Why You Should Watch... Arrested Development

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Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth
Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth Sr. / Oscar Bluth
Tony Hale as Byron "Buster" Bluth
Alia Shawkat as Mae "Maeby" Fünke
Michael Cera as George Michael Bluth
Portia de Rossi as Lindsay Bluth Fünke
David Cross as Tobias Fünke
Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth
Will Arnett as George "Gob" Bluth II (Pronounced Jobe)
and Ron Howard as the Narrator

"Taste the happy!" - Gob

Now honestly I'm someone who prefers British Comedy above all other forms but there are quite a few American comedy shows that I will put my hand up and admit that I love: How I Met You Mother, That 70s Show, Friends, Seinfeld, Police Squad, My Name is Earl, The Office, Scrubs, Curb your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock but one of them stands above all the rest as the undisputed king and queen of American comedy and that's Fox's red-headed stepchild Arrested Development. A show that is so badly treated by Fox that it doesn't even have it's own official site anymore, we have shows that ended in the 1990s that still have well maintained websites but Arrested Development really is something that Fox just seem to want to sweep under the carpet and ignore.

Arrested Development is the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It ran for a total of three seasons, with fifty three episodes and it stars Jason Bateman (Hancock, Smokin' Aces, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Michael Bluth, the middle son of the Bluth family - a wealthy family that has made their fortune in property development. Michael is one of four children, his older brother is George Oscar Bluth/God (Will Arnett, Blades of Glory, 30 Rock, Rattatouille) an illusionist/magician and the founding member of the Magicians Alliance. His twin sister, Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia De Rossi, Nip/Tuck, Ally McBeal) is an activist, fund raiser and has one daughter with her husband Doctor Tobias Fünke (David Cross; The Colbert Report, Futurama, Mr Show with Bob and David). Michael's youngest brother Byron 'Buster' Bluth (Tony Hale) is best described as a helpless mother's boy, coddled by their overbearing and unpleasant mother, the undisputed matriach of the family Lucielle Bluth (Jessica Walter, 90210). The family is headed up by George Bluth (Jeffery Tambor; Hellboy II, Muppets Wizard of Oz, The Larry Sander's Show) and Michael has had one son, George Michael (Michael Cera; Superbad, ) with his now sadly desceased wife.

"Even if it means me taking a chubby, I will suck it up" - Tobais

The family has everything they could ever want, they live a luxurious lifestyle and are used to having enough money to be able to do anything. But during the first episode of the show George Bluth Sr. is arrested for defrauding investors and spending the company's money for 'personal matters'. It is this event which starts the series and sends the family spiralling off into a world where they're struggling and unable to keep up the lifestyle they held previously.

As just about every member of the family is unpleasant, stupid, greedy and generally incompetent so the task of keeping the family together and out of trouble falls to the good son - Michael - a task that might not sound too difficult but it turns out to be just about impossible. Gob is blackballed from his own Magician's Alliance ("Aaahah") when the news reveals the secrets of his Aztec tomb (where he attempted to hide his father) and is unable to get any gigs, Tobias loses his medical licence after performing CPR on a sleeping man and decides to become an actor instead, Lindsay is simply lazy and uninterested in helping, Lucielle is a raging alcoholic at best and a manipulative, domineering witch at worst and poor Buster is so incapable of functioning in the real world that he can't even tell the difference between the sea and land on a map.

Arrested Development is very much a British show in style; that is, it's about a bunch of very unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to themselves and others. The cast has only two genuinely 'nice guys' in it; one of whom is the constantly put upon Michael and the other is his son George Michael (who spends most of his time struggling with an unwanted and illegal crush on his cousin Maeby). But while the majority of these people are spoiled, wretched and nasty they are all very likable in their own ways.

Arrested Development is presented in a subtle mocumentary style, the legendary Ron Howard narrates the story each episode and provides the thrust of events, snide comments and recaps/reminders. He provides a very dry and pleasant narration that feels natural and complements the pseudo-documentary nature of the show. Much like the Office, the show doesn't overplay it's documentary nature, in truth it apart from the narration it's more subtle as it doesn't use talking head interviews or fourth wall direct glances at the camera. For the most part the characters act as if the cameras are not filming them.

Performances from the ensemble cast are superb across the board and if is very difficult to single any particular actors out for praise, but David Cross and Will Arnett in particular are hilarious as Tobias and Gob. Tobias's lines are particularly impressive as a lot of them are improvised by Cross himself, and still the man is consistently funny. So funny that he was bumped up from his original slated position as a guest star into a full blown cast member, an excellent decision - without it we would never have had the 'Blue myself' and 'Analysis/Therapist' moments.

"Pop-pop horny Michael." - George Sr.

Plotting wise Arrested Development is a little unusual for a sitcom, it has a very solid sense of continuity that builds upon itself. Unlike traditional sitcoms that return everything to normal by the end of the episode and tend to ignore developments or not refer to them again, Arrested Development is filled with a continuing story that progresses forwards and changes the situation the characters are in, it is worth nothing that the characters themselves rarely learn from their mistakes (part of the Arrested Development theme suggested by the show's title) and remain as selfish and stupid as always but the storyline provides another layer of comedy. Callbacks and foreshadowing of events abound throughout the show, with many moments that mirror or build on previous jokes or catchphrases, the foreshadowing in particular is exceptionally intelligent in it's structure. There are jokes that are specifically designed for the viewer to only get on repeat watching, I myself have now watched the entire thing four times and the last watching still revealed jokes I'd missed the previous times.

I have no hesitation in calling Arrested Development the best comedy show I've watched, ever. And in fact that's exactly what I did call it when I went through my top 50 shows last year. It's a show so good that even just writing about it makes me want to go and watch it all over again, something I have to physically restrain myself from doing because I have enough to watch and I've already seen it once this year. In essence you should watch Arrested Development if you happen to like television shows, yeah that's it - if you watch TV you should watch this, it's that damn good, it's 'The Wire' of comedy shows.

You must watch this before you die, or you haven't lived.

"Steve Holt" - Steve Holt

Before we go here is the very short and sweet introduction/credits that open each episode:

If you follow from this video you'll be able to find dozens and dozens of hilarious clips, but they don't compare to watching the show in full. It is rare that you find such a layered and clever comedy show as this one. You should watch it before the movie comes out.

1) It's worth noting that the imdb has Arrested Development at a 9.7/10, a score I've only ever seen matched by The Wire on that site.


1 comment so far.

  1. Kerreh 20 October 2008 at 14:02
    Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence has stated that Cross may appear in the show as his Arrested Development character Tobias Fünke
    ^ How cool would that be! Yes wiki as a source I realise.

    I also feel it pertinent to point out his part in Just Shoot Me.

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