In the evolution of TV sitcoms, “Get a Life” is a transitional fossil. It displays many of the overt tendencies of its ancestors, but it also contains the traits that will be passed on to its offspring, who will eventually become a different creature altogether. The show stars “Late Show With David Letterman” veteran Chris Elliott as a 30-year-old man-child paperboy who still lives at home with his clueless parents who always sit in their breakfast nook in their robes.
Early episodes of the series had him getting into situations that were funny but still relatively safe, such as imploring his straight-laced buddy Larry to skip work to ride a new roller coaster that gets stuck at the top of a loop, but as the show progressed, it veered into dadaist territory. In one episode, he travels to The Big City, which turns out to be a 1930s version of New York City where he’s lauded as a poor guy who has persevered despite losing his wallet; when he discovers he left his wallet at home, The Big City’s residents turn on him.
And, of course, Chris dies multiple times during the course of the series, only to miraculously return from the dead each time.
Watching this show again for the first time since it originally aired, I was struck by how much it looks like a 1980s sitcom, and yet there are elements that one can see today in shows like “30 Rock” or “Scrubs,” including overtly satirical elements and comically absurd situations.
Series co-creator David Mirkin points out many times in the bonus materials in this set that “Get a Life” was so far ahead of its time that TV still hasn’t caught up with it. Yes, it’s true that many of today’s sitcoms stick with a tried-and-true formula that really hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, at their basic level, but there are shows that push the boundaries, and we have “Get a Life” to thank for that. (Before you point to “The Simpsons” or “South Park,” Mirkin exempts animation because he says you can get away with anything if a show is a cartoon.)
Many modern-day sitcoms eschew laugh tracks, and this DVD set lets you watch many “Get a Life” episodes without one, although you can still hear crew members laughing in the background. Mirkin notes in the bonus features that he didn’t want a laugh track but one was forced on him by executives who were still thinking in traditional sitcom mode.
“Get a Life” fans will love this set, which features commentary tracks on every episode, a smattering of deleted scenes, a commentary with a psychologist who analyzes Chris’ issues, ancillary materials like shooting schedules and bills, and a pair of featurettes, one that focuses more on the creative side of the show and another that includes a pair of Fox executives talking about the trials and tribulations they faced while trying to champion the series.
There’s also a “Paleyfest 2000” round table discussion with Mirkin and many of the cast members and writers, including Charlie Kaufman, who wrote a pair of episodes during season two. (Unsurprisingly, he has little to say.) As in the other bonus features, Mirkin’s nervous energy takes over, as if he wants to set the record straight on as many things as he can while others are listening.
Chris Elliott and Adam Resnick, who co-created the series, don’t show up anywhere in the bonus features, leaving Mirkin to do all the talking for them. I don’t recall hearing why they didn’t participate. Perhaps they didn’t have any interest in revisiting the show, which is possible since they don’t appear in the Paleyfest discussion either, and that was filmed in 2000.
Despite that glaring omission, though, I can’t imagine this show getting a more comprehensive treatment than you’ll find in this set. If you’re one of the series’ many fans, it’s well worth the cost.