Judge Patrick Bromley never meets any aliens on his paper route.
Finally! All 35 uncut episodes of the ultimate anti-sitcom on six easy-to-eat DVDs!
Premiering in the early(ish) days of the Fox network, there was absolutely nothing like Get a Life on TV when it showed up in 1990. In fact, there hasn't really been much like it on TV since—but many network sitcoms have come closer to what Get a Life was trying to accomplish in the years since. It is, in many ways, the precursor to now-beloved shows like 30 Rock and Arrested Development, pushing the format forward, never compromising its sense of humor and offering something viewers couldn't find anywhere else. It was practically designed to be a cult show.
Get a Life stars Chris Elliott (There's Something About Mary) as Chris Peterson, a thirty-something man-child living above his parents' garage and delivering newspapers for a living. His best friend is Larry (Sam Robards, American Beauty), whose wife, Sharon (Robin Riker, Alligator) passionately hates Chris. It's with good reason, too; he is selfish and immature, clueless, arrogant and, at times, borderline psychotic. And he's the main character of a situation comedy. In the 35 episode run of Get a Life, he'll lead a police chase, defeat a murderous paper-delivering robot, get trapped in a submarine (in his bathtub), become the most hated man in the big city, get turned out as a male model and, of course, die.
Like a live-action version of The Simpsons, there is no story too silly or bizarre for Get a Life. In fact, the show usually went out of its way to be as offbeat as possible, but avoided the trap of being weird for weirdness' sake. It presented us with an utterly unsympathetic protagonist with a complete inability to learn, change or grow. It had no interest in serializing its storylines; every week, every new episode was basically a reset. As can be expected, Get a Life only gets better as it goes along, partly because the show continued to refine its voice, partly because it was growing more confident in its absurdist tone and partly because, at some point, the writing was on the wall that the show wasn't long for the world and everyone involved decided to go all in on the crazy darkness of the humor. Had the show continued beyond two seasons (more like a season and a half, really), I'm not sure the momentum could be sustained—after all, where else was the show going to go?—but for these 35 episodes, it's pretty sublime. The fact that it existed at all feels like some sort of mistake.
The show's cult status and long-delayed DVD release has given Get a Life a reputation to which it would be difficult to live up; many of us have memories of being floored by how audacious and bizarre and funny it was in the early '90s and haven't been able to confirm whether or not our memories are accurate for 20 years. The reality is that the series isn't quite as funny as we remember it being, but also that it's exactly the show we remember it being. One of the first episodes I can remember seeing (which, it turns out, was pretty late in the series' run) involved Chris befriending an alien who can't stop throwing up pus on everyone and everything. And it was hilarious. That's the kind of show Get a Life was and is, and it's a miracle that it ever even got on the air. The fact that it was canceled pretty quickly wasn't so much a surprise as it was a forgone conclusion. A show like this doesn't really even stand a chance on the air now, much less in a TV landscape dominated by Full House, Murphy Brown and Murder, She Wrote.
All 35 uncut episodes of Get a Life's two seasons on air are included on the "un-special non-anniversary edition" of Get a Life: The Complete Series, spread out over six discs. The shows are offered in their original 1.33:1 full frame TV format, and look about as good (maaaybe a little better) as old VHS tapes. That sounds like a huge knock to the transfers, but it's not; it's a 20-year-old show that didn't cost much to begin with and to which little restoration has been done, and it's fine. Not great. Not even good all the time. But fine, and it gets the job done. The 2.0 audio track delivers everything up in the front and center, and though it sounds somewhat thin, it, too, is serviceable. This is not a first-rate presentation by any means, but it's acceptable, and if it means finally having Get a Life on DVD, I'll take it.
Shout! Factory has done its usual strong job on creating extras for the set. Every one of the 35 episodes comes with a commentary track, most of which are from producer/writer/director David Mirkin (an alum of The Simpsons and future director of Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion). There's a lot of information and anecdotal stuff here, so much so that Mirkin often pauses an episode and talks over a freeze frame for several minutes. For several scenes throughout the fun, Mirkin is joined by psychologist Dr. Wendy Walsh, who provides analysis for just what is wrong with Chris Peterson. It's a silly gimmick, but kind of amusing in how it applies series psychological principles to such a goofy show. Every episode is also playable without a laugh track, which is a really interesting exercise. The laugh track is clearly out of place on the show, but the episodes don't play the same without it; yes, it takes the show out if its early '90s context and makes it feel more contemporary (like future single-camera, laugh track-free sitcoms The Office, 30 Rock and Arrested Development), but it messes with the timing. There are long gaps of silence where there shouldn't be. Still, it's a cool addition and proof that the people at Shout! Factory understand how ahead of its time Get a Life was.
Several extended retrospective documentaries have been included, most of which can be found on the sixth and final disc, and featuring the likes of Mirkin, James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow. First up is "Looking for Noise," which covers the beginning of the show and places it in the context of the Fox network at that time (and even features comments from two former Fox executives). "Death of Life" focuses on the other side of the run, when the show was canceled after two seasons and developed a devoted cult following. The two documentaries together run for nearly an hour in total. A third featurette, which runs almost an hour by itself, is called "Horrible Secrets from the Writers' Room" and features Mirkin and writers Steve Pepoon and Jace Richdale, who talk about writing the show and discuss their theories of comedy overall. It's a pretty great conversation. The final featurette is a panel discussion from Paleyfest 2000, featuring Mirkin, Pepoon, Richdale, co-star Brian Doyle-Murray, Bob Odenkirk and Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who was a writer on the show.
Notice something from the description of the disc's supplemental material? There's no Chris Elliot. Anywhere. He doesn't participate in any of the bonus features, and that's a bummer, since the show was such an expression of his comic voice. It's hard to imagine any Get a Life retrospective without any memories from him, and, yet, here we are. It's a testament to the work that Shout! Factory has done that the extra features are so good even without Elliott, but he is sorely missed.
Finally, there are script excerpts from three episodes.
Shout! Factory really must be commended for once again bringing a long-unavailable television series to DVD, and doing their usual great job of packing it with bonus content. There really is no other studio that can touch them when it comes to this stuff. The release of Get a Life: The Complete Series is sure to delight everyone who watched it in the early '90s (all 20 of us) and who have waited years to see it again. Anyone who never saw it might be left scratching their heads as to what all the fuss was about, but if you're a fan of cutting-edge comedy and missed it during its run, now's the chance to see one of TV's great lost gems. It's far from a perfect show, but I'll take this kind of imperfection over almost anything that's been on Fox since. Not you, Arrested Development. Yes you, New Girl.
Get Get a Life.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.