Arrested Development Season One
Starring: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter
Series Creator: Mitchell Hurwitz
Since we were in an unfamiliar position of being without a box set of our own to watch, nor did we have one borrowed, and we already re-watched one of our older sets, I decided it was time we found out what the deal behind Arrested Development was. A lot of people who have similar tastes as my wife and I in television shows have praised this series, some calling it the funniest on television. So, in a departure in our normal modus operandi, I went out and rented disc one of the three disc set. Enjoying that, we proceeded to rent the two subsequent discs.
We quickly devoured the whole series, and not just because the 22 episodes are only a little more than 20 minutes each (besides the bonus extended pilot episode, which is featured on the DVD along with the shorter pilot that made it to air). We blew through the season so quickly because it's just as good as we've heard that it was, and quite possibly the funniest show on television (if not the funniest, then it certainly runs neck and neck with Scrubs). Everything about the show reveals the all-out commitment to laughter from everyone involved with the series, from the creators, the writers, the cast, even producer Ron Howard who lends his voice to each episode as the narrator. There's no length they won't go to, no character they won't make fun of, no gag too subtle or too obvious they won't employ to get a laugh. It's laugh out loud, side-splittingly funny, the kind of funny where you have to rewind every once in awhile to catch a joke you may have missed while you were laughing at another joke. The kind of funny where you want to repeat the jokes with your viewing partner when the episode is over because they made you laugh so hard.
Unlike Scrubs, this show is all about the humour. There are no heart-warming moments; there are no dramatic moments. It's just a crazy cast of characters that keep doing hilarious things that stem from their own vanity and obliviousness to the rules and structures of society. And when you think they've gone as far as they can go, the show just pushes it further.
For those who know little about the series, here's what it's about, as described by narrator Howard in the opening credits that begin each episode, "Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together". The "one son" is Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman. He is the only responsible member of the Bluth family, working for his dad's Bluth Corporation while his siblings and mother simply mooch off the company. He and his son (Michael is a widower), George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera), live in one of the Bluth company's model homes, while Michael works hard in the hopes of taking over for his father, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) upon his retirement.
The rest of the family consists of Michael's twin sister Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia de Rossi), a liberal wannabe activist who is really just a vapid spoiled brat who does her charity work in lieu of working, her husband Dr. Tobias Fünke (David Cross), a former psychiatrist who has been laid off and living off the family since he lost his medical license for giving a stranger CPR who was merely asleep. Lindsay and Tobias have a daughter, Mae "Maeby" Fünke (Alia Shawcat), who will do anything to rebel against her parents. Michael's older brother is George Bluth Jr (Will Arnett), the magician known as "GOB" (pronounced like the biblical figure), who runs the Magician's Alliance, which bands against any magician who reveals secrets of the trade. The youngest brother, Byron "Buster" Bluth (Tony Hale), is a mama's boy who has been going to school for years but never worked a day in his life. The cast is rounded out by the matriarch of the family, the cold, self-absorbed Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) who is dismissive to most of her children, other than live-in man-child Buster.
By the end of the pilot, George Sr is sent to prison for stealing from the company to pay for his family's lavish lifestyles, Gob has been cast out of the Magician's Alliance, the Fünke's move in with Michael and George Michael in the model home, and Buster can no longer afford to go to school. Michael is now in charge of the Bluth Corporation, and must deal with a family who has no conception of money or responsibility, but now have had their expense accounts cut off. Bateman's Michael is the central figure in the show, usually playing the straight man that his zany family bounces off of. He operates as the audience's proxy in this wacky world, as he is the only normal person on the show. His son George Michael comes close to normalcy, but is conflicted throughout the series in unnatural ways. You feel bad for the poor kid, but not so bad that you don't laugh at his predicament. While Michael usually plays the straight man, it doesn't mean that his character isn't funny, because he is, nor does it mean that he is spared of looking bad for the sake of humour, because no one is spared. Not even guest stars like Liza Minnelli, Henry Winkler, Judy Greer, Heather Graham, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Amy Poehler, James Lipton, and Carl Weathers (as himself).
Every character on the show is funny in their own way, as each cast member goes all the way to get laughs (who knew Portia de Rossi had such comedic talents?), but my personal favourite is Gob. That guy never fails to make me laugh. A close second is the incarcerated George Sr, who surprisingly takes to his jailing well, viewing it as a vacation. I'm not usually a fan of David Cross' over-the-top sense of humour, but it works here as Tobias Fünke, as Cross is the only person in the cast that may actually be reeling some of their zanyness in, which is telling, since Tobias is the zaniest character on the show. Another highlight of the show is the narration, which completes a lot of the jokes of the show and is used to perfection.
Basically, there's not much I can say about the show other than it's insanely funny. Every episode will have you laughing out loud, and is unlike anything else I've ever seen on television. In terms of funny, it's not only the funniest thing on TV right now, it ranks up there with the best seasons of The Simpsons and Seinfeld as one of the funniest seasons of television of all-time. If you've heard all the buzz about the show and wondered if you'd like it at all, I can't recommend enough that you check it out. It is truly a comedic gem.