The Bluths have a little trouble holding down jobs. Buster has studied cartography and Native American tribal rituals, but thinks he can't find work in those fields because he's prone to panic attacks. Tobias has lost his medical license after giving CPR to someone who didn't need it. Lindsay is in the caring profession, too. She's spearheading an anti-circumcision group called HOOP: Hands Off Our Penises. Gob used to do magic tricks ("Illusions!" he insists. "A trick is what a whore does for money"), but he got kicked out of the magicians' union after he hid his father in a disappearing cabinet when the police came to arrest him on fraud charges. And then there's Michael. He's so disgusted with his family that he's made the only sensible Bluth decision ever: he's never going to speak to these people again.
Fortunately, the silent treatment lasts for less than an episode of Fox's hysterical new "Arrested Development," and if there's any justice, the show, which debuts Nov. 2, will last a lot longer. In a TV season littered with dysfunctional-family sitcoms, "Arrested Development" is the most dysfunctional of the bunch--and it's funnier than all the others combined. Clever, nutty and utterly original, it's something like "The Royal Tenenbaums" meets "Malcolm in the Middle," held together with "Monty Python" Silly Putty. If that sounds like it's all over the place, maybe that's because "Arrested Development" works on so many levels. It's a show that adores wordplay: hence Michael's son is named George Michael and a tease of a cousin is named "Maebe." It loves visual jokes, whether it's the sight of Dad (Jeffrey Tambor) trying to get down with the brothers in jail or the entire family caught in a chaotic gay-rights protest on the high seas. Best of all, "Arrested Development" treats every inane (or insane) twist with utter seriousness, as if the show were a documentary of the absurd, complete with earnest narration by Ron Howard (who's an executive producer). The result is dry as a martini and just as intoxicating.
Though it sometimes gives you a hangover. There's a thin line between inspired silliness and just plain silly, and "Arrested Development" can get carried away with cornball jokes--and we mean jokes literally about making corn balls. Still, you can't fault a show for trying, and for giving the surprisingly funny Jason Bateman (Michael) a show that's worthy of his talents. In a world where a good food fight can turn a lame sitcom like "Hope and Faith" into a hit, "Arrested Development" deserves to be a smash. And we don't mean Maebe.