'Arrested Development' Is Not Just One of the Funniest Television Shows Ever

It's also a metaphor for the OC-ification of America

'Arrested Development' Is Not Just One of the Funniest Television Shows Ever
Image: Andrew Hunt | Design: Dustin Ames

You're going to see and hear dozens of stories this weekend, if you haven't already, about the return of Arrested Development. They're all going to follow the same script: about how brilliant the FOX comedy series set in Orange County was, about how it's inexplicably returning from the dead seven years after its cancellation, about its run on Netflix for a 15-episode arc (with the possibility of a film to follow) starting Sunday, about how brilliant the show remains even in its new incarnation. Random lines about there always being money in the banana stand and never-nudes and no touching and "Her?" will appear in your Facebook and Twitter feeds, along with memes, drinking games and all other sorts of merriment—for a program that lasted just three seasons.

But what you have to remember, above all the buzz, is black men cheated out of a tip.

Watch the Arrested Development episode that airs this Sunday called "Flight of the Phoenix" that show creator (and Costa Mesa native) Mitch Hurwitz has deemed the season premiere of this new run, even though he's releasing all the episodes simultaneously. There's going to be a scene involving George Bluth, head of the shallow family at the center of the series, thanking two black delivery men for a job well-done . . . and then not offering even a buck. The show's moral center, middle son Michael, looks on in disgust; the show's moral center, as usual, is ignored. When I saw what unfolded next, I laughed bitterly—this was barely a week after an Asian-American fraternity at UC Irvine made national news because one of its members put on blackface for a music video, an incident that reminded the world again of Orange County's embarrassing attitude toward its minuscule African-American community. Just like what Arrested Development will do.

The day after watching "Flight of the Phoenix," I drove to the Sheraton Universal City for an Arrested Development press junket. Reporters from around the world were snaking their way toward a poolside buffet, near rooms where they would talk with six of the program's stars after a joint interview session. Oblivious to the reporters at the hotel's entrance were two of the Sheraton's usual clientele of beautiful people, waiting for their top-of-the-line car. It pulled up; a black valet got out. The couple got into the Euro-wheels . . . and that was that. No tip.

Thank you, Jeebus. The message hidden in Arrested Development, the message glossed over by all of its fans and critics, the message that makes it so much more than one of the funniest television shows of all time and the greatest commentary on Orange County ever—that message had just manifested itself right in front of me, right before a press conference about the show, as both prophecy and pronouncement: America has turned into Orange County, and that's why we're so gloriously fucked.

*    *    *

If you've never seen an episode of Arrested Development and don't understand what all the fuss is about, then here's the briefest, most general recap possible. The show focuses on the Bluth family, a clan of underachieving narcissists who have long depended on the withered teat that is the family business: The Bluth Co., a shady development firm. In the series' 2003 premiere, patriarch George Bluth Sr. (played with dry humor by Jeffrey Tambor) gets arrested by the feds for securities fraud. Before being hauled off to jail, he holds a lavish ceremony on a yacht at which he transfers the company not to his heir apparent, Michael (Jason Bateman), but to his perpetually drunk mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter). She presides over an empire in decline, placing more faith on magician son George Oscar "GOB" Bluth (Wil Arnett); eternally befuddled son Byron "Buster" Bluth; and daughter Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and her is-he-or-isn't-he-gay husband, Tobias Fünke (David Cross). Michael, despite his hurt feelings, nevertheless tries to keep the family and the business together. Add the Fünkes' is-she-or-isn't-she-their-biological-child daughter, Maeby (Alia Shawkat); Michael's only son, George Michael (Michael Cera); and a single model home in a desolate housing tract, and you have a dysfunctional family not seen on the boob tube since The Simpsons—and did I mention it's set in Orange County?

Put Arrested Development's main actors in a room, and hilarity is guaranteed. Add a supporting cast of beloved thespians (Henry Winkler as the bumbling lawyer, Scott Baio as the smarmy one, Liza Minnelli as the lover of two Bluth brothers and perpetual rival to Lucille, Charlize Theron as a dim-witted spy), a third ring of guest stars playing minor characters (Jane Lynch, Amy Poehler, Martin Short, Ben Stiller), another layer of walk-on roles (Bob "Super Dave Osbourne" Einstein, Ed Begley Jr., Carl Weathers, Zach Braff), a constellation of cameos (Conan O'Brian, Andy Richter, Andy Samberg, Jack Black, even series producer and narrator Ron Howard) and a stream of character actors too numerous to mention, and you had one of the most talented collections of madcap actors since It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

This roster fed off superb writing that coined multiple catch-phrases, a documentary-style production subsequently copied by nearly every U.S. ensemble television show since, and a belief by Hurwitz that loyal fans should be rewarded for their attention with multiple in-jokes and subplots, making viewing episodes multiple times not just a pleasure, but also obligatory. And for those of us at home, it documented Orange County better than anything before, since or after, from the vapidness of Newport Beach to the bemused natives of SanTana (see Matt Coker's accompanying articles for further proof).

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