Now for the story of a cancelled, award-winning TV sitcom and its belated return to the screens. It’s Arrested Development!
The original three seasons of Arrested Development aired between 2003-2006 and secured a whole Banana Stand full of awards including six Emmys and a Golden Globe. The show charted the lives of the Bluth family, Orange County royalty thanks to their booming housing development business, most of whom were spoilt and narcissistic, dipping into the business coffers for too long. The main character and only moral centre to the family was Michael. His hopeless son and niece, George Michael and Maeby, scheming parents Lucille and George, sister Lindsay and her husband Tobias (clueless and gay respectively) and brothers Gob (hapless magician) and Buster (serious Oedipus complex) provided the show with its genuine moments of insanity. When the business caves thanks to their greed, they must adjust to normal life: no more furs, yachts and diamond skin cream.
It was a riotously funny ensemble comedy with outlandish and, let’s face it, unlikeable characters (but Lucille Bluth is still every gay man’s drunk, bitchy idol). It was addictive and had wit as sharp as a razor blade dipped in lemon juice. It also made household names out of stars like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera in the process.
However, AD was given a perilous and constantly shifting time slot by network Fox, and could never seem to pull in the viewing figures of shows like How I Met Your Mother. It was an entirely different kettle of fish to other comedy shows, and its mockumentary style narration and Lost-esque flashbacks required dedicated viewing. It was not a show that could be easily dipped in and out of like, Friends, for example. However, it rewarded dedicated viewers all the more with running jokes and gags that would stretch out over a whole season (Mr F and the chicken dancing anyone?!). It addicted some, alienated others, but was nevertheless abruptly cancelled during its third season, firmly consigning it to the vault shared by other failed TV projects. Development was definitely arrested.
However, as with other shows like Family Guy and Futurama, it developed somewhat of a cult following on DVD and achieved levels of popularity that it had failed to find when it was actually on TV. There were rumours flying around since its cancellation, of a movie and new series, but none were believed until the announcement last summer that Netflix would release a new series of the show on 26th May this year, with all 15 episodes released simultaneously. It was every fan’s wet dream: a returning cast and crew, and the chance to catch up with these utterly and dangerously insane individuals 7 years later. With my anticipation at fever pitch, all my AD DVDs re-watched, and my Netflix account all signed up, I knuckled down at the weekend with my frozen banana, cornballer and juice box to watch the return of my favourite comedy show.
The show is a relatively new release, and Netflix is not for everyone, so DVD will be the first time many will watch this. For that reason and the fact that that this show is enjoyed best with absolutely no prior knowledge of the ludicrousness that will entail, I’ll be sure not to give away anything that happens. Nevertheless, as I write this, I’ve just finished episode ten and have no comprehension of the utter madness that I’ve just watched. Arrested Development has very much returned.
When we last left the Bluth family all those years ago, Lucille and co. were setting sail at the helm of the Queen Mary, on the run from the authorities who had discovered the recent dealings of The Bluth Company. Only Michael and his son had managed to escape and vowed to let the thankless and corrupt family deal with their own problems from here on.
Sadly the return of AD came at a price: the show’s stars have since become big household names and film stars, so securing everyone for filming was nigh on impossible. As a result, and as highlighted by the show’s creator, Mitch Hurwitz, the format has changed from an ensemble comedy piece to a show where each episode focuses on an individual character with the aim of an overarching story. This has meant that the show has lost some of its charm, as these characters are at their best and most disturbing when bouncing off each other. Added to the fact that each episode is now 10-15 minutes longer than before, the supporting characters, or lack thereof, can be a little jarring.
The humour is in there but slightly lost under the extended jokes from just one character. Nevertheless, the thrill of seeing everyone back, and Lucille with a drink in-hand (and Buster with a hook as-a-hand), far outweighs any of the back and forth that is lost. When the characters do get extended screen time together, it’s like nothing has changed and the old dynamic is still there. There are some great returning guests too, such as Lucille 2 and Tony Wonder (Liza Minnelli and Ben Stiller) and a pure genius casting decision involving Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids). It is slightly scary however what a 7 year break has done to some of the cast, and some suspension of belief is required during some flashback scenes: make-up can only do so much.
So far in my ten episode viewing, the stories have remained in the same spirit as the first three seasons – utterly bonkers but totally believable when considering whose lives these are. I’m very keen to see if and how these events all form together for one cohesive story. If only for nostalgia’s sake, I’m happy to see the show back.
The question is now, will there be anymore AD? There are already rumblings of a possible movie and another series, as the show’s creator has already confirmed that he’s got the whole family’s future mapped out. I’m always keen to spend time with these people and despite the alcoholism, stealing, fighting and borderline incest, I would rather spend Christmas with the Bluth family than with my own.