Normally, when I tell people Arrested Development is one of the best things television has ever seen, the response tends to be “…?”. A fast-paced, intelligent screwball sitcom, Arrested Development ran for three years and three seasons on Fox, but seemed to pass under nearly every viewers radar. Fox had no idea how to promote it and axed it midway through season 3 after ratings were deemed too unsatisfactory, despite a plethora of awards and the love and respect of critics. The same could be said in the UK; BBC2 didn’t push the show at all, instead preferring to air it in the graveyard 11pm slot. Essentially, no one saw this show during its all too brief existence, which is a huge shame because Arrested Development is a fantastic, hilarious, ridiculously smart and stunningly entertaining sitcom.
Based in California’s Orange County, the show follows the Bluth’s, a rich family who run a successful housing construction company. All is going swimmingly until George (Geoffrey Tambor), the company’s CEO, is imprisoned for defrauding the company’s investors. With the head of the family in the big house, it’s left to George’s son, Michael (Jason Bateman) to keep the company going and keep his spoiled, pampered and clueless family together. However, Michael’s attempts at doing at doing both (or anything, for that matter) are often undermined and hindered by a combination of his father’s past crimes and his family’s interference.
Whilst the premise might not instantly grab your attention, its characters certainly will. Made up of nine principal members, covering three generations of Bluth’s, the cast is fantastic . First, the aforementioned George Snr. and his heartless, cold and hiarliously insensitive wife Lucille. Along with Michael, Lucille and George have four children; the failing but determined magician Gob. Buster, a sheltered mother’s boy who never leaves Lucille’s side. Their beautiful but clueless sister Lindsay, herself married to an amazingly sexually confused former therapist-turned-actor, Tobias. Finally, we have the two children; Maeby the sneaky and rebellious daughter to Lindsay and Tobias, and Michael’s son, the hapless, unassuming and pure George Michael. Yes, that is his real name. Every time Michael’s son is referenced to during this show, he is always referred to as ‘George Michael’. How cool is that?
(Gob and his sidekick, Franklin)
The humour on offer here is fast-paced, satirical and often so sharp-witted that you could miss five jokes in the space of ten seconds. New gags still reveal themselves even after years of watching the same episodes, which is another reason for this show’s greatness. The writing is probably the best you’ll ever see or hear on any kind of sitcom, simply because it’s so damn intelligent whilst being instantly accessible. Arrested never takes itself too seriously, and never steps away from a bright, colourful tone, and this allows it to go in any direction it wants. It’s characters are fantastic and wild, so the situations they often find themselves in are the same. It’s almost impossible to try and detail the many fantastic, unbelievable hijinks the Bluth family experience during the course of this show, and they may be unrealistic and completely inconceivable, but who cares when you’re writing material as funny as this?
The show is shot in a docummentary style, but without the cast ever really acknowledging the existence of the camera. Ron Howard, who was also an executive producer on the show, narrates every episode and helps to set up every scene we see. Howard does a great job of tying together every scene, but when he has a cast like this to work with, his work must’ve been made easier. Every fan has their favourites, but personally, Will Arnett (Gob), David Cross (Tobias) and Michael Cera (George Michael) are consistently stunning. Arnett is fantastic as Gob, a magician struggling for credibility and for any sort of attention from a family who he wishes would care more for him. Cera, in what was his breakthrough role, essentially plays the same character he’s been playing in movies for the last few years, but this is where it really began for him, and his facial expressions, reactions and utter naivety are spot on here. Playing a straight, married man who makes as many unintentionally gay innuendos as Tobias might be a challenge, but David Cross attacks the role with gusto as he tries to make his dream of becoming an actor a reality. As you can see, the results are pure comedy gold.
I’ve talked enough. There aren’t enough superlatives to explain just how damn good Arrested Development is. The guest starts (Ben Stiller, Liza Minelli, Henry Wrinkler, Andy Richter, Charlize Theron) who all play memorable characters, the ridiculously fantastic scenarios, the writing, the cast, the music….it all combines into what I consider to be the best sitcom of all time. You’re not guaranteed to love this show if you love comedy, but if you’re open minded about your television, you absolutely owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of any Arrested season on DVD. To be fair, I’ve barely even scratched the surface here; this show will open up more and more layers of brilliance as you go on. It’s simply that good. Writing this feature makes the harsh reality of the show’s cancellation back in 2006 all the more of a shame, which is why the rumoured upcoming movie cannot come soon enough. Nothing on TV is as good as this.
Best American television show ever, hands down.