My main thought whilst watching Arrested Development was: I finally know where all the jokes on the internet come from. Pretty much, every other episode, I find myself going, “Wait, so that’s what that reference is?” or “Wait are they referencing that meme or did they create that meme?”. The show is just so quotable. I find myself using the quotes day in, day out. And I’m so behind, I’m just hopelessly years behind and I wonder, how did I live without this show?
Arrested Development, for those who haven’t watched it, is about a dysfunctional family whose great wealth is in jeopardy after the company president, George Bluth, is arrested on charges of fraud. His son, Michael Bluth, is the straight man of the show, and he takes over as president. But the show isn’t really about how the Bluth company is doing, since all we really see are an office and conference room full of anonymous people and the Bluth company’s banana stand which sells frozen banana treats.
No, instead, the show is about how Michael handles his incredibly eccentric, spoilt and downright selfish family. Used to the lap of luxury, Michael’s mother Lucille hoards furs and cares deeply about her country club membership. She lives with Michael’s youngest brother, Buster, who is a neurotic mummy’s boy, and previously spent his time pursuing random degree subjects just because he had the money to do so. Michael has an older brother too, a wisecracking ladies man and magician, Gob, who frequently screws up Michael’s plans by being utterly incompetent in everything he pursues. Then there’s Michael’s sister, Lindsay, who is a blonde bombshell who spends her time pretending to care deeply about charitable causes. She is married to Tobias Funke, a balding, bespectacled man who just lost his medical license and is now failing to pursue a career of acting. They have a daughter, Maebe, who initially kisses her cousin George Michael (Michael’s son) as an act of rebellion, but inadvertently sparks an awkward crush from George Michael as a result.
My favourite character has to be George Michael, played by the affable Michael Cera, who in my opinion really elevates the show. His puppy dog eyes in every scene and his incredible dedication to innocence, are just a fantastic foil to the otherwise quite selfish and oblivious machinations of the rest of his family. Honestly, I was not a fan of Michael Cera before watching this; I found his awkward character to be just a tad too awkward and a bit too type-cast. But watching Arrested Development, I finally feel like I understand what he’s going for.
Written down, the cast sounds like horrible, exploitative people. But on TV, the show manages to be sufficiently humane and even at times, heart-warming. It helps to have Michael Bluth, the sensible straight man to curb back some of the bombasticness of the show. Moreover, the family sitcom angle always shines through. Despite how dysfunctional they are, they are still a family tied together by inexplicable relationships of care and love, and at the end of the day, there’s a lot to be said for that.
Of course, the show is focused on comedy, and you’d be forgiven for looking at that cast and thinking, “Oh I’ve seen it all before. I know what hijinks they’ll pull off.” But you really really haven’t. Comedy comes from the most unsuspecting places in this show. Of course there’s more obvious moments of slapstick, but what this show does best is create comedy out of intertwining coincidences. Misfortune follows our lead character, Michael, despite his best attempts to control the family and his finances. The show trades in awkwardness and misunderstandings, but it does it in a way that doesn’t seem wholly contrived. I think this is down to the fact that these characters aren’t actively trying to be funny. They are just being themselves, and what they are happens to lead into some miserably absurd and ridiculous situations. They’re dysfunctional precisely because they are such terrible people: spoilt, bratty, selfish people who have no idea how to function like regular people because, all their lives, they’ve had the buffer of great wealth. Take that away, and you expose their shortcomings.
The premise is great, though don’t expect anything hugely deep or intellectual here. This isn’t a show of riches to rags, more a show of riches to slightly less riches. The family doesn’t really make tremendous sacrifices which reflect their economic downturn. In fact, most of them continue to obliviously spend their way into bankruptcy. The reason why the premise is great though is that it manages to give the comedy an overall direction which makes it much more compelling to watch. The family’s disgrace is a mystery to everyone but their silent father who seems to enjoy life in jail, and that mystery creates drama. That drama therefore heightens the comedy, it heightens the stakes and it creates personal investment into the show. I started watching, thinking I’d only watch an episode or two a day; I end up watching several, because I can’t stop. It’s a thoroughly addictive formula.
I can completely understand why the places on the internet I frequent (-cough- reddit –cough-) have such a love affair with this show. It’s a smart comedy, full of moments of true comedic genius, and it manages to tie it altogether with a fantastic cast and some downright outrageous situations. As far as sitcoms go, it is definitely right up there with the best. It completely deserves the hype it gets. So if you haven’t watched this brilliant, underappreciated comedy (viewer numbers were offensively low), then get on this bandwagon now and you too will finally get all the references.