DVD Review: Arrested Development - Season Two
Release Date: October 11, 2005
Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment
· Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth
· Portia de Rossi as Lindsay Bluth Fünke
· Will Arnett as George 'Gob' Bluth II
· Michael Cera as George-Michael Bluth
· Alia Shawkat as Mae 'Maeby' Fünke
· Tony Hale as Byron 'Buster' Bluth
· David Cross as Tobias Fünke
· Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth Sr./Oscar Bluth
· Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth
by Raul Burriel
Published: October 12, 2005
There's a number of pretentious, stuck-up television critics out there right now heralding the virtues of this series and chastising the masses for not watching. And I'm one of them. If you're not watching Arrested Development, you're a fool. I'll grant you that it took me some time to even begin watching this series, but when I finally caught an episode, I was instantly hooked. This series packs enough "Oh my God!" and laugh out loud moments into each episode that it should be regulated by the Surgeon General.
Arrested Development, in simple terms, is the story of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his dysfunctional family. But there's nothing simple about this series. The Bluth family is wealthy, their fortune coming from a beach side banana stand which family patriarch George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) parlayed into a successful real estate development firm. But the family has recently fallen on hard times as George has been accused of embezzlement. With George in jail and the family's funds tied up by the IRS, the family are forced to live together in a model home the firm built, in the middle of an unfinished housing project.
Through Michael (the "normal" one), we witness the misadventures of this unfortunate family. Michael is a widower but has a son, George-Michael (Michael Cera), who has a crush on his cousin. Michael's older brother George Bluth II (Will Arnett) goes by the nickname Gob, pronounced "Job" (in the Biblical sense). Gob is perhaps the worst magician in the world. Michael's younger brother Buster (Tony Hale) never grew up - or, rather, his mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) never allowed him to grow up. Michael's vapid, self-centered sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) is married to Tobias (David Cross), a man she swears she's going to divorce at least once per episode, but never seems to get around to it. Tobias is a renown psychiatrist but left the profession to become an actor and often ends up making suggestive homosexual remarks that he never seems to realize. Tobias and Lindsay have a daughter, Mae - whom everyone calls Maeby (Alia Shawkat). And then there's George, who haunts the family from jail - that is, when he's not escaping and on the run. The cast is immense and the story is indeed complicated, but the humor works whether you know what's going on or not.
And if you think you have trouble keeping the cast straight, just wait until you get a load of the recurring characters. Henry Winkler plays the family's entirely incompetent lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn and Liza Minnelli is Buster's sometime love-interest and next-door neighbor Lucille Austero. Arrested Development, in fact, is a kind of Happy Days reunion. Produced by Imagine Entertainment, Imagine big wig Ron Howard is the show's uncredited narrator (you need a narrator to keep up with this show).
As is becoming increasingly the trend with hip 30-minute comedies, Arrested Development is filmed in single camera format without a studio audience or laugh track. But don't worry. Unlike shows like Two and a Half Men, you won't need hints or prodding to know when to laugh. The pacing is also unusual. The show moves incredibly fast. You'll find that in the time it takes you to laugh at one of the gags, you've probably missed two or three more. So watching Arrested Development on DVD is a God-send, giving you the time to backtrack and catch what you've missed. And you'll find you probably missed a lot. There's visual gags and inside jokes galore. Some stuff you'll have to watch two or three times just to catch and understand. This makes for a show that is infinitely re-watchable. You can watch a rerun of Seinfeld and have every line memorized. That's unlikely in the case of Arrested Development. This show really is something different. Tobias decides to audition for the Blue Man Group and resolves to get a head start by painting himself totally blue. Buster, seeking to escape his mother, joins the army. Lucille begins to date George's free-spirited twin brother Oscar. Michael dates the daughter of his firm's chief rival. George-Michael runs for student body president. Maeby passes herself off as a movie studio executive. The plot lines are just an excuse to take you from one shockingly hilarious moment to the next.
Having all 18 episodes of season 2 on disc should be enough to appease most Arrested Development fans. But we are fortunate enough to have much more. Each of the three discs in the set has one episode with audio commentary. All three commentaries offer a gaggle of commentators: series creator Mitchell Hurwitz, as well as actors Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jessica Walter. The commentary is certainly informative at times, but we're not listening to these commentaries to learn things (well, maybe we are), but chiefly we're listening for the laughs, and they're non-stop. Certainly it would be more satisfying to have commentaries on all 18 episodes but I'm thankful for the three commentaries we do get. And you'd think that not having stars Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor contribute to the commentaries would hurt, but instead we get to hear the rest of the cast dish on Bateman and Tambor. We also are treated to deleted and extended scenes, an overview of the first season in 3 minutes (it plays like a commercial and it's sure to frighten anyone who hasn't seen the series before), and a blooper reel. We're also promised the complete campaign videos from the "The Immaculate Election" episode but I have yet to find them on any of the three discs (Addendum: Thanks to reader Mark Hendren who found this easter egg for us: On disc three, highlight "The Immaculate Election" in the episode selection menu and then hit left). There's plenty here to keep even the most cynical Arrested Development fan happy.
The guest stars on the show are a testament to the critical success of the show (and the influence of Imagine Entertainment). Season two included guest appearances by Ben Stiller, Ed Helms, Martin Short, Zach Braff, Ed Begley Jr., Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dan Castellaneta (his Homer-ish "doh" is reason enough to buy this DVD set!) Although a critical darling, Arrested Development has never been a ratings success. Airing on Sunday nights on Fox along much more successful shows such as The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle, Arrested Development has never been able to gather an audience. But Fox has done something very unFox-like, choosing not to cancel the low rated show. Now in its third season, Arrested Development has been rewarded with numerous Emmys but the ratings still slump. I'm quite frankly shocked that this show lasted even one whole season. The fact that it's just begun its third is nothing short of a miracle. How long the ride will last is anyone's guess, but at least now we have the DVDs to comfort us when the ax finally does drop.