Get a Life (TV series)
|Get a Life|
Region 1 DVD cover of the complete series
|Created by||Chris Elliott
|Theme music composer||R.E.M.|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||35 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David Mirkin|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original run||September 23, 1990 – March 8, 1992|
Get a Life is a television sitcom that was broadcast in the United States on the Fox Network from September 23, 1990, to March 8, 1992. The show stars Chris Elliott as a 30-year-old paperboy named Chris Peterson. Peterson lived in an apartment above his parents' garage (Elliott's parents are played by Elinor Donahue and his real-life father, comedian Bob Elliott). The opening credits depict Chris Peterson delivering newspapers on his bike to the show's theme song, "Stand" by R.E.M.
The show was a creation of Elliott, Adam Resnick (like Elliott, a writer for Late Night with David Letterman) and writer/director David Mirkin (former executive producer/showrunner for Newhart and later for The Simpsons). Mirkin was executive producer/showrunner of the series and also directed most of the episodes. Notable writers of the series included Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of Being John Malkovich; and Bob Odenkirk, co-creator of Mr. Show with Bob and David and Tenacious D.
The show was unconventional for a prime time sitcom, and many times the storylines of the episodes were surreal. For example, Elliott's character actually dies in twelve episodes. The causes of death included being crushed by a giant boulder, old age, tonsillitis, stab wounds, gunshot wounds, falling from an airplane, strangulation, getting run over by cars, choking on cereal, and simply exploding. For this reason, it was a struggle for Elliott and Mirkin to get the show on the air. Many of the executives at the Fox Network hated the show and thought it was too disturbing and that Elliott's character was too insane.
After only two VHS/DVD volumes were released, Chris Elliott confirmed that Shout Factory would be releasing the complete series of the show on September 18, 2012 - the first time all of the show's episodes were made commercially available.
Chris Peterson is a carefree, childlike bachelor who refuses to live the life of an adult. At the age of 30, Chris still lives with his parents and maintains a career delivering newspapers (the St. Paul Pioneer Press), a job that he has held since his youth. He has no driver's license (instead, riding his bicycle wherever he goes). He is depicted as being childish, naïve, gullible, foolish, occasionally irresponsible, and extremely dimwitted. Chris is often the subject of abuse from his friends and family. He is often seen dancing (involving a silly back-and-forth step while swinging his arms) to the piano tune "Alley Cat" by Bent Fabric. His lack of intelligence is exaggerated to absurd levels: at one point, he tries to leave his parents' house but is unable to operate the front door. He also fell out of an airplane after opening the plane's exterior door, believing that it led to the restroom.
Chris's parents (Fred and Gladys Peterson) are a vapid late middle-aged couple who are almost always seen in their pajamas and robes (even when they leave the house). They are often shown doing something abnormal like polishing handguns, or trying to shoot the deer that ate the flower bulbs out of their garden. Gladys (Elinor Donahue) is a smiling, caring mother who dotes on Chris, though often makes cynical, passive-aggressive comments about him and his lifestyle. Fred (Bob Elliott) is a blunt, wise-cracking old man, who is constantly exasperated by his son (often calling him a "horse's ass"), and seems to have a reckless disregard for Chris's well-being (on one occasion, Chris demonstrated how his father taught him to use a shotgun by placing the barrel in his mouth).
In the early episodes, Chris wants little more than to spend his days reliving his childhood with his father and his best friend, Larry Potter (Sam Robards). Larry was Chris's friend since childhood, but, unlike Chris, Larry has since "grown up", owns a house, works a dead-end job as an accountant, and has a wife, Sharon (Robin Riker) and two children. Chris's decision not to get a license was a rare time he showed foresight: as he tells Larry, that unlike him he was not tempted to drive to a makeout spot, implying that Larry was forced into a shotgun wedding by Sharon's family. Sharon is an overbearing housewife who does not want her husband associating with Chris, preferring instead that he make friends with more sophisticated socialites that better befit their image. It is implied that she is a sadistic dominatrix with her husband in private. Sharon despises Chris (and as such is Chris's main antagonist), and Chris takes any opportunity to irritate her. At one point, Chris has a fling with her sister. Larry is envious of Chris's carefree lifestyle and is often coerced by Chris into joining him in his adventures, despite his wife's wishes. To Chris's dismay, Larry eventually heeds his advice and leaves his wife and children at the beginning of the second season. Larry leaves a message for Chris that he is gone for good, and Chris, in his typical, ignorant manner, then wolfs down the message, as he believes paper is something to be eaten. This leaves Sharon traumatized, and she becomes more and more obsessed with killing Chris in revenge.
In a defiant nod to Fox Network demands that his character "be more independent", Chris Peterson moved out of his parents' house at the beginning of the second season, much to his parents' amazement and joy (although he now lives in a nearby neighborhood and still frequently visits his parents), and into the garage of ex-cop Gus Borden, played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who had been fired from the police force for urinating on his boss. He is a gruff, demeaning sociopath with a short temper and minimal tolerance for Chris's antics, which Chris seems to be oblivious to, while looking up to Gus as a sort of paternal figure. For that reason, Gus serves as Chris's comic foil throughout the second season. On rare occasions, however, Gus does things to help out Chris, similar to the rare times Fred was a genuine father to Chris.
In the DVD commentary for the series by David Mirkin, he discusses the development of the Chris Peterson character and the series in great detail. Mirkin states that the Chris Peterson character was originally somewhat based on Dennis the Menace, i.e. "What would Dennis The Menace have been like when he was 30 years old?" In the pilot, "Terror on the Hell Loop 2000", Chris Peterson was a fully functioning, wisecracking adult who is beating the system. However, as the series went on, he became a darker, more psychotic, character. According to Mirkin, the main character was made more likeable in the pilot to get the network to agree to order the series, and once the series was ordered, the producers took the character in the darker direction that was always intended.
Mirkin explains that the series itself was both a homage to the sitcoms of the 1960s and 1970s as well as a subversive farce of the genre. Ultimately, Chris Peterson was a modern, borderline psychotic inhabiting a world of standard sitcom characters from a prior era. In particular, his main foil, Sharon, dresses and acts like standard sitcom character from the 1960s. Her house is a standard sitcom set, and she has a standard sitcom family. The town is inhabited by standard sitcom archetypes, often played by well-recognized character actors from that era (e.g. James Hampton from F Troop and Graham Jarvis from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). A particular homage to that era of sitcoms is that the same actors would play different minor characters, only episodes apart. Mirkin also noted that the use of the original house from The Munsters as a backdrop at the end of the show's opening credits was another homage to the genre. 
According to Mirkin, the network executives did not understand a lot of the more surreal, violent content of the scripts but nevertheless allowed it to go ahead. This enabled the writers to proceed with limited interference. However, the studio did not want the episode "Spewey and Me" to be aired, largely on the grounds of the alien being disgusting and getting eaten by Chris and Gus. Written as a parody of science-fiction films E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial and Mac and Me, the show's creators intended it to be a hopeful story of rebirth, hence the alien's resurrection at the end. However, Peter Chernin, who was in charge of Fox, proclaimed the episode to be one of the series' funniest and ensured that it would be released.
Had the show continued beyond its second season, Elliot, Mirkin and Rensick would have depicted Chris becoming a hobo, which would drop Fred, Gladys, Gus, and the others characters from the storyline. As Mirkin explained, he wanted to do a series that changed every year and did something different each season; "Chris would have moved out of Gus' garage and become a homeless drifter. And he would have traveled the country, in every place touching someone else's life and making it a little bit worse" .
The show was rerun in 2000 on the USA Network, although the series was only partially shown, and the theme song "Stand" by R.E.M. was replaced by generic music to avoid royalties for each playing of the theme. Occasionally, however, episodes aired with the correct theme.
Rhino Home Video released best of videos and DVDs - four videos with two episodes each and two DVDs with four episodes each, as well as one or two bonus features. The eight episodes on the videos are the same as the ones on the DVDs. The DVDs were released in 2000 and 2002 respectively. These have all gone out of print.
Shout! Factory released the complete series on September 18, 2012. Although Chris Elliott stated in 2005 that he had recorded commentary tracks with Adam Resnick, none of Elliott's and Resnik's commentaries were used; they were substituted with commentaries by David Mirkin, and Mirkin is similarly the only creator present in the DVD set's extras.
It was noted by Mirkin that the reason the full DVD box set took so long to release is that the original producers of the show felt that all of the incidental music was very important to the series. They didn't want to release the series until all the rights to the songs had been secured, and the series could be released with all of the original music intact. 
Hip hop producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura is a noted fan of the series, stating "it was probably one of the best shows on television". Handsome Boy Modeling School, consisting of Nakamura and "Prince Paul" Huston, is named after the series, and other works by Nakamura have referenced both Get a Life and Cabin Boy. Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster of The Best Show on WFMU became friends due to their mutual appreciation of Get a Life.
- "Video David Mirkin interview from the out of print Volume 2 DVD".
- "DVD Commentary by David Mirkin". Shout ! Factory. September 18, 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
- O'Neil, Shawn (March 30, 2012). "Get A Life: The Complete Series is finally coming to DVD". avclub.com. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Lambert, David (June 8, 2012). "Get a Life - 'The Complete Series' from Shout!: Date, Cost, Package Art". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
- Epstein, Daniel Robert (September 27, 2005). "Chris Elliott interview". suicidegirls.com. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- Crain, Zac (November 25, 1999). "Handsome Dan, Automator Man". Miami New Times. Retrieved 27 January 2009.
- Gothamist article: "Tom Scharpling, Writer, Producer, and Host of the Best Show on WFMU."