Arrested Development

⭐⭐⭐ based on 3 reviews.

tl;dr: A great cast and some genuinely entertaining (albeit farcical) plot lines, but never really captured my imagination or triggered my funny bone. Perfectly watchable.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

A satire of the American white middle class/nouveau riche, with the likes of Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and Will Arnet at the fore, with comedy equally built around improvisation and dry sense of humour. Sounds great on paper, but fails to really take off. Don't get me wrong, the characters are fun and the performances thoroughly enjoyable. They've created a great cast of misfits that give them ample excuse for boundary-pushing parody and dark humour, both of which are often genuinely funny. It's just rarely laugh-out-loud funny, relying more on cringe humour and absurdism, though the occasional one-liner does land well.

The underlying plot is similar. The Bluth family are a great mix of characters and the setup – with Michael living in a model home whilst his father is sent to prison, causing their fortune to be frozen and forcing the various individuals to deal with reality for the first time – is a solid premise. Again, it leads to plenty off-the-wall yet grounded mishaps and anchoring it all around the "normal" son, Michael, lets the audience in on the humour cleverly.

Similarly, the consistent ability for the family to skip over the reality of their situation, ignore Micheal, or generally live in their own little fantasy bubbles is fun. They do it well. Even the weirder stuff, like George Michale's crush on his cousin, Maeby (such a good name), or the adoption of Annyong is well written and humorous. I don't know, maybe I'm just not the right audience. I enjoyed the show, but I still feel utterly ambivalent towards it.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I'm still not sure I really get the fandom around Arrested Development, but season two definitely improves on the formula. George Snr living in the attic is a fun twist that the show plays with well, leading to some particularly ridiculous yet interesting character moments with various people in the family. It's the kind of absurd realism that the show does well and it really pays off as the season goes on. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the whole "loose seal" plotline, with Gob training meat-eating pinnipeds and Buster's hand being bitten off. I won't lie, I laughed when the punchline hit, but it was particularly surreal, even for Arrested Development.

I'm also not sure about the introduction of Oscar, George Snr's twin, but it means we get some more screen time from Jeffrey Tembor so I'm ultimately okay with it. We also finally get the much-memed Blue Man Group plotline, which is great. In fact, I quite enjoyed Lindsay and Tobias' plot arcs this season, it seemed to humanise them both whilst ramping up the absurdity of their characters (or Tobias', at least). I'm less of a fan of Mrs Featherbottom, though it has some fun moments.

Ditto, not sure about Maeby's job as a Hollywood exec. It's got some good gags to it, but it ends up with some ridiculous plot threads. If anything, I'd say Arrested Development does two things very well:

  1. Managing to bring seemingly unrelated and utterly absurd storylines together in a way that works over several episodes;
  2. And spending an entire episode setting up a single punchline that normally delivers quite well.

I think, though, that this might be where the show loses me. It's hard investing 20-30 minutes into a single joke, but doing so repeatedly isn't all that fun, even when the jokes are quite good. Not knowing where any of the characters are going at all also gives me little to cling to. As a result, it's a very easy show to dip in and out of. In that context, it's excellent, but I'm still not sure it's great over all.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Arrested Development is certainly consistent. Season three takes the same characters, invents new ways to mess with their lives, throws further absurd situations at us, and somehow resolves them back together. It frequently delivers decent punchlines and competent character development, even if Michael seems to be increasingly sliding towards madness rather than raising his family up to normality.

I'm not sure about the Wee Britain stuff. Honestly, it felt quite lazy for a show that's normally got a bit of intelligence, but I guess it played into American preconceptions. 🤷‍♂️ On the other hand, Maeby and George Michael accidentally getting married is brilliant and the two young actors play it perfectly. 😂

Still, I feel like the show backed itself into a weird corner and then tried to dig its way out. I also feel like the ending showed off that they never had any long term plans. I guess back in season one the idea is that Michael might, one day, grow up and realise his family isn't his problem, but I still think the ending was a little left-field given everything we've seen so far. A solid shrug, then, for the original set of seasons.

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