First airdate: 10 February, 2006
Story by Richard Day & Mitchell Hurwitz
Teleplay by Chuck Tatham & Jim Vallely
Directed by John Fortenberry
A couple of stray, nitpicky points before we begin.
First, the version of “Development Arrested” – the 53rd and final episode of the initial run of Arrested Development – that you can watch on DVD or the varied streaming services, unless I have forgotten everything, has been changed for the worse. As I recall it (and anybody who knows better is welcome to chime in), in its initial airing as part of the four-part finale block, the film’s opening was modeled exactly on the pilot, down to the music cues: specifically, the opening credits were just the show’s name, appearing as a blast of horns sounded on the trumpet. In these latter days, it’s been needlessly replaced with the show’s standard title sequence, muddying the very snug relationship between the first and last episodes of the show (not that it’s exactly obscure how “Development Arrested” is riffing on the pilot”, and creating a slight, but noticeable judder in the soundtrack. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t so pointless.
Second, in the initial scheduling announcment – it had changed by airdate – the title of this episode was said to be “Harboring Resentment”, which is, I’m sorry, just better, on multiple levels.
How glad I am to get all that out of my system, because other than bizarre quibbles like those, I have basically nothing at all to say against the series finale of the best sitcom of the 2000s, for while it is not an all-time legendary episode of AD, “Development Arrested” certainly ended the series on a high note, in a manner that could not have been more in keeping with the series’ evolution. It broadly embraces the most absolutely nonsensical, cartoonish developments in the whole show, ends with a climax too loopy and ridiculous even for farce, and then sends its protagonist on a boat into the sunset, to finally escape this colossally strange world and find something like normalcy. Perhaps, on the whole, it lets Michael Bluth off a little bit too easy given how effectively the show had demonstrated that he wasn’t any better than the people he spend three seasons claiming superiority over, but the logic fits.
Not much actually happens here, nor does it need to: really, the penultimate episode “Exit Strategy” did most of the work that had to be done in wrapping up the storyline of the show, and “Development Arrested” is permitted to exist as something more like an epilogue, or a parenthetical. The handful of plotlines still left open are tacked down in the quickest way possible (Maeby gets her job back by selling out the family; Tobias and Lindsay are united in their love of hot seamen; Gob – wildly underused in this episode – has been dating Ann since “Notapusy”, and all the misdirection around “my Christian girlfriend” in the last few episodes is suddenly made that much more brilliant), and the bulk of the new plot is devoted to a trio of self-consciously big, shocking reveals: that Lucille has been the criminal mastermind behind the Bluth Company all along (somewhat blatantly hinted ever since the shredder line in the pilot), that the long-gone Annyong Bluth has been trying to bring the family down all along (hinted with extreme subtlety), and that Lindsay was adopted, and for no obvious reason had three years shaved off her age in the process (hinted only very recently). The latter development gets a lot of flak, and it’s easy to understand why, but I fully disagree: with the show, in 2006, being put out to pasture for good (Mitchell Hurwitz being too fatigued to take it to Showtime, and the idea of an internet-based cluster of episodes all debuting on the same day being outright fantasy), I don’t think the idea was to push some game-changing new plot development on us, but more to parody the tendency of series finales to be huge, heightened experiences, by tossing out one of the most series-breaking developments that AD could have, just because why the hell not. By this point, after all, AD had ceased even the most minute genuflect towards the idea that these were real people that we cared about.
At any rate, with a structure cribbed from the pilot and a narrative thread that barely exists, “Development Arrested” mostly exists to wheel out one last cartload of callbacks and jokes and references, and they are of exceptionally high quality: the Risky Business joke near the beginning of the episode, I hold to be one of the cleverest things the series ever did, building a joke out of isolated elements so that we can start to assemble it in our head, announcing the punchline for ourselves, and then having the show still throw in a swerve by making the last beat of the gag be the deadpan that Michael, on the phone, change the “days without an accident” whiteboard to 1. Other personal highlights: his befuddled “Can you imagine anything more inappropriate? I guess you can” when Lindsay tries to seduce him, the weird and unstressed shot of Tobias posing exactly like George-Michael in the picture next to Michael’s bed, the little ways that the Oscar reveal is foreshadowed (it’s a cheat, though: what happened to his hair?), and the three reaction shots accompanying the narrator’s “It wasn’t a turn-on”. Obviously, the “I like hot sailors”/”Mmm. Me too” exchange is a highlight, but that one’s a freebie.
It’s more complex and clever than laugh-out-loud funny, probably, but the show had been trending that way for a while, and “Development Arrested” feels like the exact thing it sets out to be: the culmination of a television show built on complex, self-referential, obscure gags. I do not know that I could imagine a more satisfying way to close off the series: it’s unserious and sincere in a perfectly characteristic mix, and it’s full of sight gags and dirty wordplay. It’s basically a 22-minute mind game, and especially knowing that there’s more of this family yet to come (with, potentially, even weirder structural play happening), I think that’s a pretty fantastic place to leave something that was always a bit of a mental puzzle, for a sitcom.