My review on the cult hit, "Arrested Development"
|Scooped by Ryan Kelly|
While many television networks continue to pump out the traditional, dim witted, trite formula of sitcom comedy, Fox’s Arrested Development (Mitchell Hurwitz, 2003) offers a breath of fresh air and, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for the viewer seeking a little more ingenuity in his entertainment. Produced by such notable figures as Academy Award Winners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code), and starring Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Will Arnett (Up All Night), and Michael Cera (Superbad); Arrested Development got its start in 2003 on the Fox network (IMDb). The show received rave reviews from critics, some even calling it “the defining sitcom of our times.” (Donaghy). However, its humor failed to translate immediately to the audience, resulting in a short lived run of just three seasons from 2003-2006 (IMDb). Despite such troubles, its unprecedented take on the sitcom genre was undeniable, and it has developed into a cult favorite, with a very passionate, although small, following.
Breaking from the traditions of the sitcom genre, Arrested Development does not feature many of the stereotypical sitcom trademarks such as laugh tracks or a studio audience. Instead, Development is shot in a documentary style or, more fittingly, a mocumentary style; using such techniques as handheld camera work, and narration by Ron Howard. Perhaps this style was influenced by such shows as Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Great Britain’s The Office. However, Arrested Development possesses more of a professional cinematic quality in its shooting style, as well as superior performances from the actors involved. Undoubtedly, Arrested Development had a great influence in the creation of such shows as the Modern Family, and the American adaptation of The Office; both of which utilize similar styles of storytelling.
The show’s pilot opens, after a brief intro explaining the Bluth family’s exceptional level of dysfunctionality, with Michael Bluth (Bateman) proclamation that once he has received control over his father’s company, he will never again see any of his family members. Of course, not all goes according to plan. Control over the family business falls to his vindictive mother, and in a hilarious segment involving gay protesters, failed magic tricks, awkward, incestuous tension, and the arrest of his father, Michael’s plans unravel before his eyes. Undeterred by this catastrophe, Michael finds a new job and plans to leave his family anyway. However, his conscience and son George Michael (Cera) eventually get the better of him and he decides to stay to rebuild his family name. Watching the calamity unfold is a joy to watch, and one of the most intriguing elements of the show is its writing. Beautifully developed and employing engaging and quick humor, the dialogue and situational humor compels the story forward with eloquence.
Perhaps one of the reasons for Arrested Development’s swift downfall was its peculiar brand of humor. San Francisco Chronicle’s Tim Goodman even commented that Arrested Development was “so funny it’s doomed.” (Goodman). Playing delightfully on its own absurdity, Arrested Development aims to charm the audience with its witty, often sarcastic humor, as well as its cast of crazy characters. Each cast member is developed to feature a certain level of idiocy, balanced by an identifiably human flaw which they are working through. For example, Gob Bluth’s hilariously absurd career as a magician is balanced by his humanizing desire to earn the praise of his father. The delicate balance between intelligent commentary and a humorous look at relevant social issues is beautifully composed. Focusing on such taboo themes as incest, selfishness, failure, insecurity, marital troubles and other serious topics, Arrested Development effectively employs a comedic approach toward what could otherwise be considered uncomfortably serious. This tact is invaluable to the appeal and show. Unfortunately, the sarcastically comedic approach, though unbelievably funny, failed to resonate with many cable viewers. The audience either simply didn’t get the humor, or were looking for something less comedically challenging in their comedy lineup.
The manner in which Arrested Development takes on the sitcom genre is refreshingly original, and the masterful editing employed only serves to further the comedic. Moving sharply from scene to scene, the editing is carefully constructed to accentuate the characters’ absurdities; frequently employing dramatic cuts to show other character’s current situations in accordance to the story line, as well as to coincide with the swift rhythm employed due to its half hour run time. Along with the editing, the camera work also plays an integral part of the charm which Arrested Development possesses. The extensive use of close ups helps to highlight the characters ridiculous expressions, which are often equally as funny as the situations in which they are placed. The handheld camera work and documentary feel of the show provides an unexpected yet welcome approach to the viewer, giving you a front row seat to the dysfunctionality of the Bluth family. While humor is certainly the draw of Arrested Development, its surprisingly proficient camera work and editing style are what truly make Arrested Development shine, all the while making you smile.
Though the series was short lived on television, Arrested Development has gained a new platform in the form of Netflix (Miller). Set to be released in May, Arrested Development Season 4 marks the return of the beloved show for at least one more season. Michael Cera even commented that season 4 is “one of my favorite seasons.” (Yeoman). The persistent lobbying of Development’s avid cult following has paid off, at least for now. Perhaps with luck the show will gain some additional popularity in the wake of what appears to be a Netflix revolution; following the success of another wildly successful exclusive-to-Netflix show, House of Cards (CBS News).
With brilliant producers, an all star cast, and a refreshing take on the sitcom genre filled with clever humor and charming dysfunctionality, I could not help but fall in love with Arrested Development. The humor, cinematography, and beautifully written script only increase my confusion as to why Arrested Development’s life was so tragically short. A return to Netflix is most certainly welcomed, and the cult following the show has gathered is well deserved. With a return to Netflix and word-of-mouth spreading like wildfire, I doubt very much that we have seen the last of the Bluth family.
CBS News. ""House of Cards" Success Surprises Co-creator." CBSNews.com. CBS Interactive, 02 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
Donaghy, James. "Arrested Development: The Defining Sitcom of Our times." TheGuardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media, 02 Sept. 0041. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
Goodman, Tim. "Latest Fox Comedy 'Arrested Development' Is so Funny It's Doomed." SFGate. SFGate.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
"House of Cards." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
IMDb. "Arrested Development." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
Miller, Liz. "Why Arrested Development on Netflix Could Change Everything — Tech News and Analysis." GigaOM Why IArrested Developmenti on Netflix Could Change Everything Comments. Gigaom.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
Yeoman, Kevin. "Michael Cera Says ‘Arrested Development’ Season 4 Is ‘One of His Favorite Seasons’." Michael Cera Says ‘Arrested Development’ Season 4 Is ‘One of His Favorite Seasons’. ScreenRant.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.