It’s been seven years since Arrested Development went off the TV market. Now to the delight of millions of viewers everywhere, the series is back on Netflix with a fanfare of promos, a real-life Bluth’s Bananas making its rounds nationwide, and even (dare we hope?) whispers of a movie in production. It is a show deemed by many as “lighthearted”, “witty”, “whimsical” and all-around wholesome. It’s also extremely, extremely, ridiculously dark.
To your disbelieving ears I will explain.
Arrested Development is like a soothing balm which calms the starved inflammation caused by a world filled with egotistical “funny” men who aren’t actually funny (Tosh.0), and the hornet swarm of hipster “comedies” that would fail to recognize humor if it popped up as lyrics in the latest Bon Iver album (Portlandia). It elicits true laughter without forced antics or outright bawdiness . However, under the pithy dialogue and the supposed lightheartedness of each character’s quirkiness, you have to realize how fucked up their situation actually is. I mean, if you knew the Bluths in real life, you’d find these mental cases more disturbing than endearing.
Let’s start with the show’s main plotline: the patriarch of a dysfunctional family gets arrested for shady business transactions. Due to their now insecure financial status, insanity and comical shenanigans ensue. Guffaw guffaw, hardy-har-har. As you get more involved with the Bluths, you can’t help but realize that without the humor, this family is pretty fucked up.
For one thing, the very premise of the show writhes in sinister undertones. The patriarch, George Bluth, steals and whores around, all the while mentally and emotionally torturing his children using his armless friend to teach them “life” lessons. He constantly leaves his middle son, Michael, alone as he openly uses their cabin for sex, and he is unabashed at his dealings with Saddam Hussein, forcing his family to undergo societal and governmental ridicule as he selfishly runs off time and again, sometimes by himself, and sometimes with his former lover, Kitty. It’s later revealed that he is “The Muffin Man”, a serial killer in the seventies that sent poison muffins to various teachers who wronged him.
Then there’s his wife, Lucille, alcoholic and Botox junkie who abruptly jilted the emotional growth of her youngest son, Buster, the result of her affair with George’s twin brother, druggie Oscar. Then there is Buster himself, who not only has the wants and neediness of a five year-old, but also openly suffers a severe case of Oedipal syndrome, his longest love affair on the show involving his mother’s best frenemy, another older woman named Lucille. On top of that his own mother has him brush her hair, dress up with her, and is about three nose-blows shy of becoming a stuffed taxidermy mama, Norman-Bates style.
The fact that her spite causes Buster to lose one of his hands ( due to a “loose seal”–get it?) doesn’t exactly help her in the mom department. Then again, neither is her daughter-but-not-really-her-daughter, Lindsey.
Compared to the rest of the Bluths, Lindsey isn’t that bad. Aside from the numerous attempts at infidelity (which, by the way, she does in agreement with her husband Tobias to save their marriage), the only real thing that Lindsey does wrong is parenting Maeby, a daughter whose existence she forgets on a regular basis. There’s also the fact that, at the end of season 3, when it is revealed that Lindsey is, in fact, adopted, she literally pounces on her former twin brother, Michael, and makes the announcement that she’s going to marry him. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but after living under the assumption that someone is your brother for the past three decades, wouldn’t that affect your attraction level towards them, even if it turns out they aren’t your relative?
However, incest seems to run in the Bluth family, since Maeby and George Michael, Michael’s son, harbor feelings for each other since the tender age of fourteen, both of them achieving second base for the first time with each other. Luckily, though, with Lindsey not being a biological Bluth, that means GM and Maeby aren’t really related. Not that that stopped them before.
Last and certainly not least, there’s Gob– the unwanted son, the loser magician that stuffs his pants with toast (as part of the act, hopefully not for fun). Gob (pronounced like the Biblical “Job”) is a man that fiddles around with younger church-going girls (younger in the “statutory rape” sense), impregnated three women in high school, ignores his son, also wants to sleep with Lindsey, and is such a raging man child that his own parents can’t stand him. Not only that, but he also has an unlimited supply of roofies to which he becomes addicted to in the newest season (season four, ya’ll!) because he wants to forget his nights of soulless partying, especially one that ended in a contraction of syphilis.
But the Bluths aren’t the only ones with serious personal defects. Surrounding them is a plethora of characters including a lawyer that struggles to deal with his homosexuality; another lawyer that feigns pregnancy and blindness to get ahead, a cognitively impaired woman locked away by her uncle; an adopted Korean boy out to avenge his wronged grandfather and whose lack of proficiency to speak English causes those around him to view him as imbecile; and a young Christian wife who married eager to break free of her life of holy monotony.
Get rid of the fact that what I described to you is Arrested Development. The entire thing seems like either General Hospital’s next season or a Victor Hugo novel.
And there it is, the absolute genius behind Arrested Development: It’s a comedy so black, it’s sparkling white. It just goes to show that no matter what situation arises in life, be it embezzlement or incest, you can always approach it with a sense of humor. If that fails, there’s always pictures of Jason Bateman posing with ducks.
By Claudia Dimuro, contributing writer.
Art by Esme.