Arrested Development fans are busy counting down the hours until Season 4 premieres this Sunday at midnight on Netflix, and here at Flavorwire, we’re no different. So, we’re passing the time by declaring this Arrested Development Week, all leading up to a Recap-a-thon on Sunday, when our own Jason Bailey will review the whole season, episode by episode. This piece is the first in a series of contributors’ essays in support of their favorite Bluth. Click here to follow our coverage.
It may be reductive to argue that there are just two kinds of people in life, but there are certainly just two kinds of characters on Arrested Development: the prickly Bluths and the sweet Bluths. While the selfish, apathetic family members — Lucille, George, G.O.B., Lindsay, Maeby — have the pithiest lines and cause the most dramatic friction, it’s their generous, caring relatives who actually make us care about this big, rich, fucked-up family. Despite strong competition from his dad, George Michael is the sweetest Bluth of all, and the heart and conscience of Arrested Development.
Don’t mistake me for a Michael Cera apologist; I find him borderline insufferable in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno, and basically every other movie he’s starred in besides Superbad. And I came to Arrested Development late, so I knew him from all those films before his breakout role won me over with the awkward charms for which Cera would soon be typecast.
The unfortunately named George Michael is the sugar to those characters’ saccharine — a geeky, bighearted teenager like Freaks and Geeks‘ Bill Haverchuck before him and Bob’s Burgers‘ Tina Belcher after, a kid whose every humiliation makes us wince with empathy. He is the picture of youthful vulnerability. In fact, Cera’s facial expressions do more than his lines to shape the character; whenever his corrupt and disappointing family disturbs his sunny naïveté, you can see George Michael absorbing the bad news, folding it into the few things he seems to know about the world. And yet, he never quite loses his innocence.
This is more difficult than Cera and the show’s writers let on, considering that George Michael’s longest-running story line surrounds his debilitating crush on his cousin Maeby, a desire viewers (not to mention the cousins themselves) spend most of Arrested Development‘s run believing is incestuous. Think about what a delicate balance must have been necessary to ensure that this character read as a sympathetic babe in the woods, rather than a mouth-breathing creep.
Of course, the most important person in George Michael’s life isn’t Maeby — it’s his dad. In fact, it’s the awkward yet deeply caring relationship between father and son that powered Arrested Development through three seasons, from Michael’s decision in the pilot to stick around and help his dysfunctional family to their escape by boat in the (original) series finale. Sure, it’s Michael who delivers most of the great lines that pass between them, paying gentle lip service to George Michael’s ignorance and failing to conceal his bewilderment at his son’s romantic choices (“Her?”). But it’s Cera’s character who makes us care about Jason Bateman’s character, as Michael’s love and concern fleshes out what might otherwise be a boring straight-man role. We buy into their relationship because of George Michael’s endearing — and often heartbreaking — vulnerability. We don’t just want to see him protected; we want to protect him, too.