Some TV shows jump out at you from nowhere and immediately eclipse every other program you have a current interest in. The writing is sharper, the jokes are funnier, the direction is better, the actors are superior — this, you decide, is how television should be. If you’re not watching your new favourite thing you’re not watching anything. With numerous other programs already clogging up your TV signal, finding a show this special is very rare. Arrested Development is one of those shows.
Arrested Development is about the Bluth family, a rich, spoiled bunch who own a large property company which supports their frivolous lives. Thanks to years of dodgy dealings and acts of “˜light treason’ by head of the family and business, George (Jeffrey Tambor), the Bluth family now has no money and its assets are drying up fast.
The main focus is on middle son Michael (Jason Bateman), who wants to keep his family together for the sake of his son, George-Michael (Michael Cera). This becomes a herculean and very often thankless task. As the old saying goes: blood is thicker than water — and many of the Bluth family are thicker than blood.
The Bluths find it increasingly difficult or flat-out refuse to adapt to the lifestyle changes they have to make. Where once they would make journeys in the company jet, they are now left with the Bluth-branded stair-car (those trucks with a flight of stairs on the back that park up at the aircraft door) which attracts hop-ons looking for a free ride. Michael makes a conscious effort to teach George-Michael the values of hard work and the importance of family, an idea which has failed to register with Michael’s siblings.
Older brother G.O.B. (pr. “˜jobe’, played by Will Arnett) is a magician who performs magically shit “˜illusions’, not “˜tricks’ –- that is something a whore does for money, he reminds those foolish enough to lack an understanding of the distinction. Buster (Tony Hale) is the youngest of the Bluth brood. Mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) did not want thirty-something Buster to grow up and spent his life mollycoddling him, which explains how”¦unique he is. Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Michael’s job-shy twin sister, is married to Mr. Pretentious and never-nude Tobias FÃ¼nke (David Cross). Together they have a daughter, the head-strong Maebe (Alia Shawkat).
Some TV shows you either ‘get’ or you don’t. From the very first joke, which caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud, I was in. I loved how dry the humour was and how perfectly cast the fleshed-out characters were. Throughout the cast there is not one weak performance: David Cross (Mr Show), Will Arnett (Blades of Glory), and Tony Hale (Chuck) are a superb comic trio and their time onscreen is a joy to watch each time. Jason Bateman (Teen Wolf Too) is perfect as Michael, the only level-headed, honest, hard working one in the family who during every moment cringes in despair at his family but whom unquestionably keeps them together for the sake of his son. It is likely a lesser — or braver — man would have done the sensible thing and left his crazy relatives eating his dust as he scarpered quick-sharp.
Michael Cera’s (Superbad) performance is one of my favourite of all time. If indeed it is a performance. He is so natural that I wonder if he really is just a shy, socially awkward, morally true, raging bag of confused hormones and the thought of being on television has tipped him over the bashful edge. I swear he genuinely blushes at times.
With so many characters playing such prominent roles, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz does a great job in juggling each story. The scripts are so sharp, fizzing with killer lines in the style of Abbot and Costello and the Marx Brothers. Arrested Development is not a show that’s easy to dip in and out of. It’s not impossible to do that, but the pay-offs are so funny and the story threads so elaborate sometimes that it really is worth staying loyal to. This probably had a big effect on the show getting canceled after only three series and a dwindling number of episodes in each. Critics raved about it, but for the TV people it never translated to acceptable viewer numbers. Thankfully, next year an Arrested Development movie will be released.
There are some brilliant recurring special guests: Liza Minnelli plays Lucille Austero, Lucille Bluth’s friend and luxury apartment neighbour, and briefly Buster’s girlfriend. She is great as the wrong-side-of-middle-aged sufferer of severe vertigo. Minnelli and Hale work very well together and whether it is a testament to their acting or their impeccable comic timing, many of their scenes together seem improvised.
With a family involved in as much corruption as the Bluths it is not surprising that they meet several lawyers. When George went to prison, the Bluth family acquired the immensely useless lawyer, Barry Zuckercorn. Henry Winkler (The Fonz, like I need to say more) is almost the complete opposite to his iconic Happy Days character: where Arthur Fonzarelli was young and incredibly cool, Zuckercorn is an old, bumbling buffoon who is as useless in matters of the law as Fonzie was good with the ladies. John Michael Higgins (Fred Claus) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld) also chip in with some excellent performances: Louis-Dreyfus as the blind lawyer Michael has a fling with and Higgins as a straighter-than-straight lawyer.
Tonally the whole thing feels like it’s teetering on the edge, ready to fall into all-out Laurel and Hardy-style slapstick. It is this constant state of silly-tension which keeps the laughs coming. This is one of the most interesting, fun, and funny sitcoms I have ever seen. It is definitely one of The Greatest TV Shows Ever.
Arrested Development is available now as a DVD collection as Arrested Development – The Complete Series (Seasons 1, 2, 3) in the United States and Arrested Development – Complete Seasons 1-3 in the UK.