When Cheers first started airing on NBC, it was not an instant hit with viewers. But it was rewarded with Emmys, the network had patience… and soon people were smart enough to take notice and start watching. When Arrested Development first aired on Fox, the same thing happened. But this time people never took notice – until it got canceled, won new fans on DVD and got everybody talking with its clever relaunch on Netflix in the shape of a fourth season seven years later.
One of the decade’s funniest single-camera shows, Arrested Development introduced a family that viewers evidently had a hard time sympathizing with. In the pilot episode, the Bluths were very wealthy up until the moment when the authorities raided the family yacht, imprisoned George the patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor), and froze the company assets. Now the eccentric and spoiled family had to come up with a way to support themselves. George’s son Michael (Jason Bateman), the only family member to possess common sense, took charge of the Bluths and the company. The family consisted of Michael’s hard-drinking mother Lucille (Jessica Walters) who raised her kids the hard way (she tried to hug Michael in one episode and when he recoiled she had to explain the concept of hugging), his chronically lazy sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), GOB (Will Arnett), the abrasive brother who moonlighted as a cheesy magician, and Buster (Tony Hale), another brother who was uncomfortably close to his mother.
Lindsay was married to Tobias (David Cross), a flaming homosexual who had no idea how gay he actually was; they had a daughter, Maeby (Alia Shawkat), whom Michael’s son George Michael (Michael Cera) was secretly in love with. Confused? You won’t be as long as you follow the show religiously. It did share traits with Soap, another show that kept storylines running with no end in sight. Arrested Development also had its own narrator; Ron Howard contributed sarcastic comments in his role as all-knowing storyteller.
Witty one-liners and wild ideas
The show was packed with witty one-liners, wild ideas, amusing asides and satirical ingredients. The tone may at times have come across as harsh, but I saw no problem with loving this family. It probably had something to do with the brilliant cast. Walters was hilarious as one of prime-time TV’s worst moms, Cross’s delivery of double entendres irresistible (“Tobias, you blowhard”), and who can forget Hale’s strange affair with Liza Minnelli?
However, the actor who deserves special kudos here is Bateman, one of TV’s best straight men ever. It’s a difficult job, but his way of countering the craziness was a wonderful mixture of sarcasm and intelligence.
Arrested Development’s demise in 2006 took its toll on the creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, but the comeback on Netflix was a triumph. The fourth season was bold because of its complexity, weaving a web of slapstick, puns, intrigues and misunderstandings as it reintroduced us to the Bluths and their shenanigans. Bursting with ideas and oddity, the fast-moving new episodes were a confusing mess to some. Not everything worked, but the fourth and fifth seasons were still funny and true to the spirit of the original seasons.
Arrested Development 2003-2006, 2013, 2018:U.S. Made for TV. 76 episodes. Color. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz. Theme: David Schwartz. Cast: Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth), Portia de Rossi (Lindsay Fünke), Will Arnett (GOB), Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, David Cross, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat. Narrated by Ron Howard.
Trivia: “GOB” stands for George Oscar Bluth. In the fourth and fifth seasons, Howard played himself (while also continuing as the anonymous narrator).
Emmys: Outstanding Comedy Series 03-04; Directing 03-04; Writing 03-04, 04-05. Golden Globe: Best Actor (Bateman) 05.
Quote: “Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over – an analyst and a therapist? The world’s first analrapist.” (Cross to de Rossi)
Last word: “It was a chance to do a live-action ‘Simpsons’, and [Fox] were paying for it. I guess if something worked about it, it’s that at its heart it’s about family, which is a very relatable thing. Take those exact same characters and put them in a law office or something – even with the same scripts and jokes, it’s not as interesting to try to deal with your boss as it is to deal with your dad. It had a very fundamental, archetypal thing in it.” (Hurwitz, A.V. Club)