April 8, 2004

The Family as Prison

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“This is a story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the son who was sane enough to pull them through.” So goes the tagline to this season’s standout family comedy Arrested Development. Actually, this is the story of what happens when executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer team up to make a television show: we have ourselves a hit, ladies and gentleman. Arrested Development premiered in November 2003 to reviews that hailed it as “audacious,” “uproarious,” and “the best new show of the fall season.” It is the story of the Bluth family, a group of Orange County socialites with an odd sense of behavioral norms. (Yes, the same Orange County that the characters in Fox’s other hit show The O.C. hail from.) The Bluth family falls into disarray when their patriarch, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested, leaving them alone with their dysfunction and with a (ahh!) frozen bank account.

Once in jail he seems to enjoy the life behind bars to life at home. You might too. Mrs. Lucille Bluth is the typical upper-crust Jewish society wife. Her children include oldest son George Oscar Bluth II (G.O.B. for short, though you might as well call him S.O.B) is a magician who cannot hold a job as a magician, his chosen profession. In last week’s episode, while trying to show younger brother Michael the art of the one-night stand, he ends up married to a woman who sells seals (the mammal), and he has yet to seal the deal. Younger brother Buster Bluth has chronic panic attacks at the thought of leaving graduate school. Rounding out the family tree are Tobias and Lindsay Bluth Funke (Portia DiRossi), who seem inevitably mismatched: she, a shopaholic with a penchant for odd charity balls, he a doctor whose career ended when he gave CPR to a man who was not dying. The only sane person in the family is Michael, played by veteran child actor Jason Bateman (you may remember him from the Hogan Family, or from his sister Justine Bateman, who played Mallory on Family Ties) and his son, George Michael. A widower, Michael takes charge of steering the family away from their demise, or at least trying.

The show has had a strong first season, holding on to its 9:30 Sunday night timeslot each week with no cancellation threats in sight. This week’s episode, entitled “The Best Man for the G.O.B.,” involves missing money, a narcoleptic stripper, and a plan for G.O.B. to rid himself of his wife of two weeks. While not always laugh-out-loud funny, the clever and slightly off comedy always leaves you with a smirk on your face as the credits run.

Arrested Development’s success is due, in large part, to a very strong cast. Ron Howard provides the voice-over narrating the series, while guest stars have included Julia Louis Dreyfus as a blind lawyer on last week’s episode, James Lipton as Mr. Bluth’s prison warden, and Henry Winkler as the family’s attorney, who is too busy J-dating to look over the plea bargain.

Bateman does a good job carrying the series. He is inherently likable and funny. As the only sane man in a room full of nuts, he is easy to identify with (at least if you come from my family). Because, let’s be honest, this is not the age of The Hogan Family and Family Ties, but instead a more post-modern understanding of the family. In a world where children are a product of their parents, and their parents are inherently fucked-up, it would hardly be fair for television to tempt us with familial normalcy, While Arrested Development may not have the soap-opera like make-out sessions of its Orange County neighbor The O.C., or the shock value of the latest reality show, it is a consistently funny and amusing sitcom, which is more than I can say for many of the new shows out there.

Archived article by Logan Bromer
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer