The show was a creation of Elliott; his friend Adam Resnick, who, like Elliott, had been a writer for David Letterman's Late Night with David Letterman TV show; and David Mirkin, former writer and producer for Newhart and occasional writer and producer for The Simpsons. Notable writers of the series included Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of Being John Malkovich; and Bob Odenkirk, co-creator of Mr. Show.
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.
Even though it is filmed in a multi-camera format, there are several camera techniques that are later used in single-camera format programs such as zooming and unique camera shots. It was also recorded without an audience, which the DVD releases have an option to remove the laugh track. However, several crew members can be heard laughing in some scenes if the option was removed, because Elliott tends to alter his dialogue and actions.
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 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 doted over Chris, though often makes cynical, passive-aggressive comments about him and his lifestyle. Fred (Bob Elliott) is a much more blunt, wise-cracking old man, who is constantly exasperated by his son, 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). However, on rare occasions Fred did stick up for Chris, such as when unlicensed Chris commandeered Fred's car for a date, leaving Fred to call the police thinking it was stolen, Fred defends Chris by saying he did not realize Chris borrowed it. Although Fred confided in Chris that he was proud to see him finally go on a date with a girl, and it may be a possibility for him to move out of the house soon.
In the early episodes, Chris wanted little more than to spend his days reliving his childhood with his father and his best friend, Larry (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 two children and a wife, Sharon (Robin Riker). Chris's decision not to get a license was a rare time he showed foresight: as he tells Larry, 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. Sharon despises Chris, and Chris takes any opportunity to irritate her. Sharon's disdain for Chris goes beyond Larry's, such as one point where Chris has a fling with a cousin of hers. 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 visited 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 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 Gus did things to help out Chris, similar to the rare times Fred was a genuine father to Chris.
One of the more controversial episodes featured a character named Spewey the Alien (a parody of the films Mac and Me and E.T.), an extra-terrestrial who secretes mucus from under his scales (which Chris proceeds to drink and call the "nectar of the Gods") and projectile vomits when he becomes emotionally overwrought. At the end of the episode, Peterson and Gus barbecued and ate Spewey, although the creature was resurrected inside their refrigerator. The name "S.P.E.W.E.Y." stood for "Special Person Entering the World, Egg Yolks."
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 in most episodes by another song (possibly due to legal reasons).
Chris had a string of bad luck which often led to him dying, only to be brought back to life by the next episode. This concept was later used heavily in South Park with Kenny McCormick's frequent tragic accidents. The examples below describe Chris's many deaths:
Volume 1 of the DVD has the episodes
Volume 2 of the DVD has the episodes
These have all gone out of print. No word from Fox if it plans to release complete season DVDs of the show; however, in an undated interview, Chris Elliot mentions working on a Season 1 set with supplements that it is currently being held up in legalities.
Elliott appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday, November 10, 2005, and reiterated the claim that the DVDs were being held up by "suits". He also stated, "Adam Resnick and I recorded commentary for the first season. Hopefully it will be released next year."