Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Rhino, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Stereo, subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 4 episodes, 20 chapters, Never-Before-Seen Bonus Footage, Alternate Audio Version Without Laughtrack, rated NR, 100 min., $19.95, street date 3/21/2000.
Directed by David Mirkin. Starring Chris Elliott, Brady Bluhm, Elinor Donahue, Brian Doyle-Murray, Bob Elliott, Taylor Fry, Robin Riker, Sam Robards.
Surreal, twisted, gratuitously violent, and hilariously funny, Get A Life is the ultimate anti-sitcom. Chris Peterson (Chris Elliot) is a 30-year-old paperboy who seems to have an ever decreasing grip on reality. This weird, wonderful cult hit was hailed "One of the ten best shows on television" by Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. And the San Francisco Examiner actually called it "The most American show on television -- a comedy about the assassin next door." So watch, laugh…and worry.
When it premiered in 1990, I should have been first in line as a fan of Chris Elliott's TV show Get A Life. After all, I'd loved his quirky personas on Late Night With David Letterman literally since that show's beginning, so I was exactly the kind of person Fox counted on to make the show a hit.
However, neither aspect of that equation ever happened; I didn't watch the program, and neither did many others. GAL stumbled through two seasons on the then-fledgling Fox network before it disappeared forever into the mists of time.
The show's general failure really shouldn't come as any surprise. Elliott's style was - and is - edgy and unusual; he's not the sort of performer who can ever develop anything more than a cult following. GAL was a determinedly odd program that seemed doomed to mass indifference from the start.
As for my own lack of interest in the show, that is harder to explain, especially because a lot of time has passed since the program's original airings. As I recall, I watched it a few times and just never found much about it that interested me. The components were all there, but I felt the show just didn't work in general.
Those are vague recollections, but my recent re-experience of a few episodes of Get A Life confirms my thoughts. On the surface, the program offers all of the Elliott weirdness that worked so well on Dave. After all, how could a show about an oddball 30-year-old paperboy who still lives at home fall flat? (By the way, that premise was echoed eerily in the terrific documentary American Movie; that film's focus is an aspiring filmmaker who also lived at home, delivered newspapers, and was into his thirties. He was a pretty odd guy as well, though not quite as determinedly strange as GAL's Chris.)
Despite the premise's promise and my affection for Elliott's work, the show simply lacks a certain spark. Of the four episodes on the Get A Life DVD, three of them - first season releases "The Prettiest Week of My Life" and "Bored Straight" plus second season show "Spewey and Me" - provide a few good bits but they generally come across almost as imitation Elliott; all of the superficial components of his work are there, but the cumulative effect seems less than terrific.
I can't say that I didn't enjoy these episodes, for even mediocre Elliott beats the best efforts from most others, but my sense of disappointment kept me from really liking them. I found them to be moderately witty and compelling but I couldn't develop much affection for them.
The sole exception comes from the second season's "Girlfriend 2000", the only episode of the four that delivers the promise inherent in the program. This piece depicts Chris' obsession for the beautiful Tricia (Emma Samms); he stalks her and the show takes an odd turn when Evelyn (Amy Yasbeck) develops a similar interest in Chris and follows after him. From start to finish, this episode provides solid laughs and remains inventive and clever. Had more Get A Life shows been like this one, the series might have really been one for the books.
As it stands, Get A Life remains a promising and fairly interesting but ultimately disappointing footnote in the history of broadcast TV. Fox deserved kudos for putting something this bizarre on the air and for sticking it out through 35 episodes, though I can't help but wish they'd given it a little more time; "Girlfriend 2000" was one of the final few shows, and it may have indicated that GAL was finally hitting its stride. Or maybe not. I shouldn't make such broad conclusions based on four episodes, but I do wonder how good the show might have become with a bit more seasoning.
(One note about the show's characters: if you watch this DVD, you'll notice that we mainly see Chris' parents - played by his real-life Dad Bob and Elinor Donahue of Father Knows Best fame - in the two first season episodes, which appear first and third on the DVD, whereas Gus - portrayed by Brian Doyle-Murray - only can be seen in the second season programs, shown second and fourth on the DVD. That's because Doyle-Murray didn't appear in any of the first season broadcasts, and it turns out that Chris actually moves out of his parents' house in the first episode of the second season; he moves in with Gus. So now you know!)
(One other note: if you wonder about the significance of the "2000" in the title of "Girlfriend 2000", there appears to be none. It seems that the show picked up on the inane use of that phrase to connote something special or exciting; yes, even back in 1990, people looked toward the next millennium as signifying big thrills. GAL clearly used "2000" to mock this disposition, as ten of the show's 35 episodes were called "(Whatever) 2000". If you question the realism of this tendency and think it was just a silly idea of Elliott's, note this: my friend lived at an apartment complex called "Tower 2000" for three years that began in 1992. Life imitating art?)
Get A Life appears in its original televised aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I don't expect a videotaped TV show from the early Nineties to look as good as a filmed movie from 2000 - or most years, really - that doesn't explain the rather poor quality of these shows.
All of the episodes other than "Bored Straight" seem very soft. Some close-ups might appear reasonably clear, but anything wider than that looks bland and muddled. "Bored Straight" seems relatively crisp, though it also displays some softness; however, this extra resolution results in a noisy look to the picture. I can't call it grain, since it's on tape, and it doesn't seem to be digital artifacts (it would be odd for just that episode to have them), so I'll just have to call it video noise that accompanies the sharper image.
Colors tend to be adequate but somewhat bland and dull. Black levels also seem pretty decent but aren't anything special, and shadow detail appears acceptable. Really, these two aspects of the image are its high points, but the flatness and vagueness of the picture degrades everything else; it's difficult to see any parts of it as good when the most important one - the sharpness - is so poor. Get A Life seemed watchable but nothing more; in regard to the quality, you'd be just as happy viewing these episodes on videotape.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 audio was a lot more satisfying, though still nothing special. For all intents and purposes, it's really a monaural mix; everything emanates from the center channel except for the occasional songs. (GAL lacks a real score for the most part; generally when we hear music, it's through the REM song "Stand" that acts as its theme or through other tunes used for montage scenes, like Lulu's "To Sir With Love" in "Bored Straight" or the Animotion's "Obsession" during "Girlfriend 2000").
The tunes come from the three front speakers and also a little from the rears and they definitely offer the highlights of the mix. The music generally sounds pretty bright and clear and even offers a fair amount of bass; I wouldn't call the music quality fantastic but it seems pretty good. Dialogue appears largely natural and intelligible, though speech often features some brittleness and light distortion. Effects vary because some of them go for comically over-the-top qualities, like the loud snaps of the punches or the broad thumps of rocks hitting Chris' head. Overall, effects sound solidly sharp and satisfying, and the whole track may seem very basic but it works well for the material.
For all of the episodes except "Bored Straight", you can watch them with or without a laugh track. I preferred the versions without the added audio, as I dislike laugh tracks and the quality of each edition seemed the same (I flipped back and forth between them.) The only drawback to the track-less audio comes from the fact there are still some laughs on there; we occasionally hear crew members snicker. This can be a bit distracting but it's still not as annoying as a full laugh track, so I'll take it.
As far as supplements go, there's not a whole lot here. We find about six minutes of deleted scenes, but that running time is deceptive; all of the segments are longer versions of existing snippets from "Girlfriend 2000", so the total of the new material is honestly only about a minute or two. Still, it's fun to see, especially since these cuts come from the best episode of the bunch.
Less pleasant is an annoyance at the start of the DVD. We find an annoyingly-unskippable ad for other videos from Rhino. In the case of the much-loathed promos found at the start of many recent Disney DVDs, I didn't mind those since I could easily zip past them. However, this ad cannot be avoided; it runs to its completion no matter how hard you try to get beyond it. I wish companies would understand that such an inconvenience may force us to watch their promos but it probably does more to hurt them in the long run; the lack of ability to skip the ads creates a resentment toward the company.
That annoyance aside, I applaud Rhino for issuing such obscure matter on DVD. Frankly, it's astonishing Get A Life made it out on home video in any format, but it's even more amazing that it hit DVD. Although the show itself appeared inconsistent and generally didn't live up to its potential, it still offers enough strange entertainment to merit a look. The DVD features relatively strong audio but includes a pretty poor picture and few supplements. Despite those concerns, I found GAL interesting enough to warrant a recommendation to other Chris Elliott fans; for such folks - or for others curious about his appeal - GAL at least merits a rental and I hope Rhino see fit to release more episodes of the show in the future.
(One quick comment in regard to the videotapes. When I discussed the video quality of the program, I stated that in that regard, the DVD does not seem to improve upon VHS. While that's true, the DVD release of Get A Life actually comes as a small bargain. The VHS release splits the four episode across two tapes, each of which retails for $12.95, whereas the four-episode DVD lists for $19.95. In addition, the VHS tapes would not have the soundtrack option found on the DVD, and neither of them appears to include the bonus footage from "Girlfriend 2000". Despite the weak quality of the picture on the DVD, it still remains the way to go for anyone who wants to purchase the episodes.)
Current as of 6/3/2000
Get A Life - The Program Guide Web Site--It's fantastic to know that someone out there is devoted enough to the series to create a website. The main attraction on the site are the scripts for the entire two seasons. Otherwise, there isn't much to learn more about the show.
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