When people look to HBO (Curb Your Enthusiasm) or BBC America (The Office) for the best and brightest TV comedies, it's little wonder, given the dreary, timid mediocrity of so many network sitcoms.

Then along comes a terrific, smart, outrageously funny original like Fox's Arrested Development (Sundays, 9:30 pm/ET), and you can hardly believe it. Filmed in a jittery mock-documentary format, with deadpan narration by producer Ron Howard and — blissfully — no laugh track, this is a bitterly sardonic study of a seriously warped family whose fortunes falter when the patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) is jailed for securities fraud.

While Dad's behind bars — "doing the time of my life," he merrily confesses — it's up to responsible son Michael (Jason Bateman) to look after his self-absorbed clan of delusional socialities and pathetic slackers. "Is there a carbon monoxide leak in this house?" he wonders.

Bateman is a revelation as the voice of sarcastic reason, but the ensemble is full of juicy ham: Jessica Walter as his venal mother, Portia de Rossi as his spoiled twin, David Cross as de Rossi's absurdly incompetent wannabe-actor husband, and Will Arnett and Tony Hale as Michael's idiot brothers, a failed magician and a spineless mama's boy.

Sophisticated and invigorating in its barbed wit and freewheeling blackouts and flashbacks, Arrested Development may need time to develop an audience. Let's hope it catches on.

While Michael laments being part of a family that's "incredibly disappointing," this show is anything but.