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Arrested Development: Pilot (series premiere) - VIDEO

by Jason Hughes, posted Jun 9th 2008 9:20AM
Arrested DevelopmentDo not adjust your web browser. You are now entering the Retro Squad, where we are reviewing past episodes of classic TV shows.

(S01E01) Some shows come out of the gate with such a power that you can't help but stand up and take notice. For the far too few of us who happened to catch Arrested Development when it premiered, it quickly established that it was going to be something a little different than the other comedy fare on the television. The trend at the time was moving toward the single camera format, that's almost become the norm for comedies nowadays (The Office, My Name is Earl, hell NBC's entire Thursday night lineup).

There was a time when audiences were less receptive to this kind of television. It was funny, but minus a laugh track. So while shows like The King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond and even According to Jim had this comfortable format with the basic house set and laughter to cue us into the funny bits, AD was something a bit more challenging. Perhaps it was just a few years ahead of its time, or perhaps it was on the wrong network (FOX), or perhaps it was just too smart for its own good.

For this guy, it established itself immediately as something worth spending some time with. I've always loved shows that pushed the envelope of what was expected on television. That's why I tend to avoid procedurals and "traditional" sitcoms. There's only so much that can be done within those formulas, though I will admit there have been some great shows done in the multi-camera/studio audience format. But it's been years now since we've had anything groundbreaking in that style. AD offered me something different in a comedy. It let me decide when it was funny. It was just filled with some of the most brilliant and gifted comedians in just fantastically quirky roles and it quickly established a premise that was just brimming with comic opportunity.

The pilot opened with the comforting voice of Ron Howard in third person narration. As each major character makes an appearance, we were treated with their name and affiliation with the greater Bluth clan. This episode set up the pivotal conflict that would shape the series to come, namely the loss of the family patriarch and the change from obscenely wealthy to ... well, not so much. Also, the cold open did so much to establish the character's personalities and main character Michael's connection to all of them. Throughout, Michael is smiling and patient with his mother and each of his siblings because, as Ron Howard tells us, "he's decided to never speak to these people again."

But, of course, if that were to happen then what kind of show would we have had? The success of Arrested Development hinged entirely on the relationships within the extended Bluth family. Each came with their own problems, in many cases serious problems, and their own unique personality traits. What was so impressive about the pilot was that, in twenty-one short minutes, it set up all of this to perfection.

You knew who all of these people were, what motivated them and what drove them crazy. After the cold open, we backed things up to that morning so we could establish properly the conflicts between the various Bluths, and fully emphasize how strained Michael's relationship had become with his entire family.


Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) - The Matriarch
First line: "Look what they've done, Michael. Look what the homosexuals have done to me."
There was a protest in a barge nearby, so specifically they'd done nothing to her. She then bitched that they just have to be so dramatic in everything they do and it frustrates her so much she wants to set herself on fire. In just a few lines the whole personality of Lucille was instantly established.

Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) - The Protagonist
First line (responding to Lucille's opening line above): "Can't you just comb it out and reset it."
As the central focus of the series and the supposedly "sane" member of the family, Michael was supposed to only come across as centered, intelligent, logical and grounded. In most cases, he was the straight man in the Bluth insanity, a role which Bateman played to perfection.

Lindsay Bluth Funke (Portia de Rossi) - Michael's Twin
First line: "Good grief, mother. They're all homosexuals. They're flamboy-- Oh my god, I have the exact same blouse."
Once again, in so few words, the shallowness that drives this character is established. Shortly thereafter we're introduced via narration to the man she married as a "youthful act of defiance." Like her mother, Lindsay craves attention and "acts out" in order to get it.

GOB (Will Arnett) - The Eldest Child
First line (in response to Michael asking about his magic trick): "Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money."
This was said in front of a group of children, gathered around. GOB was a magician. Well, more specifically he was an arrogant buffoon parading around thinking he was a serious magician. You never knew what he would say or do next, making him the most predictably unpredictable of the clan.

Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) - The "Baby"
First line: He actually doesn't say anything, but rather starts aggressively rubbing Michael's shoulders.
It makes sense that this man-child is introduced in such a fashion. He's certainly trying to be helpful, liked and appreciated, he just has no idea how to go about making those things happen. With a simplistic outlook on life, Buster is still very much in his domineering and controlling mother's shadow.

George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera) - Michael's Son
First line (in response to Michael asking him what is the most important thing): "Breakfast."
The correct answer was "family." Poor George Michael was established early on as a mixed-up kid trying to roll with the punches and please his father. He had no idea what it would take to do so, but just so he strove to be the best he could be. Then he met his cousin and inexplicably developed feelings for her, despite his noblest intentions to ignore them. George Michael was a good kid, played to perfection by Cera, who was confused as to what he wanted in life and what he thought his father wanted for him in life and why he wanted so to please his cousin.

Tobias Funke (David Cross) - Lindsay's Husband
First line: "Michael! How are you!" (followed by a melodramatic embrace)
Tobias is Lindsey's "act of defiance" husband, a psychiatrist who lost his license for giving a man CPR who wasn't having a heart attack and decided to take up acting. He was like a man constantly lost, constantly trying to find himself and constantly making an idiot of himself in the process. In the episode, he winds up on the very boat Lucille was complaining about. Oblivious and impulsive, Tobias acts well before thinking in everything he does. And while he must be intelligent in there somewhere, it's often hard to find where.

Maeby Funke (Alia Shawkat) - Lindsay's Daughter
First line: "I bought a frozen banana and when I bit into it, I found this!" (indicating a 'foot')
Michael didn't know his cousin "Maeby." Get the joke of her introduction. George Michael: "You're my cousin, aren't you?" She responds with her name, or did she say "Maybe." And then she dropped her great idea of them kissing. At this point, she was just a snarky typical teenage girl, normal in every sense of the word.

George Bluth Sr (Jeffrey Tambor) - The Patriarch
First line: "I give you the new CEO of the Bluth Company. Certainly the smartest Bluth. And the sexiest creature I have ever laid eyes upon. My lovely wife Lucille. (then to Michael aside) Sorry, it's not the right time."
Jeffrey Tambor originally signed on just for the first episode with maybe some appearances here and there, but he was having such a great time in the role that he decided to make it permanent. It was imminently funny that George Sr. was so much happier and more comfortable in jail than he apparently was running his company.

Once we met the family, we quickly learned that George Bluth Sr. had been defrauding his investors (trendy in the news through the past several years) while he and his family had been using company funds as a "personal piggy bank." So while we got to see the fabulous wealth the family had been enjoying at the beginning, we then get to see them try to live with the corporate assets frozen. When George Sr. gave control of the company to his wife instead of the expectant Michael, it convinced Michael that he'd given enough time to a company that clearly didn't love him. Later, he found out that the act was his father's misguided (and downright wrong thinking) attempt to save him from jail.

What George Sr. may not have known putting Lucille in charge, was that she would have her man-child son Buster run things. Very quickly, the family realized that Michael was the only one with the sense to right the sinking ship of their lives, and so they had to stage an intervention to try and convince him to give them one more chance. It's a perfect reflection of the shallowness they are mired in that it took such dire circumstances as looking at losing everything to convince them they needed him to help them, and even then they had no idea how to go about doing it.

And it wasn't until he thought of his own son's happiness at spending time with the family that he decided to stick around and see if he could save the family business ... and maybe the family, too, while he was at it. And for three strong years, we got to see him try and do just that. Arrested Development wasn't the first family comedy show like this that we've seen, but it was one of the best.

Don't believe me, watch it for yourself:

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A very fun show that I became familar with through DVD. The quality took a little bit of a dive towards the end as the writers clearly became locked into a formulaic approach. It was redeemed though by a surprisingly creative and satisfying finale.

June 09 2008 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I tell people all of the time to go out and buy the DVD set and I will pay for it if they don't like it. I have never had to pay for one.

June 09 2008 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Shows like AD do not come along every year. I'd go further and say every decade. It was the perfection of comedy, the Shakespeare of TV, and they made a HUGE mistake letting this show die.

Mitch, if you're out there, please make good and deliver a film. The Bluth saga should not be over.

I'm 25 now and I don't think it's hyperbole to say I think this will still be my favourite show in 25 years time. It's a whole new level, a benchmark of TV.

I know some people read posts like this andthink: 'crazy'. But if you havn't seen the show, do yourself a favour and pick up the season 1 DVD.

June 09 2008 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a Reply to Jason Hughes (I dont know how to reply is it asterix 23 , is asterix tictactoe?)

Hey I didnt get into this business to please sophmore Jason Hughes so up ward and onward.


June 09 2008 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you so much for such a thoughtful review of one of the best shows to ever grace television. I continue to watch at least one episode per day and with each watch, I find some allusion or call back or foreshadowing that I didn't see before. I simply cannot get enough of Arrested Development.

June 09 2008 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One little correction: Tobias Fünke, not Funke. :)

June 09 2008 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Arrested Development? I dont know what that is and I dont care to find out.

June 09 2008 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to alvaro's comment
Steve Young

best show ever.

June 09 2008 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That's a very serious, thoughtful, studious review of a show that was often at its best when it was utterly silly (Buster thinking the blue on the map was for land, the Cornballer, Tobias the "Analrapist", a million other examples). I hope further posts about the show manage to bring out what was so funny about it.

June 09 2008 at 10:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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