I recommend the sitcom Arrested Development. And that’s a pretty big deal, because it’s an American sitcom, and I’ve long held the short sighted view that American sitcoms aren’t worth bothering with because they’re inferior and boring and full of irritatingly perky, unnecessarily attractive, lightning-toothed gimps, served with a side dish of canned laughter. Arrested Development is not inferior and boring and full of irritatingly perky, unnecessarily attractive, lightning-toothed gimps, served with a side dish of canned laughter. It’s really very good actually.
It tells the story of the Bluths, a family of grown-up spoiled children who somehow all manage to be likeable despite their outrageous behaviour and numerous peculiarities. There isn’t a single throwaway performance in the large ensemble cast. While the show initially centres around Michael (Jason Bateman), who is the closest thing to a straight man that the show has, each character gets the opportunity to take centre stage and display their own unique weirdness. It’s impossible to pick a favourite. I think I’ll just have to mention them all. Here goes:
Will Arnett is lovably arrogant as Segway-riding, disgraced magician, Gob Bluth.
Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay Bluth is the result of a childhood spent playing with Barbies and having her self-esteem constantly undermined. She’s innocently, hilariously vacuous.
Her husband Tobias (David Cross) is a new-man whose life-long dream is to join the Blue Man group, and who is a diagnosed ‘never-nude’, unable to ever be naked. Tobias’s lack of masculinity is a constant joke, but it never strays into easy laughs or stereotypes.
The third Bluth brother, Buster, is the baby who never grew up. He is still a mummy’s boy, excitable, child-like, and Oedipal. The fun that Tony Hale must be having when playing Buster is evident in his performance.
George Bluth snr is the patriarch of the family, a crooked businessman with links to Saddam Hussain. While he doesn’t gladly suffer the fools that surround him, he’s more than happy to make money out of them. Jeffrey Tambor plays both George snr and his dropout brother Oscar, resulting in various Comedy of Errors shenanigans.
Jessica Walter is Lucille Bluth, the dry humoured wife of George. She is ice cold and permanently half-cut, the perfect contrast to the surreal antics of her offspring.
Alia Shawkat is Maeby, daughter of Lindsay and Tobias. While being the youngest character and cast member, she manages to be the most mature. Yet again, she manages not to fall into the clichés of the young-kid-old-soul archetype, but gives a fully rounded and original performance.
Michael Cera plays Michael’s son, George Michael. He does the Michael Cera thing, and I mean that in a really good way.
The show manages to be perfectly silly. It doesn’t come across as deliberately wacky, but is absolutely ludicrous. Like Jim Carrey in good Jim Carrey films. It also manages to pull a Back to the Future, playing with themes of incest while remaining light hearted.
Playfulness is key to the success of the show. Many different devices are used as and when they are needed. I particularly enjoy the narrator’s apocryphal ‘next time on Arrested Development’ clips that end most episodes. The use of apparently pirated archival footage, P.O.V shots, and laughs that come from camera movement and music cues, are particularly satisfying. To hell with the rules, Arrested Development is completely focused on making you laugh, and it’s prepared to be inventive to do so.
It’s all availble on Netflix.
Recommendations in brief: