Rewind: ‘Arrested Development’ – ‘Pilot’

During its short run from 2003-2006, Arrested Development won six Emmys and one Golden Globe, received critical acclaim, and garnered a cult following. Despite all of this, its ratings remained low, and Fox cancelled the series after its third season, breaking the hearts of Arrested Development fans everywhere.

Six years after the series finale, fans have reason to celebrate. Netflix has agreed to stream a fourth season in early 2013. With rampant speculation about the fourth season and whether it will actually lead to an Arrested Development feature-length film, this is the perfect opportunity to look back upon the series and reflect upon why this show has fans eager for more so long after its cancellation.

Episode Rewind:

Season 1—November 2, 2003—Pilot

The pilot begins with Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) eagerly anticipating his father, George Bluth, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), naming him CEO of the family business. To Michael’s dismay, his father hands the company over to his mother, Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) instead.

During the course of the show, we meet the rest of our protagonist Michael’s family, most of whom the show introduces as idiotic nutcases. Michael’s twin sister, Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia de Rossi), is an “activist” who forms such “noble” organizations as H.O.O.P. (Hands Off Our Penises)—her anti-circumcision movement.

We have Michael’s older brother, George Oscar Bluth II, a.k.a. G.O.B. (Will Arnett), a dedicated albeit shitty part-time magician who constantly fucks up his “illusions.” The Magician’s Alliance kicks G.O.B. out after a reporter reveals the secret to one of G.O.B.’s tricks on the news.

Michael’s younger brother, Byron “Buster” Bluth (Tony Hale), is an apparent man-child still living with his mother and has extensively studied subjects of little practical use, ranging from Native American tribal ceremonies to cartography.

After meeting Michael’s dim-witted, oblivious brother-in-law, Tobias Fünke (David Cross), his socially awkward son, George Michael (Michael Cera), and his irresponsible, deviant niece, Mae “Maeby” Fünke (Alia Shawkat), we discover that George Bluth Sr. has been defrauding investors of his company, and the police subsequently arrest and incarcerate him.

With their patriarch gone, the Bluth family is left to figure out how to manage their lives and the family business. Frustrated that his family doesn’t recognize that he’s the only one capable of running the business, Michael threatens to move to Arizona but ultimately decides to stay in California and help his family pull themselves together.

Commentary:

Series’ pilots tend to have difficulty captivating viewers. Arrested Development is no different. Although the pilot entertains me, ultimately, it’s lackluster compared with the rest of the series, and as such, failed to really engage me upon my first viewing. Many sitcoms, including and perhaps especially AD, require time for viewers to warm up to them. But once you become well acquainted with the characters and the show’s sense of humor—in AD’s case, dry and dependent on ridiculous, idiotic logic continuously displayed by the Bluth family—that’s when you fall in love.

What the show subtly implies throughout the series is that, like its characters, most of us are plagued with “arrested development.” We all have our flaws, and many of us in one way or another are stuck in patterns of behavior and thought that prevent us from maturing as individuals.

The pilot depicts Michael’s family as caricatures, clearly in varying states of arrested development. But not Michael. He’s the only family member whom the pilot doesn’t mock. Rather, it portrays him as a kind, level-headed, single father who’s under-appreciated and often screwed over by his idiotic, selfish, ill-prioritized family (remember when they gasp with worry and fear upon discovering that the company bank account’s been frozen but not upon discovering that George Bluth, Sr. has been incarcerated?).

And it seems that Michael cares first and foremost for his son, George Michael. For example, Michael decides to stay in California and help the family, even though he had been hell-bent on moving to Arizona, because he knows that’s what George Michael really wants and perhaps even needs.

With this depiction, Michael Bluth is, of course, our most sympathetic, relatable character. We can project ourselves onto him and subsequently insert ourselves into the Bluth family. Considering the oddities and idiosyncrasies that our own families likely possess, we feel that we can relate to Michael. Don’t many of us often view ourselves as sane and reasonable, while our parents and siblings are completely oblivious? I know that I frequently view myself as the most level-headed, well-adjusted member of my family and am all too quick to point out indications of their insanity (like Michael). And I am confident each member of my nuclear family feels that they’re the most reasonable while the rest of us are a bunch of nutcases.

The notion that every member of a given family likely perceives themselves as the sanest one suggests that we all have skewed perspectives of ourselves, that we all have self-hindering flaws to which we are oblivious. This also suggests that, contrary to the pilot’s depiction, Michael can’t realistically be free from the mental and emotional issues his family experiences.

As the series progresses, we do indeed see hints of Michael’s own case of arrested development. Just like his family, he repeats the same mistakes and exhibits patterns of thought and behavior that indicate a lack of self-awareness. Seeing Michael, our protagonist with whom we identify, demonstrate stagnation, we have an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and what patterns of behavior we exhibit that hinder maturation. And the ability of this sitcom to not only make us laugh, but to prompt introspection as well, makes it truly great. As we look back on subsequent episodes in the weeks to come, we will explore the show’s budding humor and evolvement (or lack thereof) of its main character, Michael Bluth.

Best Quotes of the Episode:

  • “Everything they do is so dramatic and flamboyant; it just makes me want to…set myself on fire!” Lucille, on homosexuals.
  • Michael: “So this is the magic trick?” G.O.B.: “Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money.”
  • Michael: “What comes before anything, what have we always said is the most important thing?” George Michael: “Breakfast.” Michael: “Family.” George Michael: “Family, right. I thought you meant of the things you eat.”
  •  “I think it looks frightening when it’s cut off. It’s a Doberman. Let it have its ears!” Lindsay, on circumcised penises.
  • “Unbelievable. Sounds like you saved enough skin to make ten new boys,” Michael, on hearing that Lindsay’s anti-circumcision fundraiser made $40,000.
  • George Sr., on why he named Lucille CEO of the company over Michael: “They can’t arrest a husband and wife for the same crime,” wink. Michael: “Yeah, I don’t think that’s true, dad.” George Sr., sighing heavily and rubbing his face with his hands: “I got the worst fucking attorneys.”
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2 Comments

  1. I'm excited because I was exposed to AD after the show was cancelled (but was re-airing on G4 or whatever that channel was), plus the use of Netflix as the medium to re-air the show is probably going to change the way lots of shows go. Plus, the economist and capitalist in me commends Netflix for this new venture to expand it's business. All in all, I'm excited!

  2. Pingback: Rewind: ‘Arrested Development’ – ‘Top Banana’ | Cultural Transmogrifier Magazine

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