“Cracking Up” vs. “Arrested Development”

I loved the first episode of Fox’s new series “Cracking Up,” but found each of the next three increasingly less funny. I’ve given up on it altogether now, and I’ve told TiVo not to burden me with recordings of it. TiVo takes these directions seriously, so I don’t anticipate “Cracking Up” will be occupying a place in my home again any time soon.

It seemed to be a show with great promise, but I realize now that it was doomed from the start. The premise is that a psychology grad student goes to live with a rich family to help their 10-year-old son overcome his problems. Naturally, the kid turns out to be the sanest one of the bunch, while his older siblings and his parents are completely crackers. The voice over on the opening credits even spells this out for us.

And there’s the problem, and there’s why the show was destined to fail: It tries too hard to be wacky. Most shows that declare themselves “crazy” or “zany” — “Ben has to take care of the 10-year-old, but that’s the LEAST of his problems! Wokka wokka wokka!” — aren’t. Even the show’s title, “Cracking Up,” underscores the show’s one joke, which is that every character is totally KRA-ZEE!!!!!!

Compare this with “Arrested Development,” which is currently the funniest show on television. Yes, funnier than “The Simpsons,” yes, funnier than “Scrubs.” (Those are Nos. 2 and 3, by the way.) “Arrested Development” is also about a dysfunctional family whose members tend toward the loony, but it takes the smart route and refuses to hit us over the head with their quirkiness. The show’s style is dry, viewing the insane goings-on with the eye of a casual observer. It is even shot like a documentary, which adds to the matter-of-factness.

And let me tell you: The show is HYSTERICAL. It has an ongoing storyline, which may scare off new viewers, but I promise you’ll figure it all out pretty fast. It’s on at 9:30 p.m. Sundays (8:30 p.m. Central/Mountain). Please watch it, or it will get canceled, and I will be very, very sad.