Get a Life was a sitcom starring and co-created by Chris Elliott (There’s Something About Mary, Cabin Boy, and Eagleheart) that managed to last two seasons on a proto-Fox Network sans programming. Combining traditional aspects of three-camera sitcoms with a heavy amount of surrealism, one could compare Get a Life to an animated Dali painting with clever jokes. Writers David Mirkin (who co-created the show and went on to be the Simpsons showrunner during its glory years), Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show and Breaking Bad), and Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) crafted a bizarre spin on the standard small town in which most sitcoms take place. Elliott played a 30 year old paperboy named Chris who lived with his parents and boasted many childlike qualities–for better or worse. Chris encountered such adventures as defending his job from a robot named Paperboy 2000, trying to prove to his extended family that he was cooler than his “successful” cousin (a barely recognizable Jackie Earle Haley), and scoring the lead in a musical entitled Zoo Animals on Wheels. Twelve episodes of the series’ 35 episode run end with Chris’s death, due to everything from falling boulders to being shot.
Although charming and easy to laugh at, not everyone in the series was smitten with Chris. While his married and mature best friend Larry envies Chris’s carefree lifestyle and eagerness to play with toys, Larry’s wife Sharon is disgusted by Chris and the influence he has over her husband. Similarly, Chris’s mother continues to play the role of a Leave it to Beaver-esque supportive sitcom mom, while his father (played by Elliott’s real life father, Bob Elliott) makes it clear that his son is an embarrassment. Oddly, for such a relationship the tension between father and son is never angry. Rather, the elder Elliott’s delivery is frequently deadpan, which makes it all the funnier.While reality clearly plays a determining role in Get a Life, it seems to bear on some more than others.While reality clearly plays a determining role in Get a Life, it seems to bear on some more than others. For example, Sharon is perhaps the most down-to-Earth character, at least at the series’ outset, and seems most bound to the natural order of things. Fiscal responsibility, child rearing, and so forth. As the series progresses, however, she becomes more unhinged by her hatred of Chris–even homicidal–and loses her grasp of reality. At one point it’s revealed later in the series that she has a walk-in meat locker underneath her staircase. Similarly, Chris’s parents–shown always in their bathrobes, regardless of location–are generally off in la la land. Their demonstrated onscreen skills range from the construction of complex aquatic machinery, to absentminded gun cleaning, all while giving Chris advice. Chris’s mother appears to be the least stable parent, disregarding such things as large amounts of water pouring from the ceiling as “more than usual”.
Chris lives in a world where, as a child, he could purchase a $19.95 submarine from the back of a comic book, get it delivered twenty years later, discover it to be a functioning submarine, park it in the bathtub, attempt entry, and nearly suffocate to death. In Chris’s world, it’s not weird that he meets the most popular starlet of the day, falls in love with, marries, then divorces her, and subsequently bumps into her (each with a new significant other in tow) for a pleasant chat–all within 12 hours. When Chris decides to visit The Big City (the city’s actual name), it’s fully possible for it to be stuck in the 1940s and include stereotypical Irish cops and fast-talking journalists looking for a “scoop”. During his visit Chris becomes a celebrity for losing his wallet after a nice stranger offers him a beer and drugs him. The entire city, I should mention, is a green screen showing old fashioned films of New York. (As I write this, it occurs to me that a solid fan theory for this show would be that a vast majority of what happens occurs in Chris’s mentally-unstable head.)
While the production values of Get a Life left much to be desired, this failing often worked for comedic effect. When Chris idolizes a trio of construction workers making modifications to his parents’ kitchen, he hangs out with them in the backyard (as opposed to a different set) to make catcalls at “various women who walked across my yard for no apparent reason”. Likewise, the green screen effects in The Big City work wonderfully in their complete lack of realism. For all of its technical shortcomings, however, the showrunners certainly invested the show’s budget in one place quite wisely: its soundtrack. The use of R.E.M.’s “Stand” as a theme song irrevocably linked it to this show and, as a result, produces pure comedy. In-house composer Stewart Levin also delivered the goods and provided solid material for the Zoo Animals on Wheels production.Get a Life‘s run on the air may have been all-too-brief, but at least it’s preserved for future generations to observe that which inspired the likes of Community, South Park, and The Simpsons.Get a Life recently enjoyed a belated DVD release this past Fall, and the complete series is a solid buy for anyone who appreciates comedy. Special features include versions of the show without a laugh track, commentary from Mirkin and others, and–perhaps best of all–a few commentary tracks from a psychologist who attempts to diagnose Chris. Get a Life‘s run on the air may have been all-too-brief, but at least it’s preserved for future generations to observe that which inspired the likes of Community, South Park, and The Simpsons.