Gone But Not Forgotten TV: Arrested Development
Arrested Development is a sitcom created in 2003 by writer Michael Hurwitz. It was one of the first of its kind, a sitcom that traded the multi-camera style for single-camera and left out the laugh track all together. The new style brought with it a more serialized story structure not really seen in the “a day in the life of so-and-so” sitcoms. Creator Hurwitz aimed to create a black-comedy about a “riches to rags” American family.
The family in question is The Bluths. They are an upper crust 3 generational family. George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is the patriarch of the family and CEO of The Bluth Company. At the beginning of the series, he is arrested for defrauding his investors. This leaves his drunkard wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter), as the new CEO. They have four children together. Gob (Will Arnett) is the oldest. He is egotistical and ambitious but lacks the intelligence and work-ethic to follow through with anything. He finds himself in constant competition with his younger brother, Michael (Jason Bateman). Michael is the closest thing to a decent human being out of all his siblings and the series’ main protagonist. He is a widower and single-father. His son, George Michael (Michael Cera) shares his decency. Michael’s twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), is very vain and materialistic. Her actions are usually motivated by rebellion against her mother. She has her own family. Her insecure husband, Tobias (David Cross), is a very lost individual showing signs of closeted homosexuality and unwillingness to hold down a regular job. They have a daughter together nicknamed Maeby (Alia Shawkat). She is cunning and sassy her like her grandfather. Buster is the youngest of Michael’s siblings. He lacks any sociable skills due to his overbearing mother.
The overarching story of the series resembles the family saga. The family saga is a literary genre that focuses on a family’s life story as a thematic device to depict the characterizations of the era in which they live. Arrested Development was aired between 2003 and 2006, and it can be inferred that it also took place during that time as well. I think the more accurate family sagas are probably written with a level of hindsight that allows for more critical look at a historical period, but Arrested Development benefits from being a satire working best in the moment than after the fact. In this fashion, the Bluths are a small-scale stand in for the United States.
During that time period, America was between recessions. This mirrors the financial problems that the once wealthy Bluth family is currently in. It all starts with the arrest of George Bluth Sr. for defrauding his investors. This was directly influenced by the Enron scandal. The bulk of the family, who are spoiled rich brats, continued to spend indiscriminately not understanding that not as much money was coming in. Their heir attitudes left most of them without a work ethic. Regardless of this, the company continued to operate. Its major task was producing and marketing mini-mansions. While not necessarily successful for The Bluth Company, it represents a certain housing mania during this period which would eventually help lead to the housing market bubble.
They also represent the ever changing family unit of the United States. The American popular opinion involves the nuclear family, consisting of a married opposite-sex family and their children, although this kind of household has been on the decline dropping from 40% in the 1970s to 24% in the 2000s. Arrested Development depicts both of their nuclear families as unsuccessful. First there is George Sr. and Lucille, one of which is a criminal and the other a drunk. With the exception of Michale, they instilled no positive or useful tasks in their children. The other is Lindsay’s family which consists of a father and daughter who she consistently ignores. Michael on the other hand is a single father raising a teenage son. I think the show depicts him as a mostly successful and caring father even though he has plenty of his own faults and distractions that seem to hamper his relationship with his son. In a bit of subversion, Michael ends up inviting his siblings to live under one roof, the roof of their mock mini-mansion, which is a step back from the nuclear family to the traditional extended family.
Just like Ron Howard’s narrator said, “Now that is a clear-cut situation with the promise of comedy.” Describing Arrested Development is difficult because there’s no way to put into words how funny it is. Kind of like Seinfeld, the show is just a series of bad behavior and misdoings that couldn’t have happened to worse people, but as I described, there is a strong foundation for the show to hang its hat on making it more than just an endless cycle of “straight line-joke-laugh track” over and over. AND OVER!