Arrested Development: Seasons 1-3

Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.

Arrested Development posterOf all the peculiarities to have appeared on television, this situation-comedy would have to be the most peculiar of all. From the moment it premiered, the series proved something special, laced with biting wit and utilising a clever, unique approach to tell its story. These factors, theoretically, should have made the series a success, and in many ways, it was – but the bean-counters never shared that view.

Arrested Development centres on widowed businessman Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the middle-child of an upper-middle class family residing in Orange County, California. He is currently heading his family’s construction enterprise, the Bluth Company, as a result of his father George (Jeffrey Tambor) being jailed for fraud, embezzlement and “light treason”. Because of these charges, Michael has been burdened with the dual responsibilities of running a business and trying not to incriminate himself in any of his father’s activities.

Away from work, things aren’t much better for Michael, for he must contend with his hapless, jobless siblings. His twin sister Lindsay (Portia di Rossi) has spent her adulthood being an activist and socialite, while her husband Tobias (David Cross) is a disgraced member of the medical fraternity. Elder brother Gob (Will “BoJack” Arnett) – his name rhymes with “lobe”, and is an acronym for his full name, George Oscar Bluth – does have employment history, but only as a magician, and a mediocre one at that.

The most troubled of Michael’s siblings is Buster (Tony Hale), a man-child who only ever leaves home to study electives at university; his mother Lucille (Jessica “Malory” Walter) doesn’t fare much better, using company funds to sustain her leisurely lifestyle and borderline-problematic drinking habit. The Bluth who is closest to being normal is Michael’s teenage son, George-Michael (Michael Cera), yet even he has his issues – particularly, an attraction to his cousin Maebe (Alia Shawkat).

Arrested Development borrows many of its cues from The Office, with handheld, non-steady photography and lack of a laughing track creating the impression of a documentary rather than a comedy programme. But where The Office uses interviews with the characters to provide exposition, here that role is tasked to Ron Howard, the uncredited narrator whose deadpan remarks and dry observations can be heard in every single episode.

There are times when it’s hard to determine which is funnier in Arrested Development – Ron Howard’s narration, or the dialogue of the protagonists, whose scathing remarks are often delivered so rapidly that they barely provide enough time for the viewer to react. And if these gags are missed, there’s plenty of other opportunities to laugh, like when the characters find themselves in bizarre situations, or when Tobias utters one of his innuendo-laden malapropisms.

Much of the programme’s hilarity is due to the editing, which helps time the jokes to perfection, or generates even more laughter by cutting to another scenario which provides context for, or contradicts, something a character says or does – often in tandem with Ron Howard. None of this praise should take away from the equally-gifted cast, whose knack for comedy is what allows the show to so funny, and is possibly the reason why they are still sought after for roles in other projects.

When the Fox Network first aired Arrested Development in 2003, it was immediately met with critical praise, thanks in part to a perfectly-crafted pilot episode that set the tone for the proceeding season. Even so, ratings indicated that viewers weren’t that enamoured by what the show had to offer, leading to a rather abrupt conclusion after just three seasons. It wasn’t until its cancellation that the series’ saw a bolstering of its popularity, with syndication, home video and multiple Emmy wins all contributing factors.

How Fox could not see the appeal in Arrested Development is baffling. Many, including the cast and crew, blame the network for the show’s lack of viewership, and its eventual demise – they argue that better marketing would have seen ratings that befit the quality of the series. By today’s standards, the ratings for Arrested Development were phenomenal, averaging four million viewers per episode in the U.S., but in the mid-Noughties, such figures were only considered meagre for a free-to-air network.

Whatever the case, Arrested Development is a sitcom that deserves to be celebrated, with a novel approach to story-telling and joke-telling. Its understanding of comedy eclipses not only the programmes of the period, but many of the series that are being produced today, and smarts like that certainly should not go ignored.


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