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Be sure you get 'Arrested'

Jason Bateman
Jason Bateman

"Arrested Development" just might be the funniest new show of the year. And one of the oddest.

Oh, on the surface, this Fox comedy (which premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on Ch. 13) is just the latest in a long line of shows about dysfunctional families. Yes, the Bluths are seriously strange. But that isn't what sets "Arrested" apart.

"I keep describing it as 'Royal Tenenbaums' shot like 'COPS,' " said star Jason Bateman. And it's an apt description.

There's no studio audience here. "Arrested Development" is shot like a documentary.

"When we first started talking about it, I thought . . . it would be great to utilize kind of reality TV — shows like 'COPS,' " said executive producer Ron Howard.

And Sunday's pilot even includes an arrest. A very funny arrest.

Bateman stars as Michael Bluth, the widowed father of a 13-year-old boy. It's Michael who has kept the Bluth Development Co. in business. But when his father, George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), passes him over for promotion, Michael resolves to take his boy and start a new life elsewhere.

But, as the family is celebrating George Sr.'s retirement on a yacht, the SEC closes in, arrests the family patriarch for fraud and freezes family assets. Leaving Michael to try to clean up the mess for a bunch of ungrateful, pampered, obnoxious relatives.

His mom, Lucille (Jessica Walter), is a martini-swilling socialite without a clue about real life. George Jr. (Will Arnett) is a slacker who's never held a job. Younger brother Buster (Tony Hale) is a professional student/cartographer who's also completely out of touch.

Michael's twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), fancies herself a charity queen — but now she needs charity herself. And her husband, Tobias (David Cross), is a decidedly odd ex-doctor who lost his license to practice medicine.

Bateman is a revelation — the ex-child star is great in this show. The rest of the cast is also very good, the writing is sharp, the humor level is high and it succeeds in creating a different comedy look and style.

Unfortunately, good doesn't always translate into successful on network television. And this could be another one of those shows that critics love but viewers ignore because it is so different in tone and style.

Let's hope not. But it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to watch "Arrested Development" now, while you still have the chance.