all 35 episodes uncut and with their original music cues, including R.E.M.’s title song “Stand.” Get a Life isn’t always side-splittingly funny (although if you’re an Elliott fan, it frequently will be), but it’s nearly always fascinating. The comic rhythms seem at first glance to be thoroughly sitcommy, based on tried-and-true multi-cam convention, but the more you watch, the more off-kilter everything becomes. Elliott, whose manic, self-deluded comic persona is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, plays a big part in this; the very fact that this guy is a sitcom protagonist makes the entire series something pretty unexpected.

Elliott stars as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old who still lives with his parents and still holds the same paperboy route he’s had since childhood. To call him developmentally arrested would barely scratch the surface. In addition to his stunted lifestyle, Chris is also an unrepentant narcissist, thoroughly convinced of his own physical beauty and unquestionable genius — a perfect showcase for Elliott’s delightful oblivious blustering.

Perpetually pajama-ed parents Fred and Gladys (real-life dad Bob Elliott and Elinor Donahue) hide their contempt for their son behind a placid surface of disinterested platitudes and increasingly less-veiled requests for Chris to move out. Best friend Larry (Sam Robards) envies the freedom Chris has, while Larry’s shrewish wife Sharon (Robin Riker) loathes Chris with every fiber of her being.

All of these characters interact in familiar sitcom ways, but Elliott’s Peterson never comes around to learning a nice lesson like the format sets him up for. Get a Life displays a defiant disregard for continuity — episodes often feature Chris’ death and his utter lack of learning makes for a lead with unbelievably demented delusions of grandeur. Things get even more surreal in the second season when none other than pre-film career Charlie Kaufman and Bob Odenkirk joined as writers, and Chris moved into the garage of a deposed cop named Gus (Brian Doyle-Murray), who rivals Chris in the sociopath department.

Shout! Factory’s six disc set includes all 35 episodes in reasonable approximations of what they probably looked like when they aired. They’ve commissioned a number of superb special features that are as valuable as the show itself, although it’s unfortunate that Elliott isn’t a participant on any of them. One of the best extras is a laugh-track-free option on selected episodes, which is much more in line with the show’s sensibility.

Creator (and later Simpsons show-runner) Mirkin offers up a crash course on television production with his detailed, thoughtful audio commentaries, offered for every episode in either complete or selected-scene form. A number of new featurettes offer a history of the show’s production, reasons behind its cancellation, its cult status and the process of working in a writers’ room. A number of writers, executives and fans James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow offer their thoughts. A 2000 panel from Paleyfest, production stills, script pages, shot lists, storyboards and schedules are also included on the discs. The set comes packaged with a booklet with an essay by TV critic Tom Shales and episode info.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.