Arrested Development got more ambitious in its storytelling as it went on. The first season was just content with making the episodes themselves complex and layered. Season 2 allowed stories and jokes to run from episode to episode. Then cut to Season 4, which is this massive intricate web. I’m not being hyperbolic when I claim it’s one of the all time biggest and most fascinating achievements just as a piece of storytelling, though sometimes it was too busy being clever to be funny.
Then Season 5 isn’t worth talking or thinking about much.
Season 3 was the sweet spot. It played with the form of the network sitcom big time, but being drop dead funny remained the show’s biggest priority. The first half gave us a somewhat divisive story involving guest star Charlize Theron, and it begs to be revisited multiple times. I’m convinced the arc would have been better received if not for severe scheduling issues that dragged the first six episodes out from September to December. The show barely had time to transition out of that before the cancelation notice came down on high. So the rest of the season pretty much scorched the earth and made fun of everyone and everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Does the Skating With Celebrities joke even make sense to anyone anymore? It was a joke with a shelf life of like two weeks, but they made it anyway.
The third Arrested Development season combined a lot of favourite elements from the first two years. Season 1 had many of the iconic storylines with a semi-realistic documentary presentation, Season 2 branched into other plots while finding the surreal meta-texual tone we remember from the show. Season 3 brought back stuff like the George Michael/Maeby crush and Lindsay and Tobias trying to make things work as a couple, and took them to broader and wackier levels. We saw George Sr. back amongst the regulars as he was put under house arrest, and Buster and G.O.B. got more pathetic and creepier (respectively… or not, come to think of it) than ever.
This season got seriously dark too, this is some of the most uncomfortable stuff I’ve ever laughed out loud at. The Lucille = Susan Smith runner in the first episode might have given us the most offensive moments on the show to date, but it merely set the tone for the whole year. This ought to have been the most controversial show on network TV, but no one was watching and more popular shows on FOX were drawing the ire of professionally offended people. I guess Family Guy was good for something after all…
It’s more jokes, more risks, and more ambition, jam packed into thirteen episodes. I always felt that if Arrested Development hadn’t been canceled, it would have dropped dead from sheer exhaustion. The third season was like the final leg of a triathlon where you push yourself harder than you ever thought possible to delay the moment where you keel over. Arrested Development was a star that was destined to shine brilliantly and then burn out faster than an abandoned metaphor about triathlons, and it’s my favourite season of a modern comedy.
If I Had to Nitpick…: My problem with AD as a whole is when it gets a bit too insular and starts doing callbacks in place of actual jokes. I like a good “Her?” or “NO TOUCHING” as much as anyone when it’s well placed, but I’m not all that impressed when it’s in a scene for no reason other than to be like like “Hey, it’s that thing that character has said before. Laugh at it!” The second season was the biggest offender, but it crept into Season 3 a bit too.
Also, I hate it when people are like “If you hate Arrested Development, you don’t get it.” That also means I hate me in the eleventh grade, but oh well.
Notable Episodes: “Forget-Me Now” is madcap, dark, and one of my favourite episode of the series. “Mr. F” has a record number of disparate plots coming together for a big finale, it’s the show in miniature (almost literally). “S.O.B.s” must by now be borderline incoherent to anyone who wasn’t obsessively following the series back in 2005… but I was, so I love it. And “Development Arrested” is an affectionate “So long and fuck you” to the audience.
Honorable Mentions: Season 1. And 2. And 4. It is my favourite show. …Come on.