(TV Series 2003–2006)
Ratings: 9.5/10 from 72,271 users Reviews: 231 user | 37 critic
Creator: Mitchell Hurwitz
Stars: Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Portia de Rossi
Comical greatness aside, what does make Arrested Development so unique?
I started pondering on this after realizing I’m always raving about Arrested Development: Oh! It’s so great. Oh! It’s such an achievement. Oh! It’s at the level of Seinfeld and Monty Python. For every new comedy I come across, I start to compare it with Arrested Development, mostly trying to discover how close to its greatness it actually comes. They inevitably fall short. Way, way short.
And why is that? What is so great about this show? Well, it’s obvious: It is written by the best, has the greatest jokes and puns. It’s witty and clever and sharp. While I could proceed in this adulation, until I run out of adjectives – by “I”, I mean “Microsoft Word” – it would be pointless. A lot of shows have those same features. To a degree. So what makes it stand apart?
In one of Conan O’Brien talk shows he said that there are 7 “by the book” ways to finish a sketch. Things like the character becoming downhearted, walking out the door, and you suddenly hear a muffled shot or a crazy character is interrupted by an even crazier character (famously introduced by Monty Python). The casual viewer probably doesn’t even notice them; their purpose is precisely not to be noticeable.
If there is such a rule book for sitcoms, I’m not aware of, but you can certainly find some trends and similar devices if you’re looking for them. Almost every show has a character that is either clueless or dumb: Kramer in Seinfeld, Joey in Friends, Phill in Modern Family, Penny in The Big Bang Theory, etc. What that provides are endless ways to end scenes. Someone says something foolish or oblivious and we laugh. It’s funny. There usually is a serious guy, the less funny but essential to glue the show together. Ted in How I Met Your Mother, Ross in Friends, Allan in Two and a Half Man, Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock. The list goes on and on. You can find some examples here.
Arrested Development doesn’t play by the book. None of these strategies are used. Maybe, they would start using them if the show hadn’t had “premature termination”. Who knows?
Other aspect that makes this show isolated from its counterparts is its characters. How I feel about them. More precisely, how I don’t feel about them. If I take a look at some of my favourite TV shows, I always come across with a trend that is nowhere to be found on Arrested Development. In Modern Family I can’t help but to love Phill and Luke. In How I Met your Mother, we’re conditioned to care about Ted’s love problems or Robin’s career or Barney; and how can you not worship Barney? In Friends you love every character (I’m a Chandler man). In The Big Bang Theory you probably like most of them – I hate Leonard, but that’s just me. In Seinfeld I get a stupid smirk every time Kramer comes up on screen. Even in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show filled with unlikeable, despicable characters, I still like Charlie.
You get the picture. In every show there are at least one or two characters you love or at least empathize with. In Arrested Development there’s none of that. It’s about a loathsome family that can’t get along. The presumable main character, Michael Bluth, is just a nice guy who’s always trying to do the right thing. Who likes someone like that? Seriously, who? His son, George Michael, well, for starters, is named George Michael. As if that wasn’t enough, he is a spineless little incestuous wannabe “Mr. Manager”. Gob is a failed magician. Buster is a momma’s boy – alarmingly so. Tobias Fünke, the first certified “analrapist”. The list goes on, and it doesn’t get any better. Well maybe it does. There is one single likeable character but then again he’s way secondary. Steve Holt!
Truth be told, I never missed any of this characters, and I suspect you also didn’t. But I really missed the show as I suspect you also did.
Without ever falling into the recognizable patterns most sitcoms can’t seem to get away from and without featuring on its cast a single likeable character, Arrested Development still manages to feature on the top of preferences of any sane, intelligent TV watcher (I’m aware of the oxymoron). Is there any greater testimony of the greatness and uniqueness of this show?