Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Producer: Victor Hsu
Screenwriter: Mitchell Hurwitz, Barbara Feldman, Chuck Martin, Richard Rosenstock
The series made such a mockery of the traditional, homogenized three-camera sitcom with cheap sets and canned laughter, to the point that very few of them even exist anymore. Most TV comedies now chase after the off-the-wall genius of Arrested Development, with its sly, easy-to-miss references to every aspect of current pop culture, and its uncanny knack for testing the devotion (and the memory banks) of its viewers with severely high-risk inside jokes. The show was a bold concept, a sharply radical turn from the ordinary, and the funniest damn program to appear on television before or since its three-season run.
Arrested's inaugural, Emmy-winning season sets the stage for these delirious oddballs from the moment the pilot begins. Michael (Jason Bateman) is the family's only well-adjusted member, a widower raising a teenage son on his own, and a good man who values strong work ethics and anxiously awaits taking over the Bluth family business, a conglomerate that has made the family famous simply for being rich and powerful. As season one opens, Michael is prepared to take over the company from his retiring father, George (Jeffrey Tambor), and starting a new life with his 13-year-old son, George Michael (Michael Cera, in the vehicle that foisted his comic genius onto the masses). But Michael's goodwill is seemingly betrayed when George hands the company over to his wife, Lucille (Jessica Walter), the classic drunken-buffoon socialite. The loyal son is shocked, but this betrayal is merely the tip of the iceberg; George is promptly arrested for fraud and embezzlement, leaving the family's assets frozen and the company in complete shambles. It falls on Michael, as essentially the only sentient member of the ridiculous Bluth clan, to keep his family together and somehow keep the company afloat.
The Bluth family is probably the most hysterically dysfunctional ever to hit the screen. Eldest brother G.O.B. (the brilliant Will Arnett) is a horrible wannabe magician and unmitigated idiot. Lindsay (Portia De Rossi), Michael's twin sister, is a shallow would-be activist who takes up causes with names like "Neuterfest" and "HOOP: Hands Off Our Penises," and who married former psychiatrist Tobias Funke (David Cross), whose homosexuality is obvious to everyone but himself. Youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale) has been sheltered to the point that he can barely function in the real world. The shy, nervous George Michael finds himself developing uncomfortable feelings for his cousin, Maeby (Alia Shawkat), whose only interest in the poor sap is as a co-conspirator in various acts of rebellion. Even Michael is crippled -- by his own loyalty. One of the season's best running jokes is how Michael is constantly leaving to "start a new life" with his son, only to quickly turn around and pick up right where he left off.
In many ways, the show revolutionized the style and the attention span of typical sitcom writing. While a show like Seinfeld brilliantly utilized bitter irony as its framing device in nearly every episode, not until Arrested Development did a sitcom develop such a rich base of insider references and weave them into episodes at random. Unlikely comic elements like the family's Frozen Banana Stand, George Michael's incestuous crush, and G.O.B.'s disbarment from a supercilious Magician Alliance are frequent targets that never cease to hit the funny bone, and oftentimes the crafty ways Hurwitz and his writers create laughs are just as funny as the laughs themselves.
The sublime brilliance and unending hilarity of Arrested Development is almost too nebulous to adequately describe in words. While many fans (including yours truly) have mourned its early demise, just this remarkable first season is enough to stand on its own as a comedy classic. Season two never missed a beat, and season three wrapped up the series with the same level of iconoclastic wit, but season one stands, in many ways, as the series' best. In 22 short episodes, Arrested Development left an indelible imprint on the comedy landscape that will last for decades to come.