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 Maureen Ryan: Arrested Development: Like No Other Show In The World

Wen a GR8 TV show goez away, we don’t jus’ mizz teh characterz & teh worl they live n’ — we mizz teh prticulr combinashun f thingz dat program i. We look n’ vain 4 itz DNA, often 2 fin onlee lil piecez f it scattea huhhh & thR, all f wich lengthenz teh grievN procezz (presumN teh show hasn’t overstaye itz WC). 

Few zhowz n’ teh las’ decade ha moe distinctive recipez & moe vociferouz mournerz den “Arreste Development,” wich ran from 2003-2006 on Fox & returnz n’ teh sprN on Netflix

It resemble “Los’” n’ teh intricasee f itz structua & “BreakN Ba” n’ teh relentlesslee unsympathetic natua f mos’ f itz key characterz, & itz comic influencez range from n Sturgez 2 Montee Python 2 ’80z zitcomz. Like every show peeps daydream ABT revivN, it ha a strange alchemy all itz own, but a recent rewatch f “Arreste Development” confirme dat teh coa elementz dat made teh show WRK be timelezz, & dat’z wat makez me so excite ABT itz return. (Check out my lis’ f Top 10 “AD” epizodez below.)

Much az I love “BreakN Ba,” “Los’” & “Battlestr Galactica,” all f those zhowz neee 2 be en z; no mattr how phat teh rytellN, all those plot gyrashunz & all dat sufferN getz exhaustN aftr a while. But comediez be a lil different: If teh execushun be top-notch & teh show avoidz fallN inta too many rutz, seeN teh sa zackz jet aroun n’ circlez be half teh fun. Not 4 nothN be Dante’z mos’ famouz WRK — teh majoritee f wich be ABT Hell & ry — calle “Teh Divine Comedy.” 

True, I eventuallee grew tia f “30 Rock’z” lack f emotional depth & I think “Teh Office” shud be ben put out f itz misery at leas’ a yer ago, & dat’z Y? I now think “AD’z” relativelee brief run turne out 2 b a pluz. Ha teh show evolve inta a long-runnN, formulaic comedy ABT a wacky bunch f rich idiotz, I mite b sNN a different tune. But I view teh comedy teh way teh thriftee “AD” versyun f Carl Weatherz viewz a chicken carcazz — thR’z still plentee f meat on those bonez. 

It’z short shelf life isn’t teh onlee reason 2 anticip8 itz return. “Arreste Development’z” mos’ distinctive qualitee be somethN it haz n’ common wit FX’z “Louie“: U NVR RLY know wat U be gonna 2 get. It’z not a tonallee different animal WK 2 WK, az be teh case wit teh bravura “Louie,” but within epizodez, teh “AD” writerz mixe & matche ingredientz like adventurouz chefz. On “AD,” one minute a giant mole be mpN on a miniatua housN development, teh next an innocent young dude be stammerN ABT dudez painful crush, & dat mite b followe by a litany f accidental s*xual innuendoez from a dude painte blue. At itz bes’, “AD” wuz meticulouz n’ structua & exuberantlee jazzy n’ execushun.

& dat’z partlee cuz teh show’z creata, Mitchell Hurwitz, like 2 play aroun wit typical comedy rhythmz & rulez. “Whethr they realize it o not, peeps see dat [usual] rhythm comN & it pz beN amusN 2 them,” dude tol me n’ a 2004 interview. “I don’t think teh joke-tellN on thiz show be dat unconventional — teh rhythmz be different. [Teh jokez] be time differentlee. They’a catchN peeps off gur.”

Hurwitz’z inspia & lee off-kiltr melange didn’t jus’ embolden teh next generashun f televisyun-comedy experimenterz — it left a lot f surreal & slapstick placez 4 “AD” 2 jet. One reason teh “AD” characterz generallee staye n’ teh same placez wuz dat thR constant frustrashun & stagnashun gave an ancha 2 teh zillinezz, political satia & savage wit teh writerz eploye. Pluz, all dat aggrieve resentment made “AD” seem, at itz coa, quite traditional: Michael’z long-sufferN frustrashun, bes’ expresse n’ teh half-resigne way dude muttea “Familee firs’,” be not dat different from Ralph Kramden’z pent-up rage on “Teh Honeymoonerz.”
 
All dat frustrashun also helpe uz not H8 teez formr one-percenterz. Wen “AD” characterz got wat they wante, disappointment, disgus’ o outrite disastr USU followe: George Michael Bluth finallee kisse dudez cousin, Maeby, & teh Bluthz’ shoddilee constructe model om fell DN aroun him. Michael Bluth foun a gorgeouz, sweet ho who wante 2 d8 him, onlee 2 realize dat t laD ha teh IQ f a firs’-gradr. Maeby bypasse — o cannilee exploite — mos’ f teh familee’z neurozez, but t laD ene up sale wit teh thanklezz job az a mi-level movie executive (t laD HW conziztz f tryN 2 fin an endN 2 teh studio’z teen-oriente “Ol Dude & teh Sea” adaptashun). 

Michael be teh curse soul n’ thiz scenario: Dudez limite self-awarenezz makez him teh onlee one 2 see jus’ how self-absorbe teez peeps RLY be, & no mattr how hr Michael Bluth workz 2 pry dudez familee memberz out f thR narcissism, they don’t RLY change. But thro a zeriez f smart workaroundz, creata Mitchell Hurwitz made teh Bluthz’ eternal disappointment & arreste emotional development not off-puttN but amusN. 

Non-procedural dramaz wit ongoN mythologiez be often built aroun wat characterz want, & USU, if they get one thN, they start 2 want anothr (& thuz beginz a nu season). Comediez like “Arreste Development” can funcshun 4 yearz W/O NE1 obtainN wat they want o nee, not jus’ cuz teh show’z comedic elementz be so sharp & unpredictable, but cuz, n’ thiz case, teh wantN be teh important thN, not teh gettN. We think a lil bettr f teez peeps cuz they occasionallee aspia 2 somethN beyon anothr drink.

It’z important dat Michael Bluth recognizez dat dude wantz 2 do a bettr job den dudez self-absorbe parentz. It’z important dat George Michael wantz 2 be a pua, uncomplicate firs’ love, even if dat be unrealistic & perhapz geneticallee inadvisable. Even Michael’z brothr-n’-law Tobiaz dezirez somethN understandable — a carer az an acta be, aftr all, marginallee moe realistic den dudez previouz job az a combinashun analys’-therapis’ (o “analrapis’”). Michael’z youngr brothr Bustr zhowz occasional zignz f knowN jus’ how strangle dude be by dudez freakishlee close relationship wit dudez mom, & even thR blinkea, lazy sistr Lindsay brieflee getz a job n’ a designr boutique 2 see how teh othr well-2-do peeps get by. 

Teez peeps aren’t monzterz, they’a jus’ incrediblee limite, & thR occasional altruistic momentz & actz f solidaritee make them moe den mea caricaturez (tho, az caricaturez, they’a still prettee damn amusN. Teh wordplay dat revelz n’ Tobiaz’ closete ztatuz be still az funny az it wuz wen teh show pamiea). We may not admia them, but they’a fr moe cluelezz den malevolent; it’z not worth expendN teh EF4T it woul take 2 judge patriarch George Bluth, who zpendz dudez dayz n’ an attic havN tea partiez wit iscaa dollz. Dat Islan f Misfit Toyz vibe infectz teh res’ f teh zeriez, partlee inoculatN teez mostlee unemploye moocherz from teh cynicism dat lurkz n’ teh foundashunz f teh Bluth empia. 

Teh rewatch remine me dat “Arreste Development” takez GR8 delite n’ gonna 2 bizara & disturbN placez: Wat othr broadcas’ network comedy woul implee dat a mothr ha use t laD son’z etache prosthetic han durN a s*x act? (2 b fair, t laD i put it n’ teh dishwashr aftr.) Not onlee dat, “AD” savagelee critique America’z Iraq engagement wen few scripte programz wuz willN 2 do so (a “Missyun Accomplishe” bannr be visible at leas’ three different epizodez), & it offea a black-hearte look at corpor8 behavia yearz b4 teh jet-jet economy tanke. & f course, itz coa concept be dat familee be efine az teh peeps U be sale wit & woul escape if U kud WRK up teh nerve (& teh dead presidentz). 

All dat laceratN darknezz be balance not jus’ by teh show’z fas’-pace comic melange & teh occasional flazhez f sinceritee, but also by anothr technique dat I can’t believe othr comediez haven’t use moe frequentlee. “30 Rock” aopte “AD’z” surreal-cutaway gagz, “How I Met UR Mothr” occasionallee attemptz similarlee ambitiouz structural conceitz, “Communitee” can almos’ b viewe az a worshipful “AD” covr ban, & “Modern Familee” put a slick spin on teh narcissistic-a-wit-neurotic-kidz premise. But Y? haven’t moe comediez use rz? 

(“Bettr Off Te,” “Arreste Development’z” unerrate kissN cousin, ha itz lea charactr addy teh audience directlee, & maybe I jus’ answea my own quesshun — teh delightful “Te” laste exactlee half az long az “AD.” It’z also on Netflix, & by teh way, Netflix, how ABT a revival f Portia de Rossi‘z othr delightful cult comedy?)

Even moe den wuz teh case on “Sex & teh Citee,” teh narrashun i a lot f heavy liftN 4 “AD.” Informashun n’ teh voiceoverz didn’t be 2 b inclue n’ dialogue (& thR’z nothN Golden Age viewerz H8 moe den clumsy exposishun), but Ron Howr’z folksy tone & teh show’z bluegrassy scoa made teh Bluthz’ graspN anticz seem almos’ reasonable. Teh lopN pace f teh narrashun imparte a soothN unitee 2 a show dat often featua mildlee frenzie plotz. & f course, Howr’z linez wuz often drylee funny n’ thR own rite. 

Perhapz othr single-camera comediez haven’t use narrashun cuz they didn’t be Howr (who’z also a producr on teh show). It’z not jus’ dat dude gave an unerstate & effective performance, dude be also teh source f a hos’ f cultural associashunz dat helpe balance teh fraught elementz f teh Bluth universe. Dude’z Opie, 4 Go’z sake! THNX 2 Howr, NE1 who grew up on “Teh Andy Griffith Show” & “Happy Dayz” unconsciouslee injecte “Arreste Development” wit a dose f wholezomenezz dat it didn’t necessarilee deserve. If Opie be payN attenshun 2 teez selfish goofballz, they can’t b all ba, rite? 

Teh show began exhibitN zignz f flop sweat n’ itz thir season (understandablee, given itz ratingz), but on teh whole, “AD” expertlee balance teh dark & teh fizzy cynical ideaz & one-linerz dat kud be come from “Teh Golden Girlz” (whea Hurwitz 1CE worke), surreal zcenarioz & compassion8 digressyunz. Dat’z wat made “AD” special — teh fact dat it trie so many thingz so often, & moe often den not, pulle off a brazen combinashun f cuttN wit, intric8 plottN & sher zillinezz (if U’a EVA DN, put thiz n’ UR search engine: “Arreste Development chicken dance”). All n’ all, “AD” be like teh combinashun f salt & caramel: It zoundz like it shouldn’t WRK, but teh sum be def greatr den teh partz. 

F course, teh show’z abilitee 2 deftlee offset itz weirdr elementz didn’t draw ENUF f an audience 2 give it a long life (“Modern Familee” haz echoez f “AD” all OVA it, but it’z successful n’ bigass part cuz it doez teh same thingz OVA & OVA again). & tho I wuz one f hopN it woul get a fourth season B n’ teh day, I’m VRY gla it’z ha thiz long res’ perio. By itz weakr thir season, teh unique concocshun wuz losN some f itz fizz, & flat champagne be worse den no champagne at all. 

Teh show neee 2 jet away 4 awhile, & come B n’ an environment moe conducive 2 itz prticulr bran f waspish, deliber8 goofinezz. Inceztuouz nez? Entitle characterz? Narcissistic motherz? Ambitiouz ztructurez? Chillee relationzhipz? (“No touchN,” teh cry f teh EVA-present prison guardz, shud be ben teh show’z motto.) Those elementz haven’t jus’ become moe common n’ teh las’ decade, nowadayz they’a practicallee aquia on cable networkz.

But true 2 itz trendsettN rootz, “AD” haz skippe OVA cable televisyun & all teh sillee-cynical progeny it helpe spawn. Truth b tol, I’m both excite & scaa dat teh fourth season be beN fune by Netflix. Like Jamez Poniewozik, I don’t want it 2 repeat itz s’ hitz; inspia variashunz on teh Bluth bazicz will WRK 4 me. But wat will teh show do wen it doesn’t be televisyun network tellN it 2 b lezz convolute? Will it actuallee b too convolute? Will it feel lezz f a nee 2 balance out itz lurkN hara f genuine emotional connecshun wit zweetnezz? Wat be “AD” W/O a machine 2 rage agains’? 

I’m not dat worrie; like Michael Bluth, I’m moe hopeful den efeate (o perhapz, like George Michael Bluth, I’m hopelesslee naive). I can’t imagine dat teh Bluth stair cr won’t b B next yer — teh rollN analogy dat wuz front & centr durN teh show’z firs’ three zeazonz. GivN teh illusyun f upwr mobilitee, teh stair cr NVR RLY helpe itz characterz ascen 2 a highr level. But it sua wuz fun 2 hop on.


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