No, I, uh, don’t see it as a series. Maybe a movie?
—Ron Howard, Arrested Development “Season Finale”
Though Fox promoted last week’s block of Arrested Development episodes as a “season finale,” all signs point to end of the series. Not only did the network burn off four episodes at once, but, adding insult to injury, they aired on a Friday night, against the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Despite the show’s critical acclaim (six Emmys and one Golden Globe over its three year run) and rabid, if tiny, fan base (witness websites like Save Our Bluths http://the-op.com/saveourbluths/ and The Bluth Family http://www.bluthfamily.com/), the show appears destined for cancellation. The final nail in the coffin may have been when Arrested Development‘s midseason replacement on Monday nights, the reality knock-off, Skating with Celebrities, boosted ratings in the same eight o’clock time slot by an estimated 183 percent. The finale thus took the form of a commentary on the how and why of the series’ demise, reveling in the humor that attracted fans (jokes about incest, the war in Iraq, and pulling the plug on loved ones), while also acknowledging its inability to garner a large viewing audience.
Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Ron Howard (narrator)
Regular airtime: 10 February 2006
The multi-part finale was packed with allusions to previous seasons. A veritable Bluth family “scrapbook,” it invoked memories while tying up loose ends of its most notorious long-running story arcs. We found out that George Sr. (Jeffery Tambor) was innocent of treason, just a government patsy whose model homes in Iraq were used to gain intelligence about foreign saboteurs. The kissing cousins plot was also resolved: convinced that Maeby (Alia Shawkat) was adopted and not a blood relation after all, George Michael (the brilliant Michael Cera) finally got to “second base.” Moments later, Tobias (David Cross) showed the two horrified teenagers graphic photos of Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) giving birth to Maeby: “And here’s a whole series of your head starting to crown. You two really are related!” Still later, the truth is revealed: it was Lindsay who was adopted. The most devastating discovery is Lindsay’s: she’s 40, not 37.
For all the satisfaction of having these plotlines resolved and seeing the series come full circle (it begins where it ends, on a yacht with Michael contemplating his commitment to his deranged family), I found the finale to be a bit rushed. The insanity was incessant: Buster (Tony Hale) faked a coma, inspiring a Terry Schiavo-esque “Let Buster Die” campaign; the Bluths were subjected to a mock trial on the set of the new “reality courtroom series,” Mock Trial with J. Reinhold (starring Judge Reinhold); Michael (Jason Bateman) found the woman he believed to be his long-lost older sister (Bateman’s actual sister, Justine), who turned out to be a prostitute (leading to much confusion when Michael hired her to work for the Bluth company: “You’re going to be working for the whole staff. You’re going to be filling, like, three openings”).
With the writers apparently cramming all their jokes into one last hoorah, the series was true to form. A meditative or sentimental ending would have been out of character for Arrested Development, known for blink-and-you’ll-miss-them gags and sharp sarcasm. During the last minutes, Michael stood on the deck of the Queen Mary (the historic boat, not one of the night clubs frequented by Tobias) and reminisced about his decision to help save the family and company three years ago. It was fitting that each Bluth looked acutely uncomfortable, then turned away from the emotional spectacle in disgust (Gob: “Looks like George Michael got his mom back today”). Such self-reflexivity almost chastised viewers for feeling sad over losing the Bluth family. After all, they are completely despicable.
In other words, the show went down uncompromised, with guns a-blazing and showing no remorse over its own potential demise. “Let Arrested Development die!” was the theme of the night. And so we said goodbye to Franklin Delano Bluth, Gob’s African American ventriloquist puppet (adorned with a sticker reading “George Bush doesn’t care about black puppets”); the hand-eating seal with its signature yellow bow-tie (Buster’s number one fear); and a vengeful Annyong/Hello (Justin Lee), the Korean orphan Lucille once adopted to make Buster jealous.
The absence of some prominent series regulars (the Bluths’ former lawyer [Henry Winkler], his replacement [Scott Baio], and Lucille II [Liza Minelli]) might indicate that Arrested Development has not packed up all of its bags yet. While the show seemed to end with the family fragmented and under siege by the SEC, Fox hasn’t yet “officially” canceled the series. And internet message boards are abuzz with rumors that ABC, or possibly Showtime, will pick it up.
While fans remain optimistic, at least for now, Arrested Development seems to have accepted its fate. When Maeby tried to get her family to sign a petition to “make TV better” by turning the Bluth story into a television series, even they couldn’t be bothered to save themselves. Buster refused to sign, explaining, “I kind of like Skating with Celebrities.”