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Get a Life (TV series)

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 starred Chris Elliott as a 30-year-old paperboy named Chris Peterson. Peterson lived in an apartment above his parents' garage (Elliot's parents were played by Elinor Donahue and his real life father, comedian Bob Elliott). The opening credits depicted 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; 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.

Synopsis

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."

Reruns

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).

The many deaths of Chris Peterson

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:

  • After Chris's childhood playground is condemned for destruction, Chris vows to save it by breaking the world's record for most stuff piled onto a human. After accomplishing this feat, Chris is left trapped underneath the pile of death with no one around to help him out. To entertain himself he pulls out a book which causes the pile to collapse on top of him.
  • Chris and the other paperboys are fired by their boss, who hires a robotic Paperboy-2000 to do all the work. When the machine runs amok, Chris succeeds in stopping the machine by destroying it, but after he congratulates himself the machine starts up again, and the final scene shows it targeting Chris.
  • After saving up $100 to buy a Chrono-Sync 2000 Underwater Watch, Chris realizes that he has been ripped off when it falls apart in the shower. He goes on a quest to find the crooks responsible for the hoax, only to get caught up in the cops' sting operation himself. This proves fatal when one of the cops shoots him in the head for being annoying.
  • Chris falls in love, gets married, goes on a honeymoon, and gets divorced all in one day. After getting his heart broken, he gets crushed by a giant boulder.
  • While on his first trip to the city, Chris gets slipped a mickey and realizes his wallet is missing. A local news crew films his plight and dubs him "Walletboy", making him the darling of the city. Everybody shuns him when it turns out that he just left the wallet at home. Chris dies of old age while waiting for them to forgive him, but in the end, fifty years later, Chris's skeleton gets a parade by the now-forgiving townspeople.
  • Chris gets a two-man toy sub in the mail that he ordered twenty years ago for $19.99. He and his father test it out themselves in the bathtub. This nearly kills them when they get stuck inside, the shower head breaks, and the bathtub overflows, causing them to crash through the ceiling below. Forty years later, an aged Chris receives a letter that the submarine was defective and they will give him a refund, but that he must send the defective submarine back in its original packaging; to which Chris says to himself, "Know what the problem is, life is just too damn short" and keels over immediately afterwards as his body has stopped working. (This is a parody of the final scene of The Godfather Part III when Michael Corleone dies of old age.)
  • In another episode, Chris dies twice, once choking on his cereal and having a near-death experience, coming back to see visions of people's futures. Later, Sharon strangles Chris to death after he repeatedly stalks her while trying to warn her about her "fate" which he allegedly saw.
  • Although he does not officially die in the second season premiere, it is implied that Gus hacks Chris to death while he is sleeping. While he sleeps, Gus is shown sharpening his axe.
  • When Chris goes to the doctor to treat a sore throat, he is stunned to learn he will need a tonsillectomy and lose his voice briefly. The doctor assures him he will be fine as only .001% people die from tonsillectomies. His voice returns immediately before he dies as one of the .001%. The narrative voice gives a subsequent service message informing viewers not to become a statistic.
  • After Chris's prison pen-pal Irma (Nora Dunn) comes to visit after being released, she takes over the apartment building, holding Chris, Gus, and everyone else hostage as she rebuilds her criminal empire. When the police come to take her down, Gus accidentally shoots Chris five times while trying to shoot her. Chris was the only death in the hostage crisis.
  • While Chris tries to stalk a beautiful doctor in hopes she will go out with him, another stalker follows him and kills him by stabbing him. He is left bleeding in the doctor's living room.
  • Following the brainwashing of Gus and Sharon to make them do whatever he wants, Chris gets his head ripped off by them, which they use to play soccer with in the front yard.
  • Determined to go back in time to prevent Gus from urinating on his boss who will get him fired, Chris makes a time travel potion to help him go back to 1977. In the end, the alternative universes following the change he makes are worse than they should be, so he decides to leave the past the way it was. Gus has now had a sexual reassignment operation, and is now married to Chris. Completely forgetting about those unintended consequences, Chris then chooses to fix his own past. He accidentally drinks the wrong potion and explodes.
  • As he goes on his first plane ride, Chris opens the exit door of the airplane thinking it was a restroom door and falls through the stratosphere. After reliving most of the events in the past year, he dies after he lands on a four poster bed made entirely out of plastic explosive.

Home video

Rhino Video has released best of videos and DVDs of the shows. They released four videos with two episodes each, then released 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.

Volume 1 of the DVD has the episodes

  • The Prettiest Week of My Life
  • Bored Straight
  • Spewey and Me
  • Girlfriend 2000

Bonus Features:

  • Deleted scenes
  • Alternate audio versions of all shows with laugh track removed

Volume 2 of the DVD has the episodes

  • Zoo Animals on Wheels
  • Married
  • The Big City
  • Neptune 2000

Bonus Features:

  • Interview with Executive Producer/Director David Mirkin
  • Alternate audio versions of all shows with laugh track removed

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."

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