When news of actress Jessica Walter’s passing hit Twitter over the weekend, I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her than to revisit one of my favorite shows, “Arrested Development.”
“And now the story of a wealthy family who loses everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together,” director Ron Howard reads over the title sequence.
The show is full of memorable characters, but Walter’s portrayal of Lucille Bluth, the aloof, functionally alcoholic, endlessly quotable matriarch of the family, gets me on another level.
“Get me a vodka, rocks.” – “Mom, it’s breakfast.” – “… and a piece of toast,” she says.
Set in Newport Beach, California, the show builds its own brand of comedy through a mixture of absurdity, inside jokes and ridiculously long-game setups and payoffs. Add to that the episodes’ relatively short runtimes, and you’ve got one binge-able show.
In the pilot, we meet Lucille’s son Michael (Jason Bateman), the only responsible member and self-appointed martyr of the family. Then, of course, there’s Michael’s “free-spirited” twin sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), their magician older brother Gob (Will Arnett) – his name rhymes with “robe” – and their man-child younger brother Buster (Tony Hale).
At the retirement party of their father George (Jeffrey Tambor), Michael’s hopes of inheriting control of the Bluth Co. are dashed when George Sr. names Lucille his successor.
But celebrations started for Lucille end abruptly when police break up the party and arrest George for “defrauding investors and using the company as his personal piggy bank.”
Michael decides to make a show of cutting his losses and leaving the family to try to deal with the collapse of the company without him, Gob is about to be thrown out of the Alliance of Magicians and Lindsay’s ex-psychiatrist husband Tobias (David Cross) has found his true calling: acting.
Meanwhile, Michael’s son George Michael (Michael Cera) and Lindsay’s daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) craft an elaborate ruse to get their parents’ attention.
Lucille initially appoints Buster to lead the company. But when his knowledge of 18th century agrarian business proves inadequate for 21st century sales, Lucille gathers her children to stage an “intervention” for Michael, inviting him to take over.
Michael still feels the need to teach them all a lesson – a recurring theme throughout the series – but when he sees George Michael sharing a real moment with his aunt Lindsay, he decides to give the family another chance.
Most of the characters in this show are rude, selfish and conniving, but, once you start watching them interact, it’s difficult to look away.
“If that’s a veiled criticism of me,” Lucille tells Michael after a particularly pointed remark about her behavior, “I won’t hear it, and I won’t respond to it.”
“Arrested Development” is available on Netflix.
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