Monday, March 12, 2007

Arrested Development - Season 1

As a TV watcher, I must fit into the category of “non-typical.” Granted, my favorite show is one of the most popular on television right now, 24. But my other favorites have all been cancelled after a none-too-long run. Freaks and Geeks was ignored and then unceremoniously dumped. Firefly was shown scathing disrespect and then discontinued despite overwhelming responses from its small number of fans. The best-fairing of the lot was Arrested Development, which managed to last two entire seasons, but just couldn’t make it all the way through the third. And like my other favorites, I caught onto Arrested Development only after the rest of the world did.

Arrested Development is the chronicle of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), high-ranking official in the Bluth Corporation, a construction firm. He is the “normal” one in a family of slackers and spoiled rich people. The family includes his father George (Jeffrey Tambor) who is president of the Bluth Corporation; Lucille (Jessica Walter), his possessive, wine-swilling, neurotic, and conniving mother; Lindsey (Portia de Rossi), his materialistic twin sister; Gob, (actually GOB, an acronym for George Oscar Bluth, played by Will Arnett), his conceited, vindictive, overly-dramatic magician of an older brother; Buster (Tony Hale), his timid and ultra-weird mama’s-boy of a younger brother; Tobias (the fearless David Cross), his ambiguously gay psychiatrist-turned-actor brother-in-law; George Michael (Michael Cera), his studious, confidence-impaired teenage son; and finally Maeby (Alia Shawkat), his disaffected, habitually naughty teenage niece. Don’t worry about keeping all the characters straight; that will come with time.

At the beginning of the first season, Michael is gearing up for what he thinks will be a big promotion at his father’s retirement party on the company yacht. In reality, his father gets arrested (hence the name of the series) and spends the rest of the season in prison. Michael then, as the only responsible (and arguably sane) member of the family, has to save the company from going under. He and George Michael, along with Lindsay, Tobias, and Maeby, move into a model home built by the Bluth Corporation. Lucille and Buster (who is more like a lapdog than an actual son) remain in their luxurious apartment, Lucille throwing money away as if the company were not crashing to the ground.

Michael, now the president, rides his bike to work every morning, and the only car the family has is one of those trucks with the stairs on top meant to be driven up to planes on the tarmac. Due to the ridiculous nature and outlandish behavior of his family members, Michael’s stress and load of responsibility are incredibly high. Gob is constantly cheating on his sweet Latino girlfriend; Lindsay is having trouble with her husband Tobias’s career choice, not to mention his unconscious homosexual tendencies; George Michael has a secret crush on his cousin Maeby, which may not be (but probably is) wrong; Buster, in rebellion from his overbearing mother, begins dating an older woman, who is oddly named Lucille; and as much work as Michael is doing to keep this family together, his mother Lucille seems to be stymieing his efforts at every turn. Yet even through the almost unending tough times, Michael’s family never fractures (despite his father being in jail), and because of that, never splinters into them not speaking to each other. Michael and his son basically have the mindset of “if we don’t take care of these incredibly inept people, who will?”

Honestly, this is one of the best shows ever to be on television. It is consistently funny throughout, features fantastic performances, is hilariously irreverent, and is incredibly sharp and quick-witted. It surpasses the great Seinfeld for TV comedies, because the situations are not just ridiculous and convoluted for the sake of being so, as the ones in Seinfeld so often were. Sometimes the characters say things that are so unbelievably politically incorrect that there is no recourse but to burst out laughing. Also, Arrested Development has a really good theme to it, though it’s buried underneath layers of caricature and hyperbole. It’s that family is the only thing you can truly count on. But Arrested Development is even more interesting than just that, because it takes that theme and then attempts to dismantle it with every single episode, but to no avail. Try as it may, it simply cannot overcome its own optimism.

The season ends much the same way as it started, with a seeming tragedy becoming a source of comedy. It’s sad that this show never really found its audience, but in retrospect, that was kind of inevitable. The brand of humor is very particular, and only certain people will be able to appreciate it. The show was kind of meant for DVD, too, because it really rewards multiple viewings. There are always new things to be picked up when one watches it again. Not too many people actually like it, as can be seen from the fact that it was cancelled, but I am proud to call Arrested Development one of my favorite TV series.

Iconic lines (or exchanges):
“Illusions, Michael. Tricks are something a whore does for money… or candy!”

Lucille: “Did that Mexican girlfriend of yours kick you out?”
Gob: “She’s not that Mexican, mom. She’s my Mexican. And anyway, she’s Columbian or something.”


22 Rating: 18

Particle Man

1 comment:

Dr. Worm said...

Spot on the review, Neal, and I think 18 is just about right where I'd put Arrested Development as well.

And since I have nothing further to add, I'll chime in with some of my own iconic lines:

Lindsay: "'[I'm] a combative, entitled princess'? I should hire someone to kick your ass for that."

Lucille: [shrieking at a waiter] "Take it back! If I wanted something your thumb touched I'd eat the inside of your ear!"

George: "Michael, this is my brother. Do you know what it's like to have a sibling who has no source of income except for you?"
Michael: "Just one? No. No idea. It sounds wonderful, though."