The Most Important Thing Is Family

Curator's Note

It is impossible to talk about Arrested Development without talking about family:  continually reinforced through the show’s opening credits, which defines all of the main characters in terms of their familial relationship to Michael Bluth, the identity of the show is intrinsically tied to conceptualizations of family.

However, I am much more interested in pushing the framework of family in order to situate the representation of the Bluths within a larger context of television families that were concurrent with Arrested Development. I think that the show was groundbreaking in a number of ways but, in particular, the original airing of Arrested Development (2003-2006) was part of a moment in which Americans were struggling to re-establish and redefine (perhaps even rediscover) the ways in which we related to each other in a post-9/11 world and comedic/outlandish characters were used to gesture toward an affirmation of the strength of family. Metaphorically, we had to leave home to remember why it was so important and the Bluths exemplified the ability of comedy to speak to what is real via the process of making strange.

To be fair, the family has long been present as a theme in television comedies and will undoubtedly remain a staple for years to come. Accordingly, I wonder about how the family of Arrested Development will sit alongside other contemporary ensembles like those found in Parenthood and Modern Family. How willing are we to engage with the Bluths when we live in a country that has been sharply critical about class divisions—from class warfare to the 99% of Occupy to the 53% backlash and Mitt Romney’s infamous 47%, the way in which we relate to the ultra-rich seems to have shifted. Moreover, we are, at the present moment, dealing with fundamentally different issues about the family (e.g., teenagers' supposed extended adolescence, the white male loss of cool, different definitions of what even constitutes a "family," etc.) and so I am curious to see the revamped Bluths grapple with a world that no longer places them at the center.



Another reason that we might be reluctant to consider the Bluths as a family and AD as a family show (in addition to their class position, as you point out) is the overwhelming specter of incest throughout the show. Buster's relationship with Lucille, George Michael's infatuation with Maebe, Lucille's involvement with twin brothers, Maebe dating Steve Holt, Michael and Gob hiring Nellie, Lindsay coming on to Michael... it goes on and on. I don't know what, if anything, this aspect of the show has to do with the cultural context you point to. I've always wondered if it's part of what the network thought alienated viewers, though, and contributed to AD's cancelation.

It will be interesting to see how these shows reference more recent happenings in culture and politics. AD's uniqueness was tied to it using the Iraq War as an underlying cause of the Bluth family's mishaps. With Iraq not as constant in the news, what will be next?

Interesting! Though I've long subscribed to the theory that Arrested Development remakes and parodies everyone's favorite cinematic family: the Corleones. You've got the pragmatic criminal grandfather, the prodigal son Michael, etc.

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