A Welcome ‘Development’: TV’s Greatest Show is Back (Alas, Only in Reruns)

arrested_development_primer

Excited by the prospect of being recognized as the world’s first analyst/therapist, Tobias Fünke created business cards that touted his new hybrid profession and invited the public to partake of his talents as an “analrapist.” Unfortunately, like many things for Tobias — the erstwhile psychiatrist, aspiring actor and frontman of the experimental-prescription-drug folk band Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution — it didn’t go over so well.

Fortunately for us, the writers of “Arrested Development” were adept at a certain kind of brilliant alchemy: For three seasons, starting in 2003, the show managed to blend crude humor with sophisticated wit, politics and current events with timeless family situations (and incest), in-jokes and meta references with broad, physical comedy.

Sadly, despite six Emmy Awards (including one for its first season for best comedy program) and a loyal cult following, the show was cruelly dispatched in February 2006 – opposite the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, no less. Since then, devotion has only grown among fans. All 53 episodes are available on DVD to savor over and over — like “The Simpsons,” there are so many jokes and sly references packed into a TV half-hour that multiple viewings are well rewarded —and a movie is in the works (again, like “The Simpsons”). Until recently, shows from all three seasons were also on Hulu; now only season one can be found there.

Now, after more than three years missing from the small screen, “Arrested Development” is back. Alas, it’s only reruns for now but who knows: Maybe the loyal fans will impel Fox to bring the show back the same way it resurrected “Family Guy” years after cancellation. Starting Sunday, the dysfunctional, ethically questionable Bluth clan’s adventures can be found on the cable network Independent Film Channel. Two segments will air on Sunday and Tuesday.

If you never got a chance to see the show — and its ratings suggest you didn’t — give it a chance. And if you don’t get IFC, put in your Netflix queue or head over to Blockbuster. Be forewarned that it’s not the kind of sitcom you can jump into blindly, unlike “The Simpsons” (or “Seinfeld” or “South Park,” to name two other hilarious shows beginning with S). This is a comedy that rewards a viewer who starts at the beginning and pays close attention thereafter.

To help assuage confusion, I am offering a little “Arrested Development” primer to get first-timers in the mood. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

SETTING
The show takes place in Southern California’s Orange County amid turmoil both domestic (corporate scandals) and international (the Iraq war).

SETUP
The SEC has taken aim at the family’s business, the Bluth Company, a real estate development firm that may have ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime. In the premiere, patriarch George Bluth Sr. is arrested and his family is left to deal with the fallout.

STYLE
An omniscient third-person narrator (producer Ron Howard) offers his take on the proceedings. “Arrested Development” is shot with hand-held cameras and lacks a standard sitcom laugh track. All these things give the program the feel of a documentary at times. The show ends with a teaser to the next episode but may contain footage not seen in that episode; they may be jokes that help tie up loose ends or extend a certain subplot.

KEY CHARACTERS
• George Bluth Sr (Jeffrey Tambor).: Head of the Bluth Company before his arrest — as well as inventor of the defective kitchen appliance the Cornballer — he spends the first season adapting to the joys and terrors of prison life.

• Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter): Known to abuse alcohol and housekeepers in equal measure, the Bluth matriarch is accustomed to a decadent lifestyle and must face the frightening prospect of a downwardly mobile lifestyle exemplified by the specter of pool-only membership at the country club.

• Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman): As close to a moral center as this show allows, the second oldest Bluth son is the straight man in a universe of crazies.

• Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia de Rossi): Bluth daughter and wife to Tobias (though they often engage in a open marriage), Lindsay fashions herself as an activist, but is really self-centered, shallow and hooked on pills and booze.

• Tobias Fünke (David Cross): Married to Lindsay, he was once a prominent psychiatrist but lost his license after performing CPR on a man who didn’t need it. Now, he’s trying to reinvent himself as a thespian.

• Gob Bluth (Will Arnett): The oldest Bluth son, Gob is a founding member of the “Magician’s Alliance,” but is kicked out for revealing how an illusion is performed; he rides around on a Segway with a monogrammed pouch and acts like a jackass.

• Buster Bluth (Tony Hale): The youngest son is a professional student, studying such things as cartography and Native American ceremonies. He’s socially inept and given to panic attacks. In the second season, he is unwittingly enlisted in the military and has an unfortunate run-in with a vicious sea mammal.

• George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera): The “Superbad” star got his start on the show, playing Michael’s sensitive teenage son who has a secret — he wants to fornicate with his cousin. Many incest jokes ensue.

• Maeby Fünke (Alia Shawkat): Tobias and Lindsay’s daughter, and the focus of lust for George Michael (it doesn’t help matters she shares a room with him for a lack of space in their model home). Despite a lack of ambition, she becomes a studio executive at one point.

In the final episode, Maeby — now a veteran of the entertainment industry — pitches her life story to Ron Howard. He tells her he doesn’t see it as a show, but … “Maybe a movie.” We can only hope this film project (some rumors say late 2010) doesn’t hit any roadblocks.

Until then, I have 53 wonderful episodes to watch and rewatch. If you haven’t seen it, check out a couple of episodes. After that, you’ll be ready to submit fully to the analrapist.

Colin Powers is a Madison, Wisconsin-based editor and graphic designer. He has more than a dozen years of newspaper experience, including a stint as Life and Arts Editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before its demise in March.

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