How “Get A Life” revolutionized TV comedy
One moron and his adventures influenced a generation
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 22:10
Chris Peterson, middle-aged paperboy, scruffy loser, and occasional time traveler, rides again in a new DVD set by Shout! Factory. The star of the short-lived Fox series Get A Life, played by Chris Elliott, was the spiritual grandfather of a generation of man-children and blithering idiots in TV comedy.
Copyright issues, including the R.E.M. theme song, have held up a proper DVD release for years. But now, Get A Life is available in all its absurd glory. The story of a 30-year-old paperboy who refuses to grow up, Get A Life was a show that gleefully rejected the banality of its premise by having its main character do things like go undercover to bust a ring of watch counterfeiters.
Characters like the perpetual adolescent Abed of Community, or the psychotic white-trash hero of HBO’s Eastbound and Down, can be traced back to Elliot's oblivious prankster. But while most shows provide some sort of character development, Chris Peterson comes back from humiliation, and even death, to get himself tangled in another adventure with each episode.
In early episodes, the writers tried to ground Chris in reality by bouncing him against an uptight neighbor (Sam Robards) and his insufferable wife (Robin Rikers). But as Chris’ antics grew more and more outlandish, the neighbor dynamic was jettisoned, leaving Chris to pursue his dreams of male prostitution and making friends with an alien.
The driving force of Get A Life is Chris Elliott's singular comedic sensibility, a combination of childlike wonder and pratfalls that would make Chevy Chase envious. If you aren’t bowled over by Chris receiving a psychic vision of a rollerblading monkey in a sequined vest or getting crushed by a giant Styrofoam boulder, this isn't the show for you.
Though its ratings were merely averageduring its two-season run, Get A Life’s influence extends to Community’s dream like theme episodes and the trigger-happy idiocy of Elliott’s U.S. Marshal on adult swim’s Eagleheart. Not to mention, two modern comedy geniuses, Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad, and Charlie Kaufman, writer of Being John Malkovich, wrote for the show’s second season. Finally, late ‘90s hip-hop fanatics will surely recognize the name of the “Handsome Boy Modeling School” where Chris gets his big break as a male model.
The DVD includes a special feature that removes the fake laugh track, making the episodes more modern, but surreal and weirdly paced. In a way, that’s perfect for this show, which is as odd and uncomfortable as it is influential.