Arrested Development was a show that lasted for three seasons on Fox between 2003 and 2006. While the show was quirky and unique, it’s a perfect example of story development. Major events were always foreshadowed before they occurred, and at times the foreshadowing happened entire seasons before the reveal. There will be spoilers for the series Arrested Development as I use the show as an example of how story development should be.
The basic premise of Arrested Development is that Michael Bluth, the only sane person in his family, has to be the responsible one in his family after his father, George Sr., is arrested for misusing company funds. He tries to help his family cope as they have to deal with having no money, but as the title hints at, the family is in various stages of arrested development. There are many story lines throughout the 53 episodes of the series, but the one I’m going to focus on is the one that lasted all three seasons – George Sr. may have committed some light treason.
Originally mentioned in a first season “next time on Arrested Development” – a series of events that rarely if ever happened in the next episode, and usually just tied up the loose events of the current episode – George Sr. tells Michael that he may have committed some light treason. At first, this seems like a one-off joke and is forgotten. It should not be forgotten. Later in the season, it does come back up.
George Sr.’s assistant, Kitty, has never respected Michael as the new head of the Bluth company, and Michael becomes sick of it so he fires Kitty. Kitty blackmails Michael by explaining about international building that the Bluth Company did oversees and never paid taxes on, and demands to be the new head of the Bluth Company. Michael thinks it’s easy enough to fix by paying the back taxes, which Kitty realizes is what she would have done, so Michael dismisses her. Kitty decides to get the evidence off of the Bluth family yacht, anyway, and turn it in. Unbeknownst to her, however, out of family loyalty – and part of a magic trick – Michael’s oldest brother Gob is about to sink the yacht. In that episode’s “next time on Arrested Development“, we see Kitty in the middle of the sea hanging onto dear life on a cooler that is labeled H. Maddas. This also seems like a one-off joke, but it isn’t.
Nobody on the family knew Kitty was on the ship, however, and this comes back to bite them two episodes later when the police are looking for Kitty. Gob has a tape of “Girls with Low Self Esteem”, which is magic act was supposed to be on. When watching the tape, Michael notices that Kitty was on the yacht before Gob blew it up. While Michael is brought in for questioning, and things seem bad, it’s soon discovered that Kitty’s disappearance was a ploy used to try to get evidence against George Sr.
Soon, however, Michael learns that the international building that George Sr. did was in Iraq. This is when the “light treason” thing comes back – it’s illegal for Americans to build in Iraq. However, George Sr. has escaped from prison, so now the government wants to go after Michael.
In the second season, the family has to cope with the fact that their father may have committed “medium to heavy treason”, as the houses built were mini-castles for Saddam Hussein. At one point, the prosecutor believes he has pictures of Iraq that proves that the Bluth company built houses over there. He doesn’t. The picture turns out to be much more disturbing, but not at all related to the case against the Bluth family. At the end of the season, Kitty returns with the H. Maddas cooler and makes some demands. George Sr. swears the cooler proves his innocence, and that some British company set him up as a patsy. Michael and Gob get the cooler back, but the evidence inside is destroyed.
Season three has Michael investigating the claim that George Sr. was a patsy in Little Britain. He meets Rita there, and she becomes his girlfriend. Soon it’s discovered that there’s a mole named Mr. F who’s been leaking information about the Bluth family to the government, and Michael starts to suspect that it’s Rita. It isn’t, and this is actually a story line in itself.
The mole is discovered, and their cover blown, the government leaves with no new information against the Bluth family. Gob eventually signs up for the USO to do a magic show in Iraq, but he ends up getting arrested. Michael and his youngest brother, Buster, go to Iraq to save Gob, but while there they learn that George Sr. was telling the truth – he was set up. The CIA West hired a British company that outsourced the Bluth company to build houses in Iraq they could use in a sting operation, but the CIA East didn’t know about it and were trying to bust George Sr. for building the houses. This leads to George Sr. being cleared of all charges.
From one-off joke to full blown three season story line, Arrested Development is a great example of how to introduce and maintain story development. All their story lines, no matter how long or short, are similar in structure. They are introduced in the most subtle of ways, with everything falling into place as you continue to watch. This gives the show excellent rewatchability, since a second watching allows the viewer to catch the clues they missed out on the first time, and at times makes jokes in the show funnier. While the foreshadowing can be easily missed on the first watch-through of the series, the reveals are always big and dramatic, as the story constantly builds upon itself. The show may have been canceled due to low ratings, but Arrested Development maintains a dedicated cult following for a good reason – the writers knew how to tell a story.