Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Genius Writing of Arrested Development

During the years of 2003 and 2006 one of the funniest and best-written shows was on television struggling to find an audience. Arrested Development was an American sitcom created by Mitchell Hurwitz and follows a wealthy and dysfunctional family as they fall apart due to their father’s arrest. Even though it earned six Emmy awards in its first season including best comedy series, due to the network’s program and time shifting it could not attract an audience when it was on. After its cancellation it has developed a huge cult following and it was just recently announced that it would be coming back for a 10 episode season before a full feature length movie.

From the acting to the directing everything on the show was top notch. However it was in the writing where it really excelled. Most comedies and sitcoms do not plan or have arcs for a full season. Usually when something wants to be referenced the earliest you may see it be mentioned is an episode or two before. On Arrested Development they would bring up something in season one and then it would show up and be explained in season three! A lot of the jokes would feel like they were written with the entire series planned out. For example, Buster who is socially inept due to his mother Lucille’s sheltering and dominance begins dating another older woman named Lucille. In one episode Buster is told not to go into the ocean by his mom because it was dangerous. Later on he goes in the ocean to go against his mother and what happens? A loose seal (sounds just like Lucille) bites off his hand! His hand is later replaced with a claw. Earlier that season the production team made clear points to show Buster’s hand chair and him winning a seal in a toy claw game. Talk about genius writing! Other great jokes include the family accidentally calling their adoptive son Annyong (which is Korean for hello). This happened after when they originally asked for his name he said tried to say hello before he said what his name actually was.

The show is also full of pop culture references. A great situation was in the episode purposely entitled “Good Grief.” Every character has a depressing moment and walks slouched over like the character Charlie Brown. They even used the music and put a red dog house with Snoopy look-a-like in the back! Another pop culture reference went all the way back to Happy Days from 1977. Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler, literally jumped a shark water skiing in one episode. Since then the term “jumping the shark” has become an idiom for when a show hits a decline in quality beyond recovery. On Arrested Development Henry played the family lawyer and in one episode when they found a shark that bit off the tracking device on the seal that bit Buster, Henry hopped over the shark on his way to Burger King!

The references on the show even include their own show! In one later episode Michael Bluth is on the company phone complaining how it was unfair that they were cutting their housing construction orders from 22 to 13 when they already have the blueprints made up. This is a reference to when their episodes were cut back from 22 to 13 episodes due to low ratings! In another episode Tobias, who wants to be an actor, explains how those Hollywood show sets are so detailed and life-like. As he says this he opens up the cabinet in the model home the family lives in to find one conveniently placed food prop and a McDonald’s cup left by the crew. They further picked on their ratings by having the narrator just come out and say please watch our show and to tell your friends!

Arrested Development was one show that was cut too soon and was not a show made for network television. Today if it was on a cable network like FX or even on something like Showtime I think it would have been more successful. In the end I am happy that it is coming back and that I get to spend at least a few more hours with the Bluth family.

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