The quirky American television sitcom Arrested Development (2003-2019), whose fifth and final season aired just last year on Netflix, gained a cult following from the brilliantly witty and exciting pilot which graced our screens in early 2003 to an audience of over 8 million viewers. Although the show did not gain a large audience upon its first broadcast, it soon became critically acclaimed among the backdrop of more simplistic sitcoms due to its individual style which blends mockumentary with narrative drama.
The premise of the show follows the hilariously dysfunctional life of the Bluth family. After the patriarch of the family, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), is arrested following discoveries of fraud and further criminal offences, the once-profitable family business is left to the leadership of Bluth’s son and honest family man Michael (Jason Bateman). Jason Bateman shines in his role of the show’s protagonist, drawing the audience into his character through his humorously deadpan performance and his interesting relationship with his son after the death of his wife.
Upon first watch of the Arrested Development pilot, which I have now watched numerous times due to its brilliance, you are drawn into the unique nature of each and every character and family member. From the innocence of Michael Bluth’s only son George Michael (Michael Cera) to the annoying confidence of his brother G.O.B. (Will Arnett), it is easy to find a character who you either adore or dislike through their interesting character traits. Unlike most American sitcoms, the clear variety and ironic takes on stereotypes portrayed in the show work in its favour by creating an overall sense of comedic irony which runs throughout its five seasons.
As a stand-alone episode, the pilot gained critical acclaim and for good reason. Not only did it set up the plot in a quick and simple way, it showed the potential for a different style of American sitcom which didn’t follow the usual trope of ‘a group of friends who struggle in love and money’ but instead showed an interesting take on an ex-wealthy family who have to learn to deal with the imprisonment of their father and the new ownership of a struggling business. Although Arrested Development is fundamentally comedic and full of hilarity, it manages to weave subtle elements of meaning and hold emotional value through issues of single parenthood, money struggles and relationship breakdowns whilst still making you laugh.
I think it’s safe to say that the pilot was a great success, having drawn in audiences due to its simple but complex humour and brilliant performances from a range of now A-list stars, some of whom made their breakthrough in Arrested Development. It will always be one of those shows that wasn’t afraid to be a little bit wacky (maybe sometimes too wacky) to keep the audience interested and engaged with the crazy antics of the questionable but ultimately brilliant Bluth family.
All seasons of Arrested Development are available to stream on Netflix. You can watch the opening clip below.