It is a sad realisation that Mitch Hurwitz’s 2003 comedy series Arrested Development lasted just three seasons. But the fact that the critically acclaimed, Emmy award winning sitcom managed to make multiple ‘Top Ten’ lists for Best TV Comedy of the last decade, with just 53 episodes, is testament to the brilliance that is Hurwitz and the cast. In the six years after the finale, the show has garnered itself a massive cult following, all eager to call themselves a member of the Bluth family. And when it was confirmed late last year at The New Yorker Festival’s Arrested Development reunion that there would be a fourth series leading into a feature film, the internet exploded in a flurry of celebration.
So what makes Arrested Development one of the finest comedies in TV history? The mockumentary style show revolves around a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. Funnily enough, that’s the first thing you hear when you watch the pilot episode, and if you’re anything like me, you probably read that against a back track of the series’ theme music. We are introduced to the ‘one son’, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), as he eagerly awaits his father, George Snr’s (Jeffrey Tambor) decision to name him partner of the family business, on a boat party. Despite Michael’s consistent dedication to the company, which involves living in the attic of the company’s model home, the position is handed over to his socialite mother, Lucille (Jessica Walters).
We quickly learn that Michael is the only sane member of the family – and yes, this is taking into account that he chose to live with his son, George Michael (Michael Cera), in a non-functional model home, where mini cereal boxes are hidden in the stomach of a plastic roasted turkey. While Michael concedes that hard work and determination puts him ahead, the rest of his family relies on the company’s expenses to fund their ridiculous items and activities. Take for example, Michael’s older brother, and part-time magician, George Oscar Bluth “GOB” (the brilliant Will Arnett) who recently purchased an $18,000 career making Aztec tomb as a piece of his ‘illusion’. Then we have Buster (the hilarious Tony Hale), Michael’s youngest brother and man-child, and a graduate student of Native American tribal ceremonies and cartography, the latter costing $80,000 alone. Finally, we have Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Michael’s sister and H.O.O.P. (Hands Off Our Penises, an anti circumcision establishment) activist, whose fundraiser made $40,000, most of which came from the Bluth Company.
After meeting Lindsay’s husband, Tobias Funke (David Cross), and their daughter, Maeby (Alia Shawkat), we discover that Michael has decided to leave the family for good upon hearing his mother’s appointment as CEO of the company (before I move on, I’d just like to say that I’ve never seen anyone clap as enthusiastically as Buster, on hearing his mother’s promotion). We also learn that George Snr has been arrested for fraud, having used the company’s funds as his personal chequebook. No surprises there. The family attempts to avoid George Snr’s arrest by taking over the boat, ordering Buster to dig into his cartography skills to find a charter to the ocean – he declares with certainty that the blue on the map is land ($80,000 well spent), before collapsing in a full fledged panic attack. Astonishingly, the attempt to escape fails, and George Snr lands in prison.
With Michael no longer involved in the company, Lucille decides to leave its reins in the hands of Buster, who soon realises that his academic schooling in Native American tribal ceremonies has not prepared him for the responsibilities of running a business (“Amazing, you guys are so smart”). And there goes panic attack number two. The family agrees that they need Michael, and decide to hold an ‘intervention’. But in keeping with the family’s cluelessness, the ‘intervention’ turns out to be more of an imposition. What eventually changes Michael’s mind is seeing his son embrace Lindsay, and in that moment, he realises that his son needs a family. After all, the most important thing is family, not breakfast.
What makes Arrested Development a stellar series is its ability to deliver dry humour without a laugh track – a technique considered too far ahead of its time (at a period when ratings winners Friends and Frasier utilised the device). If you’re used to ‘old-school’ comedies, it may take time to get used to this, but it seems as though as comedy TV viewers, we no longer need a laugh track to indicate to us where the jokes are (see 30 Rock, Modern Family, and Community to name a few). As a society, we’ve matured. We can now find those jokes ourselves. And even if we can’t, it makes for the second, and subsequent viewings, even better because you’ll pick up those subtle jokes you missed in the first place. And it’s guaranteed to keep you laughing for minutes long at end.
Unlike other comedies, we’re provided with a narrator, Ron Howard – the perfect addition to an already A+ comedy. He gives us that added humour from the perspective of an even saner outsider, providing quick wit and irony to contrast with the character’s dialogue. It’s also the perfect tool for writers to allude to events that haven’t yet been referred to in previous episodes, which keeps the comedy running and jokes fresh.
The series only gets better from here. You know this is truly the case, because having been off the air for six years now, the seasons are still retailing at about $50 a piece (cheaper if you purchase all three at once). But every single cent spent on Arrested Development is totally worth its money. You’ll delight in the show’s running gags (a few you should look out for: Buster’s inability to stop awkwardly massaging the shoulders of others, GOB on a Segway, and Ron Howard’s ‘On the next Arrested Development…’), and revel in the priceless one-liners delivered. Sit down, watch, and appreciate real comedy.
- GOB: Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money (sees children) Or cocaine.
- Lucille: If you’re saying that I play favourites, you’re wrong. I love all my children equally (earlier that day) I don’t care for GOB.
- Michael (giving a lecture as Buster’s drum playing gets louder): But starting tomorrow, there is going to be a new boss in town. You are all going to feel the effects as…Buster! (Buster stops playing) You can’t do that on the balcony buddy?
- Buster: Mother says it’s too windy.
- George Snr: They can’t arrest a husband and wife for the same crime (wink)
- Michael: Yeah, I don’t think that’s true, dad.
- George Snr (sighing and rubbing his face in his hands): I’ve got the worst fucking attorneys.