October 23, 2020

Gleeful dysfunction of ‘Arrested Development’ gone too soon

Illustration by Katie Brenzel

Imagine — a sitcom that doesn’t depend on canned laughter to cue when something funny has been said. Logic would follow that such gems thrive. Evidenced by the allowance of such a creature as Snooki to publish a book, this is not a logical society.

After three years, three seasons and 53 episodes, Fox Broadcasting Company did the unthinkable, committing a great crime against humanity. “Arrested Dev-elopment” was canceled.

Despite the show’s many accolades — six Emmys, one Golden Globe and numerous other nominations — despite the incredible writing, brilliant timing and hilarious cast, “people” apparently weren’t watching. Shows fall victim to poor ratings regularly, and many times with merit, but sometimes the decision is tragic. “Freaks and Geeks” ended after one season. It’s a warped system of survival of the fittest, given that “16 and Pregnant” is embarking on its second season and “Two and a Half Men” is on its eighth. What a world.

The one benefit of canceling a show in its prime is it ends with grace, rather than outliving its appeal or its writers’ ability to produce — such as “Scrubs,” “The Simpsons” and now even “The Office” — but I believe “Arrested Development” was taken before its time. Fox made a huge mistake.

The show, narrated by Ron Howard, created an incredibly relatable, but unconventional picture of familial dysfunction. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) plays the levelheaded middle child, charged with keeping his family from falling apart in the wake of the arrest of his father, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), while attempting to raise his son, George Michael (Michael Cera), alone.

His twin sister, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), who is

chronically unemployed but high maintenance, moves in with Michael, along with her rebellious daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) and her stereotypically homosexual (but actually heterosexual) husband, Tobias (David Cross).

Will Arnett is Michael’s older brother Gob, an aspiring magician and Segway enthusiast. Their mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter), is the alcoholic conspirator of the family, who lives with her youngest son, the sheltered and emotionally disturbed Buster (Tony Hale).

Corruption, adultery, fraud, treason, kissing

cousins — the family is fucked up. As Michael mends his father’s company, the family sabotages his efforts. Though the show functions on a hyperbolic depiction of dysfunction, the characters ultimately seem to shrug off the chaos and accept the circumstances, which produces the modestly hilarious tone of the show.

So, Lucille has an affair with her husband’s stoner twin brother. A rogue seal eats Buster’s hand. Big deal. Gob uses the “The Final Countdown” as his magic show theme song. So, Tobias wears cutoffs under all his clothes and thinks he’s a member of the Blue Man Group. The ridiculousness escalates as the series progresses, but it’s an accepted reality throughout.

The comedy derives from the individual performances — especially by Arnett — and the absurdity of the situations. This is what a sitcom, by fundamental definition, is supposed to accomplish. Why then are such abominations on network television permitted to exist while this is not?

I’m not sure I want to be part of a world that cancels “Arrested Development” and allows anything on MTV to remain. I’m tired of changing the channel after a show is over and feeling as if I were emerging from a coma.

I suppose I will just have to wait for the indefinitely scheduled “Arrested Development” movie, wandering with my head downcast in a Charlie Brown shuffle to “Christmas Time is Here.”

Katie Brenzel can be reached at brenzel2@tcnj.edu.

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