By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Sarah Bennett
By LP Hastings
By Jena Ardell
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
By Joel Beers
It was a fabulous show, it was hailed by critics as one of the smartest in years, it had a devoted fan base—and it stood no chance of surviving.
Arrested Development debuted in 2003, the same year as its fellow Orange County-based FOX program, The O.C. The timing suited the teenage drama far better than the comedy, happening in that brief era when national correspondents decided to drop their eternal ridicule of us as wealthy, ignorant right-wing lunatics and instead cast us as—as USA Today wrote—America's "capitol of cool." County civic leaders and residents fully embraced that spin, which meant favoring one show over the other. The choice was easy: Arrested Development was a burr not only in Orange County's saddle, but also in the ass of America, a far-too-cynical, far-too-mocking, far-too-smart look at a place no one wanted to acknowledge, satire for a country that didn't want to hear it. Whereas Newport Beach officials gave The O.C. cast the keys to the city and a former supervisor only half-jokingly suggested rechristening John Wayne Airport as The O.C. Airport, David Cross was relegated to performing benefit shows at Detroit Bar.
The fun seemingly ended for Arrested Development in 2006, as it died a quiet death marked with a collective shrug by an Orange County too enamored with its leased Mercedes-Benz S-class parked in front of $700,000, two-bedroom, North County homes to notice. The cast went on to do other projects; the show's die-hards contented themselves with reruns on obscure channels, DVDs and websites devoted to all the quotes, pictures and trivia nights one could bear.
Then, as with the Bluth family model home, the cracks in Orange County's veneer turned into full-fledged fault lines—and it happened to America, too. We had decided to follow in the footsteps of the avarice celebrated by The Real Housewives of Orange County, Laguna Beach: The Real O.C. and The O.C. instead of heeding Arrested Development's cautionary advice. The Great Recession hit, fueled by the housing crash, and we all became Bluths. In the immortal words of Fünke, when he decided to audition for the Blue Man Group, we blue ourselves.
Seeing the original run now, the humor is sharper than ever, its characterization of Orange County's excesses even more ruthless and hilarious. It was a show far too ahead of its time, but perfect for the here-and-now. And that satirical world-view continues with Arrested Development's latest season. I've only seen "Flight of the Phoenix" once thanks to a temporary Netflix link, but I remember enough to reassure the hardcore fans: It's as though the show never went off the air. The humor remains—the ever-present air of awkwardness, the hilarious interludes, the cameos and perfect non sequitors, all seamlessly hewing to its Orange County setting. The plot of the first episode references the Great Recession, takes place mostly at UC Irvine, and even throws a shout-out to OC's perpetual hatred and co-opting of anything Mexican. There's a bit of rust, for sure: Some jokes linger longer than they should, and some jokes don't make sense because Hurwitz has promised a nonlinear approach that requires viewers to watch all the episodes multiple times to fully grasp everything—an easy thing for the die-hards, but something that might limit its mainstream reach. But that's the beauty of Arrested Development: It's happy to stand as a giggling Cassandra, content with knowing almost everyone will ignore its warnings—and if the heathens don't want to listen to its Gospel, then they deserve the OC-ification they're going to get.
Am I reading too much into the show? Probably not enough. Hurwitz (who wasn't made available for an interview) grew up middle class but had family in Newport Beach. Knowing this, the show easily reads as one giant fuck-you to that city's 1 Percent—and, by extent, the OC (don't call it that) that ruled this county for so many years.
And that's where we return to the poor black valet at the Sheraton Universal.
* * *
The Arrested Development press conference went without a hitch, save Cross asking a reporter, "Why do you keep pointing at your tits?" because she was trying to show off her T-shirt bearing the Bluth family crest. Cross, Bateman, de Rossi, Shawkat, Cera and Walter took questions from a packed house, following the script you're going to read or already have. The six enthused about how the new lease on life was "vindication" for the show and "satisfying." "It should have continued," Bateman said, to the satisfied murmers of the reporters.
I asked the cast what they felt about Orange County and whether they had spent any time there to research their roles.
"It's wild out there," Bateman finally replied. "Those are some strange folks."
"I once took a trip there," Cera added. "All that weirdness down there trickles downhill into that landscape."
"It's a big shopping mall full of blond women who shop a lot," Cross said. "And then you have these 15-, 16-year-olds, all privileged, saying, 'Life sucks, man.'