Out of a sense of a need for something familiar, I recently decided to revisit an old favorite show of mine; I decided to rewatch Arrested Development. I remembered distinctly loving the first three seasons, enjoying Season 4, and just… not being able to react to Season 5. Since then, I’d never gone back. I’d show my friends a few of my favorite episodes, maybe reflect on some classics, but I never went to see it through to the end. So, in the eleventh hour of my junior year, I opened up Netflix and fully rewatch-ed Arrested Development.
Here are my reactions, my impressions, and my review of the show about one man trying to keep his family together.
Season 1 of Arrested Development is, generally, exactly what the series is known for. Every episode is full of great, interesting, and most importantly funny storylines that bring the characters – themselves one of the most important parts of the show – into scenarios that earn those five Emmy awards that Season 1 won. Some of the show’s greatest moments and character pieces are found throughout this season, with my personal favorite episodes being “Top Banana”, “Bringing Up Buster”, “In God We Trust”, and “My Mother The Car”. That’s not to say that they are the best, as the entire season is well acted and directed, but some storylines – in particular the courtroom storyline – fall flat, and arguably drag on for too long. The show, in this season at least, excels at short-form plotlines that highlight the relationships between the Bluths and their associates.
In particular, I want to highlight just how great each of the leads are. There’s a kind of cast dynamic here that I rarely see in a sitcom, where not a single character feels wasted, and nobody is explicitly leading. It could be argued that the main characters, Michael and his son George Michael (Jason Bateman and Michael Cera) are the protagonists, as the show definitely follows the two of them. However, that’d be ignoring the dynamic between Michael and his siblings Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Buster (Tony Hale), and G.O.B. (Will Arnett), the hopeless marriage between Lindsay and Tobias Funke (David Cross), and how it affects their daughter Maeby (Aila Shawkat), who herself has an… interesting relationship with her cousin George Michael. However, the most interesting relationship to watch is between each of the Bluths and their parents, George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), and especially Lucille Bluth, who is being played to damn near perfection by the late Jessica Walter. The supporting cast, including Henry Winkler, Jeffrey Tambor (again), Liza Minnelli, Carl Weathers, Mae Whitman (in arguably her breakout role), and even icons like Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Judy Greer, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Having such a star studded cast brought these episodes to life, and this power carried through into the next season.
The first season of Arrested Development is one of the most critically acclaimed seasons of sitcom TV of all time. You don’t win five Emmys doing nothing right.
Arrested Development Season 2 is arguably even better in every way. The plotlines are tighter, the characters are fitting even better into their roles, and there are some major developments being made to the jokes that truly embody what I think people remember Arrested Development for. Nearly every single story and episode is a hit, from the opener, “The One Where Michael Leaves”, to one of my personal favorites, “Afternoon Delight”, and some of the strongest episodes close out the season, with the run from “Sword of Destiny” to “The Righteous Brothers” being nothing but incredible running gags and conclusions to storylines set up throughout the previous two seasons.
Additionally, characters that weren’t serving much of a purpose anymore or lost their role in the story during the climax of Season 1 gained new roles and storylines that defined them for the rest of the show’s run, even after both revivals. Buster losing his hand and joining the military were inspired choices, Tobias’ attempts for fame through the Blue Man Group is one of the best stories in the series, and Maeby finally found her purpose outside of being George Michael’s “love interest” in living a double life as a movie producer, right as George Michael moved onto Ann (her?) Veal, and the relationship between them that’d define him all the way up to the end of the show’s original run. If there’s one thing Arrested Development understood in the transition between seasons, it was how to pivot and change characters or storylines to make them more engaging and entertaining.
That’s not to say that the season is perfect, though. A couple of storylines feel almost lifted from Season 1, and the reduction in the length of the season (22 episodes to 18 episodes) means that a sixth (3 episodes) of season 2 are just… less interesting rehashes of season 1. When the season’s doing it’s own thing, it’s brilliant; when the series is revisiting old concepts and storylines, it’s skippable. And, as we go forward, things get… weirder from here.
Season 3 of Arrested Development confuses me. It’s got a lot of the qualities of the prior seasons, with tightly written plotlines and well acted characters. Things finally get resolved here after being held off, most likely in an attempt to wrap things up with cancellation looming over the horizon. The pivots continue, in equally strong ways, and the final half of the season feels just as strong as season 1’s opening. However, it’s… contrasted by some returning issues from season 2, and some new issues that’d plague the series until the end.
I’ve taken over a week to try and comprehend what started to go wrong here, and I think I’ve summed it up to a single word: subtlety. Seasons 1 and 2, for the slapstick and sometimes ridiculous events that occurred, felt subtle, as if they were a part of a real, holistic world. Season 3 opens with a 5 episode storyline about Michael dating someone who may be a part of the British… government, who he’s been told are setting his father up as a patsy in some grand scheme, with him falling (literally) head over heels for her. Then, there’s plotlines involving a fake coma (admittedly hilarious), a mock trial (with J. Reinhold), and, bafflingly, WMDs in Iraq. Some of it, some of it, works incredibly well. Some of it is funny at first, and with rewatches, it’s incredibly less funny and just… not. Some of it feels actively offensive and not at all the satire the series started out as, even when it seems like it’s attempting to mock the very premise of the series and sitcom tropes as a whole. It’s rough to get through, although there are highlights.
The ending of season 3, starting with “Fakin’ It” and ending with the former series finale “Development Arrested”, despite some tough plots to swallow, concludes nearly everything the series had set up to that point, and leaves things in a place that, all things considered, suits the story the show had been building for three seasons now. It bookends the story near flawlessly, with something genuinely touching and somewhat intense, and feels earned. When I view this as the end of the series, I can see why the fans were clamoring for more; however, knowing what I know now, I wish I could call this the end of the series. But no, we got more, and now we have to cover that… next time.