Greatest TV Pilots: Arrested Development – Meet the Bluths

BluthFamily pilot

Arrested Development Episode 1 ‘Pilot’
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz
Aired 11/2/2003

Through satirically playing with the most outrageous parts of the average household and destroying the concept of normality, the sitcom family often represents a caricature of our own upbringings. It can be argued that the sitcom is a ruler of modern society given that the most popular television shows by far, are the ones that feature dysfunctional families; but it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t until the 2000s that the rise of family comedies broke format and content. In 2013, the saccharine sitcom is long gone and a cast that, generally speaking, nobody wants to relate to drive these sitcoms. Although Arrested Development wasn’t the very first to do this, it is most definitely one of the most strongest.

During its short run from 2003 – 2006, Arrested Development won six Emmys and one Golden Globe, received critical acclaim, and picked up a cult following. Despite all of this, ratings remained low and Fox cancelled the series after its third season. However after seven long years, it finally returned to our screens through on-demand Internet streaming media Netflix.

NPR AD gags

“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.” The first thing you’ll hear when watching the pilot of Arrested Development is the voice of Ron Howard, who is narrating the life of the Bluth family. Shot in documentary style, the pilot begins with Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) eagerly awaiting his father, George Bluth, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), to name him the new partner of the family business. Completely adamant and fully expecting to become partner, Michael tries to show his son George Michael (Michael Cera) that hard work and determination will get you ahead in life. To his dismay, his father hands the company over to this mother, Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) instead.

During the course of the pilot, we meet the rest of the Bluth family, who are introduced as idiotic and narcissistic people. Michael’s twin sister, Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia de Rossi), is an “activist” forming hilariously outrageous organisations such as H.O.O.P. (Hand Off Our Penises) – her anti-circumcision movement.

Their older brother, George Oscar Bluth II, a.k.a. G.O.B. (Will Arnett) is a dedicated albeit terrible part-time magician that constantly messes up his “illusions”. There’s also the youngest brother, Byron “Buster” Bluth (Tony Hale), who is a man-child still living with his mother. He has extensively studied subjects of little practical use that range from Native American tribal ceremonies to cartography. It all sounds ridiculously absurd on paper and probably shouldn’t work but thanks to phenomenal writing, a brilliant cast and flawlessly executed scenes, it does. As we continue to watch it’s easy to realise exactly why Michael is thinking of leaving his family and job behind.

After we meet Michael’s stupidly oblivious brother-in-law, Tobias Fünke (David Cross), his socially awkward son, and his irresponsible and deviant niece, Mae “Maeby” Funke (Alia Shawkat), we discover that George has been defrauding the investors of his company, and the police subsequently arrest and imprison him. With their patriarch gone and their assets drying up fast, the Bluth family are left to figure out how to manage their lives as well as the company. Between the family using money unnecessarily and spending ten years of his life managing the Bluth Company, Michael has had enough and wants to skip town. Frustrated with his family failing to recognise that he’s the only one capable of running the business, Michael threatens to move to Arizona. With the only guy that can hold them together seconds away from leaving the family, they decide they need to have an intervention. The pilot ends with him ultimately deciding to stay in California and help is family pull themselves together.

Pilots tend to have difficulty captivating audiences, and it seems Arrested Development is no different. Although the pilot is entertaining, the show definitely requires some time for viewers to warm up to it. But once you become well acquainted with the characters, and the show’s dry sense of humour that is dependent on ridiculous, idiotic logic continuously displayed by the Bluth family, that’s when you’ll fall in love. With so many strong characters playing such prominent roles, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz does an absolutely outstanding job in managing each story. The script is consistently sharp featuring a number of killer lines and insanely elaborate plots. Not to mention, the ridiculous amount of clever visual gags and recurring lines. Arrested Development is a show that literally needs to be re-watched as it’s virtually impossible to pick up on all the jokes during the first viewing.

Throughout the series the show subtly suggests that, like its characters, most of us are afflicted with “arrested development.” Much like the Bluths we all have our flaws, and many of us are stuck in patterns of behaviour that stop us from maturing as an adult.

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The pilot depicts Michael’s family as caricatures, all clearly in varying states of arrested development. However, Michael is the only one the pilot doesn’t mock. He is depicted as a caring and level-headed, single father who is extremely under-appreciated and often screwed over by his selfish family. It seems that he cares first and foremost for his son as he decides to stay in California and help the family after witnessing a moment between George Michael and Lindsay. Even though he had been hell-bent on moving to Arizona he stays because he knows that’s what George Michael really wants and perhaps needs. Michael Bluth is, of course, the most sympathetic and maybe even relatable character. To some extent, we can project ourselves onto him considering the peculiarities that our own families possess and because of this, most of us feel sympathy for Michael. Don’t many of us often think of ourselves as the sane and reasonable one in the family? I am confident each member feels that they’re the most sensible while the rest of us are crazy.

The notion that every member of a given family likely perceives themselves as the most normal one suggests that we all have a slightly altered perception of ourselves. As the series progresses, we see hints of Michael’s own arrested development. Like his family, he repeats the same mistakes and proves his behaviour lacks self-awareness. By watching Michael (the character we can identify with) do this, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on ourselves – making Arrested Development a show that not only makes us laugh, but prompts self-examination as well.

The show features no laugh track and really rewards fans for paying attention and continuously re-watching. The pilot lays down a base for each character and from here on nothing changes. Arrested Development is one of the most interesting, hilarious and important sitcoms ever to be written. It is without a doubt, one of the best televisions shows ever.

- Catstello

This article is part of our month long theme dedicated to the greatest TV pilots.  



By Catstello

Taragh is a British filmmaker, writer and photographer who leaves her mark across the internet under the pseudonym Catstello. As a general lover of television, she contributes to Sound on Sight, Gotta Watch It, and Portable as well as running her own blog: http://catstello.wordpress.com/

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