America’s first family is back. But their last name isn’t Obama, Trump or even Bush. It’s Bluth.
Creator Mitchell Hurwitz teased in a recent interview that the return was in part because “stories about a narcissistic, erratically behaving family in the building business—and their desperate abuses of power—are really underrepresented on TV these days”. Fair. Arrested Development, with all the original Bluth family members at the helm, will make its return on Netflix in 2018.
The first three seasons of the show played to its eventual cult classic status. When its first three seasons aired on Fox from 2003–2006, the show garnered widespread critical acclaim but still struggled to find viewers. In the third season episode Save Our Bluths (SOB), the family within the show hosts a benefit—of course, it’s to benefit themselves—and the acronym jokes ensue. “The Home Builder’s Organization (HBO) won’t take us!” It’s the culmination of a show that used Ron Howard’s snarky and fourth–wall–tapping narration to speak directly to the audience about what total narcissists the characters were.
Netflix capitalized on the show’s loyal fanbase and released a fourth season in 2013. They were able to get the whole of the original cast to sign on, including standouts Portia de Rossi, Jeffery Tambor (as twins!) and Will Arnett. The Netflix–produced fourth season is worth watching for Kristen Wiig’s deliciously unhinged young Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walters) alone. Despite the continuation of longstanding jokes and Easter eggs, Netflix’s format of telling each episode from one character’s point of view and running them all concurrently while tying threads together in the last episode felt clunky. Though there was a satisfying revelation that most of the characters were in the same places at the same times doing very differently outlandish things, from keeping ostriches in penthouses to a father and son turning into “eskimo brothers” (ed. Note: There’s not even a word for that).
Netflix used this non–chronological format out of necessity—scheduling conflicts for the cast abounded and this was only way to ensure that all the characters, particularly the family members, stayed on — and crafted a winding but still smart narrative. Critics bemoaned the lack of cinematic simplicity that had characterized earlier seasons, but the jokes remained sharp and self–aware, due in part to the inclusion of Ron Howard, narrator and executive producer, as a cast member playing himself. But the fourth season lacked the “density” of jokes and innuendos and insults that made the first three seasons so damn fun.