Post-Structural Integrity: On “Arrested Development,” Season Four


Ted Scheinman in the LA Review of Books:

Arrested Development, of course, is also a show about family, a unit the show sketches via ad absurdum caricature, all the more absurd because a lot of people seem truly to care about the largely atrocious and backbiting Bluths. (This writer included.) But Mitch Hurwitz, the show’s creator, is interested in more than the dynamics of family betrayal, and for social satire he uses the family frame as a metaphor in itself. Name a show whose politics are at once so oblique and so obvious: the Bluths were both a conspicuous model of the Bushes and a warning about con-men and short-sellers seeking to capitalize on the real estate bubble, no small foresight in 2003 when the show first aired. Biblical in its simplicity, Freudian in its symbolism (it is rumored that Buster breast-fed into his teens), Arrested Development was as rich in formal and moral delights as any other show on the planet.

Yes, it was probably too “smart” for TV, but mainly it was too weird, and non-initiates couldn’t exactly just slip into the show’s groove; plot, and the slow accretion of glimmering self-reference, were the bellylaughs. Two and a Half Men this was not. But man did it hit the spot via DVD marathon. Plus or minus the smoke, this is how Arrested Development deserves, and ought, to be watched.

The fourth season — 15 episodes released simultaneously on May 26 — has kept cognoscenti drooling for years but has also left time for new viewers to enter the welcoming, only vaguely canine circle of devotion. A lot has happened between 2005 and 2013, for the Bluths and for us. The new episodes each focus on what has happened to a given character in the years following the implosion of the latest Bluth scheme, and very rarely is it pretty to look at. If in 2003 Enron was a topical referent for the Bluths’s dynastic malfeasance, the collapse of the housing bubble, and of all the dreams and derivatives that depended on it, offer creator and executive producer Mitch Hurwitz far darker material.