Matt here! The genius of Arrested Development is dependent on itself. Many viewers have commented on how the show becomes more and more impressive as it progresses – they’re right. Like many of the great television shows of the last decade (Mad Men and Breaking Bad, to name only two), Arrested Development uses memory to invoke thematic/narrative cohesion. Blue handprints on the wall aren’t funny by themselves. But through slow-cooked patience, little notes on the refridgerator and blue handprints on the wall become radically inventive comic nuggets. Instead of using self-reference to prove its own intelligence, the show twists audience awareness into a series of increasingly complex gags. I’m willing to submit that it’s the best example of 21st Century television comedy along with Louie.
Arrested Development uses the intelligence and memory of its audience as an advantage. Aside from the prescient political commentary, the show builds jokes through both intra- and intertextuality. But they’re not just jokes. They point towards the show’s favorite theme – incest. The Bluth family’s constant swapping of precious bodily fluids is emphasized by the jokes that tend to procreate with themselves. MORE
As is clarified in the final episode, Ron Howard’s narration is not outside of Arrested Development’s universe. He ultimately has a personal interaction with Maeby and frequently participates in the story. In addition, some characters assist him -- like when G.O.B. lies to Michael about consummating his marriage. It’s one of the most stylistically sound uses of narrative voice in television history.
The show isn’t cinematically inert, either. With a list of solid directors (incuding Paul Feig) and cameramen, Arrested Development has an edgy, active style -- the frame in constantly changing. Also, when it pushes into a flashback, it isn’t necessarily suggested by narration or focus tricks or harps playing a whole tone scale. Instead, they play with the aspect ratio – shifting to the classical 4:3 or whereabouts.
Arrested Development’s interaction with itself and its audience is the most potent tool it has. The show’s quick demise was probably caused by the confidence it had in its viewers. They even make a series of jokes about how hard the show is to understand late in the third season, after they were aware of cancellation. Comedy is often forgotten in the formation of canons, but Arrested Development needs to be on those lists.
This is the reason to be excited about the new season currently in production. With an intriguing set-up (one episode per character, building to a climax where the eventual movie will begin), we can expect an even denser web of references and callbacks throughout the season. I don’t know about you folks, but I can hardly wait for more Arrested Development. I could write about it all day.