Paul’s note: Scott has been a prolific guest contributor to (at least) one cool thing, and tonight he returns with an excellent article on the comedy Arrested Development. He tipped me to the show after its first season, and although Scott does have an “off-axis” sense of humor, he is spot-on with his characterization of its brilliance. Take Scott’s advice and add it to your queue.
Twenty-nine years ago this month, a watershed comedy show hit the networks, one that broke down barriers in many dimensions, though it only lasted four years. The show was Soap (amazon), the story of two eccentric families, the Tates and the Campbells. It was genius, edgy, racy, and very controversial.
It included such topics as murder, adultery, alien possession, kidnapping, and (horrors) homosexuality. It was also my favorite show at that time. In retrospect, I'm not sure if that was my weak attempt at pre-teen rebelliousness (for certainly its topics were not welcome in the Household), or just an early indication of my slightly off-axis sense of comedy.
Twenty-five years later, another outstanding comedy hit the airwaves, this time on Fox. Like its predecessor, it was controversial, had bizarre topics and plot twists, and dealt with eccentric family members (though this time all rolled into one big wealthy messed up family, the Bluths). Unlike its predecessor, it had some absolutely brilliant acting, incredible writing, and an impressive parade of cameos. It never reached the level of controversy of its predecessor; perhaps this is a sign of the times, or perhaps this is due to the fact that the narrator is none other than Mister Clean himself, Ron Howard. This show is Arrested Development (amazon).
Arrested Development (fansite) has several things going for it: its relentless pace; its amazing cast of characters (and actors), the dysfunctions and eccentricities of which are perfectly crafted and maintained, providing fertile ground for the genius stable of writers; its high-brow quick-wit script that is often too fast to follow (hence some bad ratings in this reality-TV world); and, the aforementioned parade of cameos.
Highlights of the show are clever plays on words (example: cross-dressing Tobias' newly coined term for his role as an analyst-therapist, rendering his business cards useless, if not illegal); great character names (i.e. the geniusly-named Bob Loblaw, played by Scott Baio); any scene with Will Arnett and his magician character Gob; nearly any scene with Buster, the Oedipal claw-armed man-child played by Tony Hale; and the brilliant weaving in of current cultural trends and mores in very subtle but hilarious ways (i.e. the vote to switch it to the "Church and State Fair", or Gob's comment "I hear the jury is still out on science" in reference to a recent DNA paternity test).
Honorable mentions go to leading man Jason Bateman (he gets most of the press, but his reserved character never gets the best lines); the aforementioned character Tobias, whose in-joke (that everyone is in on except himself) is his tendency to say lines that betray his obvious tendencies (i.e. "I can taste those leading man parts in my mouth" in anticipation of his next acting gig); !Steve Holt!; and many of the guests (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Carl Weathers, Martin Short, Ed Begley Jr...).
It is too bad the show only lasted three years, but they are now all available on Netflix. I highly recommend all three, and if you don't enjoy them, perhaps I should point you to "Everybody Loves Raymond" (amazon)
12/4 Update: Arrested Development DVDs are on sale at Amazon. Buy all the set of all three seasons of this extremely witty show for $33.78 with free shipping.