Here is the good thing about this next Marathon to Start: if you have seen it once, you can see it again. It's Arrested Development (imagine that said in Ron Howard's voice). We have gone for dramas in the first few Marathon to Start features, but that now needs to be changed. Here I say start watching what I think could easily be called the best comedy of all time.
Arrested Development is a half-hour comedy that follows the story of a dysfunctional family that once was wealthy, yet has to deal with the repercussions when the patriarch of the family (George Sr. play by Jeffrey Tambor) is hauled away to prison by the SEC. It sends the family and their lavish lifestyle into even more turmoil. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) has been waiting for his father to make him a partner in the family company and is forced into this role to keep the family together while everything else falls apart. The antics of the family expands from there and play out in ways that are so outrageous and hysterical, they have to be seen to be believed. It was shot in single camera format and used many interesting techniques, such as a handheld camera.
During its original airing on FOX, the series was plagued with problems and especially low ratings. I could go on to speculate the reasons for this (not enough publicity, changing schedule) but really it came down to the fact that it was an extremely costly comedy to produce with high production value and a large series regular cast that was just too expensive to keep on air with the ratings that it was getting. Despite the fact that the show won an Emmy as Best Comedy in 2004, the network just wasn't able to keep it on the air. That was a tragedy and very sad, but I must say the show has at least been somewhat vindicated by the way that it has exploded since being on air and through DVD sales and online viewing. While the show was still on the air, the box sets of Seasons 1 and 2 were regularly in the top charts for DVD sales and this trend continued long past the time the show was taken off the air. Interestingly, because of this, the fan base just seemed to grow and it has now reached the point that the show will be brought back to Netflix with original episodes during the Summer of 2013. Recently, Jason Bateman and Ron Howard ( executive producer and the uncredited narrator of the show) went to Twitter to confirm the fact that the new fourth season is really happening. Bateman tweeted "All systems are go. Filming for the new episodes starts in four weeks. Woo!” Now, that is amazing news for all of the fans who already love the show, but for any of you who have yet to pick up the box set or keeping passing it on Netflix Instant, this is why you should stop and watch it now.
One of the hard parts of writing about this show will be one of the things that makes it the most brilliant, which is the way in which the comedy is written, acted and overall played out. However, actually before getting into that, I think it must be noted that it is just plain funny. It is a comedy that contains a joke (or two) in at least every minute of the twenty-two that make up an episode. In fact, one of the best aspects of it is the fact that you could go back and watch each episode more than once and you will catch some joke that you somehow passed over and missed the first time. This might be one of the reasons it also never caught on while on-air because it was so jam packed with funny that it was a different type of comedy than viewers were used to. Many sit-coms let jokes breathe and give them some room (and use a laugh track to indicate when you should actually, well, laugh) but Arrested Development does none of these things. It hits joke after joke and oftentimes moves past them without even calling attention to it, so it can take a bit of getting used to the style. However, once you do, it is likely that you will be sucked into the world forever. I could go on to explain some of my favorite funny quotes, but instead I will let them speak for themselves:
Beyond the pacing of the comedy, one of the other aspects that makes the comedy so incredible, is the way they use recurring jokes throughout the series. This also is one of the things that makes it prime for a marathon, as when you watch episodes in succession, you start to catch even more of the call backs and running stories and jokes. One of the biggest running jokes throughout is how many times a different character will deadpan the phrase "I've made a huge mistake." Revolving around such a group of dysfunctional humans, it must not have been hard to work this into the countless scenes it appears. However, each time you hear it, it still can surprise you and make you laugh because it is inter-woven so brilliantly it feels as if it is the first time it has been said. There are countless other examples of recurring jokes, but one of my personal favorites might have to be the chicken dance. At one point, almost every family member engages in their own awkward and strange interpretation of what they think a chicken dance might look like. Michael's eventual question might sum it up the best: "Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken?"
Another comedic device that is used so well is the way in which the show would every once in a while become very self-reflexive. One of the most common phrases in television is to "jump the shark." The reference is a nod to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) has to jump over a shark tank on waterskis. Many people thought this gimmick and ploy was an example of the creative decline in the show and became know as the moment it "jumped the shark". From that moment on, the phrase has been used to describe the moment a television series does something that indicates it started to decline in quality. So, how did Arrested Development deal with this prospect? They literally had Henry Winkler (a guest star on the show who appeared in several episodes as The Bluth family lawyer) exit a scene by jumping over a shark. Simply brilliant.
However, quite possibly the self-reflexive moment that needs to be noted the most is the entire episode named S.O.Bs. The episode translates to Save Our Bluths revolves around the fact that the Bluths are trying to save themselves. It begins with an "opening" that mimics many gimmicks that shows use to try to bring audiences in if they have low ratings such as a cavalcade of guest star appearances and an end tag that proves it was a "live" show. Not only that, they reference the online campaign that was active at the time to try to save the show (www.saveourbluths.org), and when Michael says "Our backs are against the wall and it's just hard to accept that it has really come to begging," Ron Howard's voice-over chimes in and begs "please tell your friends about this show." Their campaign didn't seem to work at the time, little did they know that it was actually working but it just would take years to be completed and thankfully, Netflix eventually did save the show. There are also rumors that a movie is in the works, and the new episodes are in preparation for that.
Which now brings me to the cast and the characters. I don't know that you can separate the two because it is the fantastic actors who brought such dynamic characters to life. The ensemble cast is huge with nine series regulars, and I don't know if you can say who is the best. Sometimes my favorite character will be GOB, sometimes Buster, sometimes George-Michael and of course sometimes Tobias Funke. I believe that demonstrates the quality of a true ensemble cast when they take moments from each other at times but work together in such a way that each character has their moment to shine. It is also interesting to look at the career of several of the cast members after the show ended. Jason Bateman was popular at a young age, when he appeared in Valerie's Family, but it had been years since he was truly a known actor. After Arrested Development, he is one of the most sought-after comedic "straight men" and has appeared in countless comedies with some of the best actors in cinema. Additionally, Michael Cera was a young kid from Canada who had appeared in the pilot named The Grubbs on FOX and was later cast in the role. His awkward charm was quickly recognized and he was another who had an extremely successful film character after the show. It will be interesting to see where his career goes now, as he has proven to not have the most dynamic "range," but no matter what, my heart will always love him as George Michael. Picking these few out means I have ignored Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, David Cross and Portia De Rossi, and others which is in no way fair, but I leave it to you to watch and decide which one is your favorite character. The show also was able to secure countless amazing guest star actors that include Charlize Theron, Liza Minnelli, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zach Braff, Ben Stiller and countless others.
Overall, it is easy to write about Arrested Development because there are so many incredible aspects to it, yet difficult, because I'm sure I have missed so much. However, it is for this reason it has been deemed in pop culture as one of the best comedies of all time and is why, if you haven't yet….you should always watch Arrested Development. (Lesson learned.)