16 great shows: arrested development (2003)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)


There won’t be many comedies on this list. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn more to dramas. It’s what I get most invested in and what I like to write.

But I love a good comedy. I even love some not-so-good comedies. Some honorable mentions: Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, Happy Endings, Seinfeld, Friends, and New Girl. All of these shows hold a special place in my heart. But none more so than the delightfully off-beat show Arrested Development.

The circumstances surrounding my discovery of this show are hazy. I do know I watched it live at some point (I remember the Save Our Bluths campaign, particularly the very meta episode in which the characters tried to launch a Save Our Bluths charity), but I have no idea who introduced me to the show and when I started watching.

I do know it was the first truly cerebral sitcom I’d ever watched all the way through. It was the first time a sitcom had done what I loved seeing in dramas. They’d built this complicated world with in-jokes and layers upon layers of character quirks and world mythology. You had to actually pay attention to the show to get the show. And man did I love paying attention to the show.

And somehow the writers and actors made us love this utterly flawed and unlovable characters. Even Michael was hard to love, and he was our protagonist. But through time and just plain exposure, we came to love them like one can only love a family member.

They were all anti-heroes and they ended up saving us from a sitcom slump.

Since then we’ve gotten such shows as 30 RockVeepCommunity, Bojack HorsemanCatastrophe, and Difficult People. All shows with thoroughly flawed characters and highly cerebral content.

Now, I’m not saying no show had ever done anything like Arrested Development before. I’m not even saying any of the previously listed shows were directly inspired by Arrested Development. But I do think it sparked a resurgence of peak sitcom television. Since Arrested Development we’ve had show after show that has been able to rise up to (and sometimes exceed) the standards of such juggernauts as SeinfeldCheers, Frasier, Friends, and Will & Grace.

But back to the show itself. It was nearly indescribable. It took absurdism to the next level while still maintaining a grounded sensibility. At every turn there was a self-referential remark or a pop culture reference that was never stated, merely alluded to (i.e. Scott Baio replacing Henry Winkler in both Happy Days and Arrested Development) or a callback to a joke from two seasons ago.

The time and care that went into every moment of that show, every significant look, every “sneak peek”, every word, was utterly admirable and I have absolutely no idea how they did it. But I will spend the rest of my life aiming to create something even half as brilliant as this show.



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