It never barks at you, “Laugh little monkey – laugh like the rest of this teleprompted studio audience!” Every time I hear an obnoxious laugh track, I get a chill up my spine. It takes me back to childhood birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese’s Funtime Pizza Parlor, to flashbacks of those severed body parts on the wall clapping every time the crazed life-sized puppets appeared from behind the stage curtains as you half-enjoyed your paper-thin slice of pepperoni pizza. The claps and recorded cheers were so demented and phony. Because those puppets weren’t doing anything but spinning on their wheels, blinking those robotic eyelashes and prolonging the time you could just escape that lame-ass party and go win some tickets at the Skeeball machine.
No, “Arrested Development” is secure in its hilarity. And how couldn’t it be? The Bluth family is a consistent comedy of errors. With a failed magician brother named Gob, a mama’s boy brother named Buster, a fashion obsessed sister named Lindsay, and a sheepishly good son named George Michael (yes, like the singer-songwriter), Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth is like the rest of us, just trying to stay afloat amongst all of life’s chaos.
It’s near impossible to pick a favorite character. Michael is the most relatable, but possibly the most outlandish is his brother-in-law Tobias Funke. With his fear of being naked leading to him to always wear denim daisy dukes beneath his clothing (as a Never-Nude), to his Mrs. Doubtfire-ish turn as Mrs. Featherbottom when he dressed as a heavy set British female nanny to spend time with his family during marital problems, to the time when he tried to join the Blue Man Group (“I blue myself.”), Tobias is completely absurd, ridiculous, and so outlandishly FUNNY.
And for all you Liza Minelli fans, this show delivers Queen Minelli like you’ve never seen her before. Playing the confused, wobbily, much older girlfriend of Buster, Minelli’s character suffers from vertigo, which means you see her fall down. A LOT. You probably shouldn’t laugh, but you do. You really do.
This ingenious comedy was cancelled all too quickly. You can sometimes catch episodes on the G4 channel, and other random channels at random times if you’re lucky. Unfortunately for “Arrested” nubies, it’s not a show you can just dive into mid-season. The jokes are intricately webbed within the episodes, which is why they’re so funny in the first place. A fresh viewer wouldn’t know why Buster wants some alone time with the new self-propelled vacuum cleaner. They wouldn’t understand the difference between a trick and an illusion, unless they caught the episode when Gob explained, “Illusion, Michael. A trick is something whores do for money…or cocaine!”
And with the absence of that laugh track, it makes such jokes all the more special. Those deep-seeded droplets of funny take you back to that feeling of having that secret crush in high school. That boy you found so cute that no one else really noticed picked up your pencil and handed it to you after it embarrassingly rolled off your slanted desk, and he smiled at you, a smile only for you. No one else saw it, no one else cared, but it made your entire week. That’s the feeling I get when Michael gives one of his knowing looks to a member of his messy insanity of a family. The laughs are like little rewards for being a true fan. The comedy is so smart, so elevated, and so fearless.
Luckily there are still comedies that exist which carry on this sophisticated comedic trend. Because a true comedy shouldn’t need outdated, cheap, spoon-fed gimmicks – case in point the equally perfect “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the NBC hit “The Office”. “Arrested Development” might not have shared the same success as these shows, but don’t dismiss it for its unpopularity. Because that boy you noticed way back when is probably going to be way hotter at the next reunion than those other boys the girls fawned over back in grade school. And the beauty of the DVD and the rumored upcoming feature film means the Bluth Family can live forever, much to the dismay of poor ol’ Michael Bluth.
[I wrote this blog on October 14, 2006. Revised it on August 4, 2010. Originally posted on MySpace.]