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"ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT' LOOKS GOOD WITH BEARD

John Beard, the former Channel 4 anchor, has another cameo appearance in the season premiere of "Arrested Development" (8:30 p.m. Sunday, WUTV).

Regular fans of the series that surprisingly and deservedly won the Emmy for best comedy have gotten used to Beard popping up as a news anchor reading a story about the latest insanity involving the Bluth family.

This time, we learn from Beard (who has been a Los Angeles anchor since he left Buffalo) that George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), the family patriarch who was convicted of accounting fraud, had a deal with Saddam Hussein to develop and build homes in Iraq.

I think that just about tells those people who haven't watched a minute of this dryly hysterical show partially inspired by the Rigas family (that's what creator Mitchell Hurwitz told me last season) all they need to know about its darkly comic and satirical tone.

It wasn't until I watched a preview of Sunday's insufferably long "Dallas" reunion show hosted by old J.R. Ewing himself, Larry Hagman, that I realized that the Bluth family has as much in common with the Ewings as it does with the Rigas family.

Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), the grounded brother who uses humor to survive the situations that his family gets into.

"This is not a family," Michael tells his son, George-Michael (Michael Cera). "It's a bunch of greedy, selfish people who have our nose."

Michael's daddy, George, is J.R., an unscrupulous businessman who will sell his soul to the devil or Hussein. His momma, Lucille (Jessica Walter) is Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) on steroids.

Michael's strange brothers, momma's boy Buster (Tony Hale) and magician Gob (Will Arnett); his twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), and his eccentric brother-in-law, Tobias (David Cross) are the relatives who showed up on "Dallas" to complicate things.

Of course, there is one big difference between "Arrested Development" and "Dallas": the size of its audience. Fox is hoping the Emmy and a time slot after "The Simpsons" will get more people to enjoy the most insanely funny and beautifully-constructed comedy on network television since "Seinfeld."

In Sunday's wacky premiere narrated by Ron Howard (who is one of the producers), George's twin brother, Uncle Oscar, pops up to complicate things; Lindsay and Tobias hatch a sexy, delusional plan to save their marriage, and Tobias finds an unusual way to beat the blues that ends with a double entendre that it is hard to believe gets on network television. Repeatedly.

As funny as the premiere is, I'm guessing it still will be difficult for Fox to enlist an army of new viewers for a strange sitcom without a laugh track that many industry insiders believe has the best hope of saving the genre.

Now let's go back to "Dallas Reunion: Return to Southfork" (9 Sunday, Channel 4), a highlights show that opens with a Texas-sized exaggeration. Hagman calls it "the greatest drama series of all time." He must be using ratings as his measuring stick.

After 10 or 15 minutes of syrupy reminiscensces from cast members, even oldtime "Dallas" fans might flee. Clearly, this two hours of nostalgia proves you can't or shouldn't go home again, especially if you want to remember the actor's faces and bodies as they used to be.

The CBS promos promise a big surprise ending, another Texas-sized exaggeration. The cast seems to have the time of its life, but this former "Dallas" fan thought the show would never end.

Ratings: "Arrested Development" 3 1/2 stars out of 4

"Dallas Reunion: The Return to Southfork" 1 1/2 stars

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com