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. Click here to follow our coverage.
By now, the common wisdom is that Arrested Development’s original three-season run was influential and groundbreaking — but what, specifically, do we owe to the show? The dubious film career of Jason Bateman? David Cross appearing in those Alvin and the Chipmunks movies? The forgotten Fox animated flop Sit Down, Shut Up? Hardly. For your consideration, a brief survey of television programs that may never have existed were it not for the Bluth crew.
The most obvious heir to the AD throne is Tina Fey’s seven-season masterpiece, which debuted in 2006, in the fall following Fox’s dismissal of the Bluths with a four-episodes-in-one-night burn-off. All of the hallmarks of Arrested Development’s style are present with Liz Lemon and crew: whip-fast pacing, frequent flashbacks, callbacks, and running gags. Several characters and bits from 30 Rock are analogous to AD, from Prince Gerhart Hapsburg (who recalls Martin Short’s Uncle Jack) to Dr. Spaceman (the medical version of Bluth family lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn) to “The Rural Juror” (a tongue-twister recalling Bob Loblaw) to Kenneth himself (a wide-eyed innocent in the George Michael mold). Hell, Jack McBrayer made one of his first TV appearances as a “Country Club Waiter” on Development — and lest we forget, Will Arnett appeared nine times on 30 Rock as Jack’s nemesis, the gravel-voiced Devon Banks.
As with 30 Rock, Community’s AD influence can be felt in certain direct comparisons, like the clearly gay Dean Pelton and his Bluth family counterpart Tobias, or the later show’s diorama fixation, which mirrors AD’s frequent banners. And the pacing is, again, remarkably similar — both shows are dense with jokes, from snappy one-liners to running bits to background action. But Greendale and the Bluth Company are mostly similar for calling on a vast array of quickie supporting players for laughs; as with the J. Walter Weathermans, Gene Parmesans, and Larry Middlemans of Arrested Development, Community wouldn’t be Community without Leonard, Fat Neil, Starburns, and Magnitude.
Not to sound like a broken record (or running gag), but recurring jokes are again a big part of Archer’s comic universe. And so are Arrested Development regulars: not only do Judy Greer (Kitty) and Jessica Walters (Lucille) play major roles on FX’s animated spy spoof, but Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross have done guest shots as well.
The United States iteration of The Office was, of course, most directly influenced by the original UK version of the show — and Jason Bateman has said that it was frequent viewing for the Development cast during the show’s first season. But there’s no denying that Arrested Development helped set the stylistic precedent for handheld, single-camera, cringe-based comedy on American network television. As Time’s James Poniewozik pointed out in a recent Office appreciation, “Arrested Development had a quasi-documentary format in 2003. But maybe one of the reasons it didn’t last longer was that audiences weren’t used to the format yet. Whether or not The Office did it better, it at least had better timing.”
Parks and Recreation and Modern Family
The success of The Office, in turn, led to more shows adopting the hand-held, “mockumentary” format. American Office mastermind Greg Daniels left that show to create Parks and Recreation, whose motley crew of affectionately portrayed screw-ups are certainly more affectionately portrayed than Development’s; meanwhile, the ABC hit Modern Family gave us another expanded brood (though with noticeably softer edges) in the handheld, mock-doc style.
The Thick of It and Veep
But it’s important to make a distinction here: Arrested Development is shot in a handheld, single-camera style, but it doesn’t include the “talking head” interviews that mark a true “mockumentary.” Once you remove that divergence, a more accurate stylistic successor to the show is Armondo Iannucci’s brilliant British comedy The Thick of It, which also shares its spiky, tart sensibility. The influence circle was almost completed when AD creator Mitchell Hurwitz was hired to produce an American remake of the show shortly after Development’s cancellation. A pilot was shot (with John Michael Higgins, aka Wayne Jarvis, among the cast) but was not picked up; Iannucci later called the adaptation “terrible.” But he clearly didn’t hold a grudge — when HBO picked up his Americanized spin on the show, Veep, he cast AD’s Buster, Tony Hale, as a regular.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The Seinfeld influence is most often cited when exploring the genealogy of It’s Always Sunny, and understandably so — three young guys and a girl, dealing with everyday irritations and mostly acting out of self-interest (albeit to a much darker degree). However, Sunny feels just as much like an offspring of Arrested Development, both in style (again, single-camera and laugh-track-free) and tone (one that is willing to challenge audiences to accept its brazenly unsympathetic protagonists).
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
This two-season American/British co-production was partially financed by IFC, which had recently found success airing Arrested Development reruns. So it was a good home for a sitcom created by David Cross and reuniting him with AD co-star Will Arnett…
…who had just re-teamed with Cross for Running Wilde, a new Mitch Hurwitz comedy about selfish, clueless rich people, as explained by a wry narrator. And while Running Wilde didn’t come out of the gate as strongly as its predecessor, you’ve got to wonder what could have possibly inspired Hurwitz to go back to Fox, which had handled his previous show so poorly — and, true to form, they fumbled this one with shoddy marketing and the inexplicable choice to run episodes out of order. Maybe Wilde would have never approached Arrested Development, but we’ll never know; the network pulled it after nine erratic airings.