Staff Reviews

Mini Review: Arrested Development


The former "it" comedy of irresponsible American absurdism, Arrested Development, has lost its cultural cachet. Netflix used the program to experiment with outreach to pop-culture elites by resurrecting it when Fox dropped it after three seasons. And while that move generated a lot of hype, the second half of its fifth and likely final season dropped in March to resounding silence. Dumped in the endless slurry of new Netflix content, it disappeared without a trace.

That's a shame. Perhaps a sly and shameless comedy about a family of feckless grifters in the construction trades with a yen for colluding with foreign tyrants seems unappealing now. Maybe wealthy white loons driven by their own absurd character flaws and tragicomically bad parenting just aren't funny anymore.

Yet Arrested Development's telling of the Bluth family saga remained a strong stew of silly, brilliant, and ridiculously baroque storytelling to the end. The show itself recognizes the difficulty of competing with political reality and keeps its narrative set before 2016. But it also toys with that dilemma, inserting occasional dramatic ironies—even beyond the season's central plot involving a troubled attempt to build a border wall.

The border wall storyline was not, in fact, designed to mock Donald Trump; it began way back in 2013. With Arrested Development, topicality is beside the point. It's at its best relying on thickly delivered character comedy, crazy misunderstandings, and smart satire. The youngest Bluth's "inspirational" speech to his fraudulent privacy software company—in which he invites employees to turn the stress-knots they wake up with in their stomachs into "Why-knots?"—deserves to define the digital age as much as any comedy.