A review of the TV program Arrested Development.
|Scooped by Christopher P Bader|
Arrested Development is to Clever what Highway to Heaven is to Creepy
Growing up in Detroit, I was sent to Catholic school and one of the perils of Catholic school is the stark reality my mother was encourage to rear me on an overtly disturbing and cold brand of television. This brand of television, while not uncommon, centers on themes of goodness, morality and decency. These concepts, already beaten into my head, became somewhat less appealing (and some concepts downright creepy) as I was force fed pounds and pounds of Highway to Heaven and other “morally good” television.
It wasn’t until a full 15 years later that the same morality which seemed to hang like a black cloud over my early television viewing experience lifted and I discovered a glimmer of hope that life, as rough as it may become, doesn’t always have to have a message and, if it does, the morality of it doesn’t have to necessarily be positive, meaningful or even coherent. This great lesson was taught to me by both Anthony and Joe Russo through their directorial efforts on the TV 2003 series Arrested Development.
Now, for starters, full disclosure: Arrested Development is not for everybody. From its risqué thematic content to its seemingly effortlessly offensive overtone, the series and its creator (Michael Hurwitz) shows no mercy with the seemingly endless ironic content contained within. Executive Producer Ron Howard, America’s boy next door in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, brilliantly dead pan narrates the happenings of the wealthily dysfunctional (and just plain wealthy) Bluth Family.
TV and movie staples such as Jason Bateman (back from the grave from another childhood favorite, The Hogan Family) who accurately once described the show as "The Royal Tenenbaums shot like Cops" (Empire), Portia DeRossi (Ally McBeal) and Jessica Walter (Play Misty For Me) head up an ensemble cast which meshes perfectly to provide no shortage of backstabbing, innuendo and tongue in cheek sarcasm which gives the show its lifeblood.
The pilot episode, shot in “satirical mockumentary” (Cressman, The Collegian) fashion introduces the viewer to these eccentric characters and, conversely, wastes no time attacking stigmas and social taboos (incest, homosexuality) with what only could be described as a charming wit. With a father in prison for white collar criminality, a narcissistic mother preoccupied with her own excesses and among 3 siblings, all devoid of some sort of basic ethical, grown up or empathetic traits, Michael Bluth (Bateman) struggles to raise his son, George Michael (played by Michael Cera) with some sort of family background and moral ethics.
While conventional problems in sitcoms or on television (thank you Highway to Heaven) could be considered blown out of proportion, Bluth’s problem are of the utmost seriousness, yet those around him repeatedly satirize the trials down to remedial and passing foils. These foils are only complicated by the quirky traits and undetected character flaws of those around him. From a brother-in-law convinced he’s an (of course, out of work) “actor” to a brother caught up in magic tricks, the seemingly endless barrage of delusional adults take low blows at society while taking no prisoners. Yet, at the same time, the same barrage can’t help but, in some way, remind us of our own families and (more important) our own families dysfunctions.
While the family plot is, perhaps, slightly conventional within the American sitcom structure, what distinguishes Arrested Development is its single camera set up and its attempt to appear as something more than a very poorly cast reality program gone wrong. Another feature of Arrested Development is its dependence of spoken or sight gags and more importantly the insistence the viewer connects with obvious verbal cues. The decision to produce the show “bare of a laugh track” (Flynn, EW.com) only reinforces the emphasis of importance of the viewer’s own cleverness.
Unfortunately Arrested Development didn’t fare as well as a fan of television devoid of that wholesome Highway to Heaven feeling would have liked. It was, certainly, ahead of its time. In fact, it’s been argued the show’s content would have been “impossible” (Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized ) just a few years before its introduction. Yet, despite its cleverly disguised attempt to remind the viewer our lives and deepest follies should be laughed at, not dramatized, Arrested Development’s lifespan was far shorter than even the most dreadful of programming. Unusually, despite the fact the program had a “fiercely loyal circle of fans” and “was almost universally beloved of the critical establishment” (MSN), the program ended its run after just 3 seasons.
One may argue that the biggest flaw of Arrested Development was the simple fact the show did expose taboos many (mainstream oriented Americans) would not have (or could not) appreciate. Perhaps it’s better to watch a show about two dead men (creepy!) riding around in a car butting into the lives of everybody they meet and, just as oddly, making nearly each and every one of those people “change their ways”. The beauty part of Arrested Development was it recognized the general core rule of humanity: people do not change their lives over the course of a day.
And because, often, people don’t change and many are rotted to the core: it’s hard not to love Arrested Development and what it says about us, our families and (maybe most important) the perceptions of how these things are viewed in our society and by those around us. While the series was never perfect, it certainly never claimed it was and, by not pretending to be something it wasn’t: it became, perhaps, the perfect example of all that is going on around us in our home and family lives.
In many ways, by simply being itself, Arrested Development helps its audience to realize that sometimes, instead of striving for goodness and perfection (like that childhood staple: Highway to Heaven) something or somebody can be perfect at the imperfect and the humors that surround that imperfection. For this reason and maybe this reason alone, the show has seemed to endure for those willing to embrace the message and laugh at themselves. Perhaps this was the greatest accomplishment for a show with such a short shelf life, but such an enduring fascination surrounding it.