Caught up in Arrested Development

Nov. 24, 2003, midnight | By Josh Gottlieb-Miller | 20 years, 6 months ago

Every family has a black sheep. That one family member who is just weirder than your average person, who can't do anything right, who is an embarrassment in public. The Bluth family is so full of black sheep that the reverse becomes true. The Bluth family's black sheep is their only normal member, Michael (Jason Bateman). Even he's only normal to the point that he lives in the attic of a Bluth model show house, with his son George Michael (Michael Cera). In short, the Bluth family is rich, and rich people really can afford to be different.

To start off, I need to make a disclaimer: Arrested Development is by far the funniest new comedy this year. This oddball, quirky show, is unique in that it thrives less on a spectacular script than fantastic direction and ridiculous characters. Veteran executive producers Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), Brian Grazer (24), David Nevins and Mitch Hurwitz (The Ellen Show) keep Arrested Development moving in a quickly-paced manner, framed by some great camerawork that appears almost handheld, giving the impression that the events in the show could be happening in real life.

The plot was serviceable, but nothing fancy. Arrested Development begins with George Bluth Sr. (hilarious Jeffrey Tambor) preparing to name his successor at the Bluth Development Company, during a boating party. Though Michael is eagerly awaiting recognition, he's passed over for his mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter). Soon though, SEC agents are storming the boat to arrest George, and the Bluth family has to turn to Michael for help running the company and their lives.

Tambor is clearly enjoying himself as powerful family patriarch George Bluth Sr. and his power struggle with Michael is the backbone of the show.

While the Bluth family is largely unsympathetic, centering on the likable Bateman helps Arrested Development avoid alienating viewers. The rest of the Bluth family is comedy gold, a series of outsized characters that in their fall from moneyed aristocracy are hitting all the rocks on the way down. Family matriarch Lucille is easily the funniest, at one point trying to defend her conduct with her maid before her son, Michael. "Estelle, stop dragging that coat. That coat is worth more than your house…Oh, that's just how we joke, she doesn't even own a house."

Brothers Buster (Tony Hale) and George Oswald (Will Arnett) are almost equally amusing. When failed magician George Oswald chafes under Michael's condescending orders, to for instance carry a letter to the post office, he tries to dramatically throw the letter into the ocean. Several times. Perpetual grad student Buster makes his own play for funniest and most useless Bluth by confusing blue with land on a map, even after taking cartography courses.

One risky running subplot involves richly awkward George Michael trying to kiss his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat). The two have great chemistry as convincingly awkward teens; the rest of the cast does a similarly excellent job giving the impression of a very dysfunctional family. Maeby's mother Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) provides one of the funniest moments of the season premiere when, confronted by Michael about their new money problems, she tries and fails to cry, because she never learned how (she succeeds only in a slight whimper before reverting to a frustrated look).

If not the best comedy on network television today, easily the best new comedy, get caught up in Arrested Development.

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