Stunted growth

Monday, October 9, 2006 by

Two years ago, Arrested Development arrived on British screens to a blaze of publicity telling us this was the best sitcom to come from America for years. The scheduling matched this, with a 10pm slot on BBC2 and the next episode straight after on BBC4. Now we’re in the middle of the third and final series, and when did BBC2 screen the latest edition? At 1am on Monday morning.

Obviously, Arrested Development has joined the band of imports that ended up attracting a loyal but resolutely tiny audience in the UK (see also Family Guy, or rather don’t see it as it’s on BBC3 at midnight), although even Seinfeld, the patron saint of badly-scheduled Americana, never managed to fall out of favour quite so much as to ensure its fans had to stay up to 1.40am on a school night.

The thing is, though, you can see where BBC2 are coming from, as at this stage in the series’ history, its appeal to casual audiences must be zero. I’ve been watching it since episode one and even I sometimes lose track of who’s gone out with who, and where the story has got to – so for anyone tuning in now, it may as well be performed in Swahili for all the sense it would make. Why has Buster only got one hand? Why is Gob continually talking through a badly-made black hand puppet? Why is George Sr contributing to family arguments via another man repeating his comments made down an earpiece while George watches on TV locked in the bedroom? It all makes sense, honest.

Arrested Development is a very funny series, rattling along at 100 miles an hour and stuffed with gags. There’s character-driven humour, like Gob’s fruitless attempts to avoid speaking to his newly-discovered son. There’s well-crafted jokes, like Tobias trying to make a living as both an analyst and a therapist, but finding his business cards describing him as an “analrapist” got him arrested. And there’s shameless silliness, like calling a character Bob Loblaw simply because it sounds stupid said out loud. Indeed, this frantic pace is probably what makes it completely impenetrable to a new audience. Fox axed it after three series, but I’m amazed it even lasted three weeks on prime time network TV in the US.

It’s probably compulsory at this stage to suggest that BBC2 are idiots, and you must watch Arrested Development, but really, at this stage, you’d be better off getting the DVD of Season 1. Meanwhile BBC2 can be assured that at least the three of us still watching will be there at the end, however late it gets.


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