Picks and Pans Review: Arrested Development

updated 11/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

FOX (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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I'd call this the best new comedy of the fall, but that's not such an accolade considering the competition. Let's say it's the season's best new series, period. If you're attuned to the offbeat, the Nov. 2 premiere will have you leaning close to the screen to catch every joke, verbal and visual.

Retiring mogul George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor, in his finest form since The Larry Sanders Show) taps his spendthrift wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter), as the new CEO of the Bluth Co. That causes Bluth's diligent son Michael (Jason Bateman) to quit in disgust and signals to the rest of the profligate family that it's okay to keep feeding at the company trough. But the feds jail George Sr. for accounting fraud, and the Bluths soon realize they need Michael to sort through the financial wreckage.

Sounds like a satirical treatment of corporate ethics and the idle rich, and that's partly what Arrested Development is up to. But the show goes for laughs every which way. With funny names, for instance: George Michael (Michael Cera), Michael's 13-year-old son, has a crush on cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat), and Michael's brother Gob (Will Arnett)—pronounced like the biblical Job—is a bad magician. The whole cast is right on pitch, and David Cross is hilarious as Michael's brother-in-law Tobias Funke, a delicensed doctor who longs to be an actor. Bateman lives down past flops (Some of My Best Friends) with his deft portrayal of a character who's only relatively sane.

COMEDY

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