In Defense of the Return of ‘Arrested Development’

Tobias: Okay, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over: An analyst and a therapist, the world’s first “analrapist”?


Michael: Can’t a guy call his mother “pretty” without it seeming strange?

Buster: Amen. And how about that little piece of tail on her? Cute!

Michael: I’ve opened a door here that I regret.


Lindsay, talking about a new outfit: I guess (mom) wanted me to have something new. Sweet old thing.

Michael: Only two of those words describe mom, so I know you’re lying to me.

What better way to whet our palates for the triumphant return of Arrested Development, than to reminisce over a few quintessential quirky quotes handpicked from the show’s initial three-season run? The former Fox underdog has officially become one of the most beloved cult classics this side of The Wire since it left small screens in 2006. Now, after countless Tumblr accounts, Twitter campaigns and Facebook groups calling for its return, the Bluth family is set to arrive in a couple weeks — 26 May, to be exact — for a further look at precisely how dysfunctional a single television family can be. 

It took a while to get here, of course. While critics far and wide adored Arrested Development‘s first run, the show ultimately fell victim to its seemingly intentional lack of accessibility and its penchant for interwoven, you-have-to-watch-it-three-times-to-get-it plot twists and punch lines. But we live in a different world now — a world that can keep such similar high-brow comedies as 30 Rock afloat for seven seasons despite glaringly dismal ratings. The revolution hasn’t been televised; it’s been telecasted. DVD sales. Streaming services. Mobile devices. Social media. Each aspect of the Brave New World has combined to give niche hits a true chance to experience the warmth of a spotlight. 

Yet as we inch closer to the day that Netflix releases the first new glimpses into the beloved Bluths’ lives in seven years, it’s only fair to wonder how well (or not well) the show’s resurgence will be received.

“OK, we get it,” Policy Mic’s Jasper Zweibel wrote a few months ago when vamping on the fourth of five reasons he believes the show’s upcoming fourth season could be its worst. “Jessica Walter is mean and rich, Michael Cera is awkward, and Jason Bateman is not as cool as he thinks he is. But can they really recapture the magic after playing so many close-but-not-quite roles in the intervening years? Or maybe the routine has finally gone stale. The Arrested Development revival will have hopes at record highs, but I for one am I little concerned.” (“Arrested Development Season 4: 5 Reasons Why This Will Be the Best and Worst Season Yet”, Policy Mic, January 2013)

The irony in that particular citation, of course, is that it’s titled, “These Are the Roles They Were Born to Play.” Zweibel’s thesis is nothing if not accurate. For as oddly revered as Bateman has become in the years since the show went off the air, you would need at least six Horrible Bosseses and four The Switches to live up to how tailor-made the role of Michael Bluth was for the former Silver Spoons star. David Cross is a borderline brilliant stand-up comic, but for as many times as he’s tried his hand at television (HBO’s David’s Situation, the criminally forgotten Mr. Show, IFC’s recent The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, to name a few) he’s never been able to land a bona fide hit.

You can file Will Arnett under the same close-but-no-cigar category, despite some fairly solid efforts. And as for Michael Cera … well, for as quick and wide as his fan base grew in the wake of the show’s first goodbye, many in the mainstream turned on him as soon as the end-credits of Superbad rolled. It was too much, too quick, I’ve heard people say, and that’s probably not wholly inaccurate. 

The women haven’t faired much better. Portia de Rossi and Alia Shawkat, while essential to the Arrested Development mold, have seen projects come and go with more regularity than a single episode’s allotted time for cutaways. Better Off Ted and a short stint on Nip/Tuck didn’t do much more than ensure de Rossi a regular paycheck while Bart Got a Room, Whip It and Cedar Rapids were movies that never quite propelled Shawkat into the stratosphere she probably deserves. 

So, yes. Despite good (if not sometimes-great) attempts to further their individual careers after the show first went dark, it would now be foolish to discount how perfectly the roles meshed with the actors and the actors with one another. Besides, look up any interview featuring any of the aforementioned people when any of them have promoted any of their respective projects in the past, and nine times out of ten, the reporter has slipped some type of Arrested Development question into the mix, regardless of how inappropriate it may seem. Whether they like it or not, there will always be a faction of people who will forever define these actors and actresses by their Arrested Development roles, even if such is not entirely fair to either the characters or the show itself. 

Actually, the notion of fairness as a precept lies at the center of the most intriguing part of this entire equation, and it can be outlined as such: Considering how the very people who helped create the clamor to bring the show back are the very people who also have no problem unleashing a specific kind of scorn on the various forms of entertainment they may at one time have celebrated, how objective will season four of Arrested Development be perceived?

Examples of the loved-it-now-hate-it phenomenon run far and wide. It was cool when Justin Timberlake brought Sexy Back, but overdone when he put on a Suit & Tie. Watching Don Draper consistently be unfaithful to Betty Draper fit him well, though the minute he embarked on a (failed) attempt at staying true to Megan Draper, Mad Men became infinitely less interesting. Cee-Lo Green was great as a guy crooning expletives over a pop groove, yet his credibility vanished once The Voice became a hit. And the first two installments of the Iron Man franchise were welcome surprises to most, though this recently released third film has finally run the story and its subsequent sequels dry. 

These are all just tiny tidbits I’ve personally picked up from Twitter feeds, friendly conversations, online forums and email exchanges with or from people who I know at one point had an affinity for Arrested Development. And, for that matter, it’s also become commonplace for these precise types of opinions to be expressed more loudly now than ever. The entertainment environment is much more critical now than it was in 2003 or 2006, and the desire to have singular, adverse opinions on trendy topics is much more prevalent now than it was when this show first aired on FOX. The same people who felt pride in their unique love for a unique show are much more susceptible to lose a tiny bit of that unique love, once that love becomes even the slightest bit less unique. This didn’t matter before, because we didn’t have an infinite amount of social media tools forcing off-handed comments about Tony Hale’s Buster Bluth down our throats at every plot turn. 

These days? Not so much.

Thus, the following must be said: In theory, it shouldn’t be hard for those who care about this comeback to actually root for it to succeed. Sure, expectations are high, and yes, because this show caters to those who love their funny with a side of extra detail and an appetizer of twist, it might be harder for us fans to be as … impressed … as we were the first time around. But even with all of that considered, it’s not unfair to give this fourth season any benefit of any doubt for which it may ask. Mitch Hurwitz and company gave us three seasons of some of the most original, head-spinning narratives all of television has ever seen. If us, as fans, aren’t as swept away as we once were, we shouldn’t blame it on the show itself; rather, we may want to consider allowing the current state of popular culture to shoulder some of the reasons why it’s become both increasingly accepted to hate and strikingly rare to adore. 

“As I understand it, the series will work on its own, and it will work if a film continues the story,” David Cross told Latinos Post‘s Peter Lesser in April while talking about the possibility of a long-rumored movie that might follow the Netflix run. “You will be quite satisfied if there is no film. It’s not like anybody would miss it, you know what I mean?” (“‘Arrested Development’ Season 4: David Cross Predicts Netflix Will Crash Upon May 26 Debut”, 22 April 2013)

That’s funny. Because as the last seven years have proved, “Missing Arrested Development” has been as high on each DVD-owning, Bluth-obsessed, nerd-fan’s priority list as “Listening to the Smiths” and “Reading a David Foster Wallace Novel”. And now, as the release of season four’s episodes approaches, we should be reminded of why we were so excited for this day to come in the first place: The show, in its purest form, was both intellectually stimulating and laugh-out-loud funny. It was fresh. It was brilliant. It was thick. And it was, above all else, a series nothing short of unforgettable. 

So, bring it on, Arrested Development, season four. And, much like you had to do with network executives six years ago, don’t allow the possible outside whispers of doubt influence your future. Because if it’s anything like your past, nobody — not Michael, George Michael, Maeby, Lindsay, Gob, George, Lucille, Oscar, Tobias, Buster or anyone else who’s ever wandered into the lives of the Bluths — should have anything to worry about.