An unbiased look at the beginnings of Arrested Development

ADBY TROY PHILLIPS

Arrested Development has one of the most ravenous cult followings of any television show to ever air, but there were also many people who didn’t properly give the critically acclaimed comedy a chance as it got the ax after three seasons on Fox due to low ratings. Now with the return of Arrested Development’s new season exclusively to Netflix streaming on May 26th, the excitement is mounting for the return of the Bluth family. Over the next month, Poor Scholars will be unleashing plenty of Arrested Development-related content but since Poor Scholars’ own Troy Phillips was born in the ’90s and far too young to watch Arrested Development during its initial run — and knew little to nothing about the show other than our other staff members’ rave reviews —  we assigned him the task of giving his unbiased opinion on the first three episodes of the series using a traffic lighting grading system that he created. 

At this time a week ago, the name Arrested Development was merely another insignificant title on the bottom of my Netflix scrap bin.  But once I caught word that the show was being revived for a fourth season, I figured that I should do some digging to find out what made the show so special that it could suddenly be reinstated after eight years of dead time.

After catching the first three episodes and watching Michael, George Sr., George Michael and the rest of the Bluth family stumble their way towards stable ground, here are my in depth findings, complete with verdict for future viewing. In honor of intersections everywhere, I’ve given each aspect of the show a stoplight-based grade; green means approval; yellow: hesitation; and red: outright rejection. And be warned, in depth doesn’t mean that I’m going to break down factors that are barely relevant to good television, so sorry cinematography fans.

Cast Pedigree: All it takes is a quick look at the IMDB page to know that producers put a premium on name value during the casting process. Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Jeffrey Tambor,  Jessica Walter and narrator Ron Howard were all firmly in place on the red carpet as actors/directors before the first episode aired, and the show turned out to be a stepping stone to stardom for Michael Cera, who at the time of airing was the biggest unknown on the cast list. Green Light

Depth of Plotlines: Although not much can be done in the beginning of the show, it is important to set a standard of quality story lines that have enough depth to carry through the twenty minutes of airtime and perhaps even create a foundation for subsequent episodes. Arrested Development has already done plenty for its’ long term prospects by keeping side stories in place like the George Michael/Maeby romance and Buster’s outsider status among the Bluth children. There has also been a circular nature to each installment, which is especially apparent when Michael spends most of one episode trying to gain the respect of his father only to realize that he has been accidentally passing the same treatment onto his own son, which leads the two to torch the family banana stand in order to break the trend. Green Light

Future Intrigue: The aforementioned subtleties along with Gob’s search for relevance, Lucille’s callous motherhood and Tobias’ self deprecating interludes are just part of a framework of individual traits that have the potential to tie themselves together in a myriad of ways in coming seasons. Green Light

Comedic Value: After three episodes, it would be unreasonable to expect laugh out loud gold from new characters in unfamiliar situations, but the Bluth family has certainly had its’ moments, most of which have been promisingly well planned. But the onus is still very much on the writers to continue balancing intelligent jokes with blatant slapstick to keep the show on track long-term, and so I can’t make a definitive judgement just yet. Yellow Light

Character Development: To an extent, the three episode argument can be made here as well if Arrested Development had failed to expand the personalities of its’ characters in a meaningful way. Thankfully, this is not the case, as most of the stars have already begun to ingrain themselves into the portrait of the story and are increasing in depth by the episode. Lindsay, for instance, has gone from the token attractive character to an unmotivated, savvy and confident mother and semi-devoted wife to a husband that went from being a prototypical doting husband to an emotionally fragile man-child with good intentions that often yield misguided decisions. And that was in just over an hour of content. Green Light

Ability to Deal with PIES (Poor Initial Episodes Syndrome): I’m very proud of this acronym, mainly because I made it up on the spot with very little tweaking. More importantly, it addresses a problem that plagues most new shows; the inability to engineer captivating content while trying to convey the main points of the story. Arrested Development did not find the cure for PIES, but many a quality show has shaken off the proverbial slow start to produce years worth of memorable moments. Also, as far as bad starts go, there have certainly been worse. At no point did I consider going back to the Netflix home screen to stave off boredom and I did get a few good laughs from each episode. With all of the finer points falling into place, I would be shocked if the show doesn’t pick up significantly by the end of season one. Yellow Light

Final Verdict: In all honesty, I’m not completely sold on Arrested Development just yet as I have been with some of my favorite shows after the first three installments. On the bright side, no red lights means no major setbacks, and there are plenty of positive prospects surrounding the Bluth clan that will keep me watching for the foreseeable future. For now, the show gets a pass, but with moderate reservations.  Stale Green Light

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