The sitcom world has had more than its share of decade legends: The 50’s had I Love Lucy, the 60’s had The Andy Griffith Show, the 70’s had Happy Days, the 80’s had The Cosby Show, and the 90’s had Seinfeld. But what about that in-between time? Lodged somewhere between the last two, lost in that forgotten chunk of time known as the “early 90’s,” came a show that changed millions of lives. A show so ahead of its time that reviewers and audiences alike were scared by its genius, reviled by its audacity and nauseated by a humor they couldn’t yet understand. Or maybe they just didn’t like it. Either way, the callous masses deemed the series “stupid and juvenile.” The year was 1990. The network was Fox. The show was Get A Life.
The concept was simple, unfolding the lack-of-life story of Chris Peterson, played by cult fave comic Chris Elliott. Not the most original premise for a sitcom, except that Chris was a thirty-year-old paperboy who lived over his parent’s garage. His best friend was Larry Potter, an executive married to a successful woman named Sharon, who despised Chris and his negative influence on her whipped husband. Chris’ perennially bathrobed parents, Gladys and Fred (the latter played by Chris’ real-life father, Bob Elliott, one half of the veteran comedy team Bob and Ray) were supportive, if not always understanding of their son’s unwillingness to accept adulthood.
After the first season, Chris moved up in the world, out of his parents’ garage and into the garage of a retired cop named Gus. The always bitter Gus, played by Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray’s brother), was like a father figure to Chris, even though he was usually just as dumbfounded by Chris’ simplicity and childishness as Fred was. However, their contrasting personalities worked to the show’s advantage, turning Chris and Gus into a veritable comic tag team.
Although the show’s material was cleverly written, most of the series’ humor came from the absurd plotlines. Some of the more memorable episodes found Chris stuck upside down on the Hell Loop Roller Coaster, starring in a local theater group’s rendition of “Zoo Animals on Wheels,” accepting a whopping $5 bribe to not rat out the corrupt FDA, working as a male escort, and developing a close bond with an extra-terrestrial named S.P.E.W.E.Y (Special Person Entering the World, Egg Yolks). In a rare move on network TV, Chris died at the end of almost one-third of the show’s 35 episodes. Some of the more interesting ways in which Chris met his maker were by getting blown up, having a giant boulder crush him, being ripped apart by Paperboy 2000, and having his head ripped off and used as a soccer ball by Gus and Sharon.
Despite the show’s poor reviews (and even poorer ratings), Get A Life garnered a huge cult following. It’s easy to see why a majority of people were unable to find humor in Chris’ singing “Mr. Bojangles” in a falsetto voice with a cat on his head (this was how he summoned his mailman), or why Chris thought Emma Samms was “the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, with the possible exception of Charles Durning.” The show was cancelled after only two seasons, but continues to live on in the hearts and minds of Elliott-philes the land over.
USA / Fox – Elliottland Productions – Mirkinvision / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 23 September 1990 – 14 June 1992
Chris Elliott as Chris Peterson
Brian Doyle-Murray as Gus
Sam Robards as Larry Potter
Robin Riker as Sharon Potter
Zachary Benjamin as Bobby Potter
Taylor Fry as Amy Potter
Elinor Donahue as Gladys Peterson
Bob Elliott as Fred Peterson