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Not a promising development

Sit Down, Shut Up doesn’t live up to its creator’s legacy

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Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz returns to TV, and to Fox, this week with a show that bears no indication of the wit and complexity he brought to the much-loved but consistently low-rated series. Sit Down, Shut Up (Fox, Sundays, 8:30 p.m.) is a clumsy, rudimentary animated show that looks like the kind of thing Comedy Central would slap together to air after South Park and run for two mostly unnoticed seasons. It’s been years since Fox did anything interesting with its Sunday-night animation block, and Sit Down doesn’t look like it’s about to buck that trend.

At least it’s not another show from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, whose empty, reference-heavy shtick has dominated the night since the premiere of American Dad. Sit Down is a little more streamlined and straightforward, and was actually adapted from a live-action Australian sitcom that lasted for one season in 2001. Hurwitz and co-creators Eric and Kim Tannenbaum have used the animation medium as an opportunity to go very broad with their comedy, giving every character a wacky name, an exaggerated personality and a catchphrase (this last bit is actually enshrined in the show’s premise, as in the pilot it’s established that all teachers at Knob Haven High have to have their own catchphrase).

The Details

Sit Down Shut Up
Two stars
Fox, Sundays, 8:30 p.m.
Beyond the Weekly
Fox: Sit Down, Shut Up

Nominally the show is about the faculty of a small-town high school, but really that’s just an excuse for ever-more-absurd set pieces and clumsy bits of satire. The voice cast is impressive, including former Arrested Development stars Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, as well as Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte, Cheri Oteri and Kenan Thompson, among others. But no one really stands out here, and the characters they’re given to play are generally pretty one-note. (Their names are often just statements of their single personality traits; the acting principal, Sue Sezno, for example, is quite contrary.) Bateman’s lead character, P.E. teacher Larry Littlejunk, is highly reminiscent of Jon Lovitz’s Jay Sherman on the short-lived (and much better) Fox animated show The Critic.

Sit Down also has a strange aesthetic that probably seemed clever when it was devised but ends up just making the show look cheap. The animated characters and props are set against live-action backdrops, and the two elements never connect, so that the show appears to constantly be taking place on two separate planes. In addition, the animation itself is crude and not very fluid, especially when compared to Fox’s other cartoons.

Arrested Development thrived on an intricate continuity built up over time, an interlocking set of references both external and internal and a great cast suited perfectly to its roles. Sit Down is missing all of those elements, and there’s nothing in the first two episodes to indicate that they’ll come together. The characters lack the kind of depth that can be plumbed either for pathos or for meaningful humor, and the best jokes can be found in little background elements (motivational posters, activities banners) that require pausing the show to read.

Perhaps, then, it’s best to consider Sit Down not as Hurwitz’s much-anticipated follow-up to Arrested Development, but rather as the next project of Two and a Half Men veterans the Tannenbaums. Viewed from that much less lofty perch, it’s at least mildly clever and occasionally edgy, but certainly not the kind of thing that will inspire passionate fan outrage when it inevitably gets canceled in two months.

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