I figured it would be easy to start this blog off with my absolute favourite show: Mitch Hurwitz’s Arrested Development. I know you might be thinking: “But you’re such a Glee fan!” You’re right, I do enjoy that show. But I’ll be straight with you: Glee can’t even hold a match to Arrested Development. Its brilliance, near sophistication, and perfection is something that cannot be missed.
Though it only ran for 3 seasons before being cut short by the FOX Overlords, Arrested Development managed to produce a show that is like no other on television. The cast contains some very well known actors, such as Jason Bateman (The Change-Up), Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Will Arnett (Wilde), Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted), David Cross, Jessica Walter (Archer), Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, and Jeffery Tambor, all narrated (and produced) by Ron Howard. While none of the actors had the sway some do now, they worked together fantastically as a cast.
Arrested Development is about a highly dysfunctional wealthy family, the Bluths, that must deal with a failing business after George Bluth, Sr. (played by Tambor) is arrested for a variety of crimes such as forgery and “light” treason. Michael Bluth (played by Bateman) takes control of the company’s assets while he, his son George-Michael (played by Cera), his sister Lindsey Funke (played by de Rossi), her husband Tobias (played by Cross), and her daughter Maeby (played by Shawkat) live in a model home the Bluth Company has built. Often, the family visits Lucille (played by Walter) and youngest Bluth child Buster (played by Hale), while they are inundated with visits from G.O.B. (played by Arnett). The cast is joined by some absolutely amazing guest stars, such as Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Andy Richter, Amy Poehler, Charlize Theron, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Liza Minnelli.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT
The filming style. It was filmed similar to a mockumentary, in that the camera is hand-held, making it appear as though you’re watching this family’s decent into bankruptcy on a home video. There aren’t any interviews, but Ron Howard’s brilliant narration of the events more than makes up for it. The Narrator is a character in the Arrested Development universe. Though the characters don’t reference The Narrator directly, The Narrator does make his own commentary. For example, in season 1 episode “Public Relations”, the family’s PR expert Jessie blames George-Michael for his father’s unhappiness and calls him “Opie”, a reference to Ron Howard’s childhood acting career. The Narrator’s response? “Jessie had gone too far and she had best watch her mouth.” The Narrator also presents archival footage and historic photos of the family in their heyday.
The characters. Who doesn’t love dysfunctional families? Cleaver-style families aren’t popular in modern television. The Bluths are a special kind of dysfunctional: Lucille is an alcoholic; Lindsey is self-involved; Tobias is a terrible wanna-be actor; Maeby is moonlighting as a TV producer (and her family doesn’t know); George-Michael has a crush on his cousin Maeby; George Sr. enjoys prison; G.O.B. is a failed magician; Buster has an Oedipus Complex; and Michael simply doesn’t listen. They team up with one another one episode, then loathe each other the next, similar to a real family. Unlike a real family, they have a tremendous amount of time to spend together as the majority of the characters don’t work or hold real jobs. The only job they fight over is the head of the Bluth Company, a job no one should want.
The plot. I’ll be honest: there’s really little plot that goes on in Arrested Development. I mean, each episode has its own plot to it, but looking for an overarching plot is a little ridiculous. You could argue that getting George Sr. out of jail and saving the company is the plot, but to me, that’s hoping they’ll succeed. If you watch the show, you’ll know the Bluths are much funnier when they’re failing. At times you forget the company is failing because the characters forget it is. There are smaller arcs with each character that last over a few episodes but are ultimately used as jokes in the end. I don’t want to give much away, but I’ll give you a hand: Buster’s season 2 story is hilarious.
The music. While most shows capitalize on using previously produced music, Arrested Development does best with its original music. Its instrumental music highlights many portions in the show to add to the comedic effect. One of my favourite songs in the show they wrote was “Big Yellow Joint”, a reference to the famous Bluth Banana Stand that is said to be the family’s most lucrative business venture (that is more famously burned down in season 1 episode 2, “Top Banana”). The other music Arrested Development uses is appropriately used, emphasizing awkward moments between characters or as ringtones. For example, G.O.B. is obsessed with Europe’s “The Final Countdown”. The show even makes a mild comment on how expensive getting the rights to certain songs is. In the season 3 episode “Making a Stand”, The Narrator comments that “it was kind of funny to ‘Yellow Submarine’, but who can afford it?”.
The intertexuality and reflexivity. Ok. So I made that first word up, but Arrested Development has the best intertextual (exterior) and reflexive (interior) references you will see in a show. The show entered the television sphere the same year the United States invaded Iraq – 2003. The show makes itself periodically relevant by including aspects of the War on Iraq in George Sr.’s illegal dealings (see: “light” treason). For example, in the season three episode “S.O.B.s (Save Our Bluths)”, Arrested Development makes fun of shows that pull out all the stops to keep themselves from being canceled. In the run of the show, it’s clear this episode was a writer’s response to the show’s early and imminent cancelation. Even within the episode Michael and George Sr. have a conversation referring to whether the “Home Builder’s Organization” (or, HBO) would take them, or it would just be “Showtime”. Arrested Development references Fonzie’s historic “jumping the shark” in Happy Days with Henry Winkler literally jumping over a dead shark on the deck. The show references its own struggles with FOX cutting their episodes back and their difficulty reaching an “idiot demographic”.
There are certain shows that only come around every once in a while that are truly genius. Most shows on television have been done before, or have something similar to them that is equally as good or better. It’s rare to find a gem like Arrested Development that is so bitingly genuine and funny. Arrested Development makes my heart sing because no matter how many times I watch it, it will be just as funny as the first, second, and thirteenth times I saw it. If I’m depressed, I start up an episode or two and I forget why I was depressed in the first place. It is my absolute favourite show and you should watch it too.
- season 1, episode 2 “Top Banana”
- season 1, episode 3, “Bringing Up Buster”
- season 1, episode 10 “Pier Pressure”
- season 2, episode 11 “Out on a Limb”
- season 2, episode 12 “Hand to God”
- season 3, episode 8, “Making a Stand”
- season 3, episode 9 “S.O.B.s”
- season 3, episode 12 “Exit Strategy”