Arrested Development was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer for comedy nerds. Or Angel. Or Firefly. Pretty much anything Joss Whedon related.
Although the show has been off the air for a little over seven years, for many the pain of cancellation remains fresh. Every fall fans come out of the woodwork to disparage the latest slate of new sitcoms, all of which will inevitably pale in comparison to Arrested Development, any of which could (and should) be cancelled in favor of returning AD to our screens for one more, fourth time lucky chance. And they'll do so until the day Michael Cera dies.
Let us be clear, however, this show is not coming back, in no way, shape, or form. For a year or two (three for the especially optimistic) we thought showtime or one of the other premium subscription channels might pick it up, and to this day a surprising number still firmly believe a feature film sequel is just around the corner.
Sorry folks, it really ain't coming back.
Without giving too much away (for we'd like to think that anyone reading this article who has never watched the show will be compelled to do so once they've finished reading) the basic plot of Arrested Development goes as follows; George Bluth, head of the house construction Bluth Company, is arrested (see what they did there) on a variety of white collar charges. His son Michael, the literal black sheep in a family of idiots, steps up in his absence and sets about the process of both keeping the company afloat, and finding a way to keep his father out of jail.
Wonderful though the set-up may be (and really, doesn't that sound like a near perfect pitch for a FOX sitcom? Hilarity will ensue!) the meat of the show truly lies in the myriad of sub-plots the supporting characters create. The Bluth family is, for lack of a more accurate description, dysfunctional; there is an overbearing mother, moronic brother, vapid sister, man-child, and closeted brother-in-law; and the children, cousins to each other, offer the show it's strongest romantic plot in their "will they, won't they" incestuous relationship.
While the show never deviates from its core "man in jail" premise, there is no question that the love AD commands to this day is thanks to the outstanding collection of characters creator Mitch Hurwitz brought together. I really can't think of anything else to better deserve the tag of "ensemble comedy" than Arrested Development.
This picture makes them look like action figures.
Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman)
A single dad who fled the family years ago to make it on his own; in a nutshell, Michael hates his family but longs for their approval. In the pilot episode we are informed that he is seeing the majority of his family for the first time in years, and that this is also the first time he has been around all of them at once in even longer than that. Following his fathers arrest Michael assumes his role as director of the Bluth company, and although it is a role he has secretly longed for much of his life the job turns out be a thankless one; ultimately spending more time dealing with the nagging financial woes of his family than those of the company. Outside of work, and in keeping with the long tradition of hapless sitcom protagonists, Michael's life is not all that much better. Forced to live in a model home with his siblings, their husbands and children, seemingly every moment of his waking existence is spent helping to sort out their problems and any time he has to himself is spent either in awkward conversation with his son or with a succession of horrible romantic choices.
All in all Michael Bluth makes for one awesome fucking sitcom character.
Lindsay Funke (Portia de Rossi)
The "free spirit" of the family, Lindsay considers herself a progressive liberal and an activist; though in reality she is probably none of these things. Instead she is vapid and quite shallow, but in that sort of TV sense of shallow which can be more readily identified as humorously dense as opposed to self centered spite. Sister to Michael and Gob, a wife to Analrapist husband Tobias, and the mother of Mabey.
Gob Bluth (Will Arnet)
"They are not tricks! They are, illusions..." Gob is a simple man, so simple he can be described with little more than a list of nouns and adverbs; he is the eldest, and stupidest, he is a magician, but a terrible one, and to cap it all off he is also a hit and miss lady's man.
It is quite possible that Gob is the finest character on the show, it is almost positive that Will Arnet will never play anything better.
Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter)
Part time mother, full time drunk bitch, and one time horror movie icon. If women like Lucille existed in real life they'd be running the world in no time. The beauty of Lucille's character is not merely in the way she effortlessly steals scenes but also in how her presence permeates near every moment of the show. She is the true definition of an overbearing mother; intelligent, shrewd, and morally ambiguous to boot.
George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor)
The poor bastard married to the woman above. They're made for each other though so there's always that silver lining.
Buster Bluth (Tony Hale)
Lucille's youngest son, roommate, and man-child. Buster is more or less normal in every way, or at least he would be if his life hadn't been so completely dominated by his mother and her refusal to "give up her baby boy"
Tobias Funke (David Cross)
Renowned Analrapist and husband to the lone Bluth daughter Lindsay. Tobias' main feature on the show is his apparent complete lack of knowledge as to his own blatant homosexuality. He struggles through a failing marriage (that will never truly fail as neither has the guts to end it) and an acting career that refuses to even get off the ground. Originally slated to be a fairly minor character on the show Cross was just so wonderful as Tobias that they decided to expand his role considerably.
George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera)
Michael Cera owes everything to this show, not just his career but his entire life. You know all those jokes about how Michael Cera can only play one character? Well this is that character. Whether you love or hate the guy it's hard to deny just how goddamn successful he's been skating off one role. Lucky bastard.
Mabey Funke (Alia Shawkat)
The object of George Michael's desires. Frankly something of a bit part character in earlier episodes, being used more to propel plots forward rather than sustain them. This is not to be mean or dismissive to her character however, Mabey is an absolute gem of a girl and when she does finally come out of her shell she provides a wonderful partner in dead-pan for Michael.
It is often said that Arrested Development was never given a proper chance, that FOX intentionally sabotaged a show that they simply didn't care for. Its second season was cut by four episodes to make room for Family Guy, the pivotal third season of AD aired against Monday Night Football on the west coast, and when the final four hours came to take their bow it was done so against the NBC's live broadcast of the fucking Winter Olympic Games. When you look at like that it's hard not to feel a little bitter and cheated.
But the simple fact of the matter is why would a network like FOX attempt to sabotage itself like that? If Arrested Development was all set to be the huge commercial and critical success legions of fans claimed it would be than why would FOX just give up? In reality the twists and turns of AD weren't made out for network TV, the attention it demanded was too much for a weekly audience and the penalty paid to those who missed anything too pointlessly high a price for popcorn entertainment.
This is not an intellectual thing, the failures of the show have nothing to do with the general American audience or that of FOX specifically. A good show will find a good audience no matter what. But network television is a simple beast, all eyeballs and advertising dollars, and Arrested Development was a show too complicated for the formula and given every chance it would get. A good comparison can be found with HBO's The Wire, another show that rewarded attentive viewers and punished lazy ones, which shared AD's mix of high praise and low ratings but without the pressure of appealing to advertisers, was able to wring another couple of seasons out of HBO.
But try as they might Mitch Hurwitz and friends just could not find a way to keep the show running. Arrested died a quiet death in 06 and has lived on in the hearts of geeks and internet freaks ever since. Not a bad way to go, a film might have been nice (if likely a colossal failure) but the show ended on a good note with most every theme explored. There's no bitterness here, only a touch of the melancholy.
Well don't just take our word for it, go watch the fucking show already and make your own mind up.