- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

New ‘Development’

Leave it to Fox to bend the rules of the modern sitcom once more. The network originated the raunchy anti-sitcom “Married … with Children,” and years later debuted the all-style, no-substance humor of “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Now, it rolls the dice again with “Arrested Development,” a show that defies easy categorization. No laugh track. No setups and punch lines.

Just call it the best comedy of the new season.

Blessed with a gifted cast, including a surprisingly centered Jason Bateman, the show resembles not network fare but something from the creative cerebral cortices over at HBO.

It’s constantly inventive, smart and satisfying, and the second episode suffers only a slight dip in quality.

If “Development” suffers a quick death, viewers will have only themselves to blame when the next “A Minute with Stan Hooper” or “Coupling” comes their way.

Jeffrey Tambor rules in a small but cagey role as the patriarch of the large, dysfunctional Bluth family. The kin are constantly kissing up to Papa for a bigger piece of his corporate pie, but when Mr. Tambor’s character gets busted for illegal business practices, the family is left to fend for itself.

Michael Bluth (Mr. Bateman) would like nothing more than to shed his familial skin altogether but can’t help himself when they all come begging for help.

Tivo it. Tape it. Or — novel idea — stay home and tune in. “Arrested Development” premieres Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

‘King’ reigns supreme

Fox’s “King of the Hill” has always stood in the formidable shadow of “The Simpsons” juggernaut, but the former happens to be aging more gracefully.

Hank Hill, as square as his black frame glasses, remains a rare conservative presence not played for mockery. Shows such as “Married to the Kellys” mock the heartland, while “Hill” continues to mine warm, well-observed laughter from the middle of the Texas middle class.

Sunday’s eighth season opener finds Boomhauer’s brother, Patch (an appropriately mush-mouthed Brad Pitt), coming to Arlen with his bride to be (Laura Dern), who happens to be Boomhauer’s ex. Patch remains the suave ladies’ man, and Boomhauer doesn’t buy that he’s ready to settle down.

The subsequent bachelor party vindicates his skepticism. The episode reinforces the main character’s sweetly anachronistic take on modern living. Young Bobby remains a wholly original teenager, neither dork nor jock but forever adrift in between.

The season’s second episode, airing next week, is even better. Bobby joins a cool Christian youth group in which tattoos and piercings are ways to praise “J.C.,” as they are wont to say.

Hank the traditionalist blows a fuse but is torn because Bobby has never seemed so interested in theology.

The episode’s gentle humor leads up to a denouement that’s both smart and more respectful of Christianity than any sitcom today dares to be. “King of the Hill” airs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox.

‘Simpsons’ special

It’s become a tradition each Halloween for Fox’s “The Simpsons” to air its own ghoulish special after Oct. 31.

The timing might be yet another gag from the mind of “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, but the results typically show off the best and worst of the animated clan.

These horror interludes let the show’s creators run amok, a license they’ve taken too often during recent, lackluster seasons.

The first segment of the new “Treehouse,” airing at 8 p.m. Sunday, casts Homer as the Grim Reaper, complete with bony hand and sickle. The setup paves the way for a number of sharp gags, including an homage to Britain’s Benny Hill and some choice dialogue from Homer.

“I may occasionally kill out of anger or to make a point, but I am not a Grim Reaper,” he cries when handed Death’s cloak.

Subsequent segments, including Bart and Milhouse ordering a clock that stops time from the back of a comic book, prove clever only on the surface. Guest star Jerry Lewis gives life to “Frinkenstein,” playing the father of the show’s nerdy-professor character, brought back to life via electricity.

Guess who’s on ‘Strong Medicine’

The classic film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” gets a modern twist Sunday with a new episode of Lifetime’s “Strong Medicine.”

The program’s next installment features Tony Award winner Diahann Carroll as the mother of Dr. Milo Morton (Richard Biggs), the love interest of Dr. Amy Campbell (Patricia Richardson). Miss Carroll’s character is shocked to learn her black son has fallen for a woman of another race, provoking questions raised by the 1967 film with Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

The episode, titled “Love and Let Die,” airs at 10 p.m. Sunday.

Happy birthday, CBS

The Tiffany network gives itself a great big hug this weekend to celebrate 75 years on the air.

“CBS at 75,” a three-hour special airing at 8 p.m. Sunday, looks back at the network’s decades of programming.

The special, to be broadcast live from New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, will feature a galaxy of network stars, including Alan Alda, Larry Hagman, June Lockhart, Art Linkletter, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Ed Asner and many more.

The telecast will dig into the CBS archives to unveil clips from the network’s entertainment, news, sports and radio broadcasts.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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