Arrested Development: an Abrahamic Allegory

Recently, I found myself devoid of a television show I could unhealthily binge watch to avoid doing actual work.  I had also read that one of my favourite television shows - Arrested Development - was getting a fifth season, so I figured why not give it another watch?

I was swiftly reacquainted with the lovable and selfishly incompetent Bluth family, but I was also reminded of a theme I had noticed many years ago.  After a quick Google search, I noticed that there had not been any writing about my observation, so I thought I would go ahead and give my two cents on the matter.

The first three seasons of Arrested Development are an allegory to Abrahamic religious myths, and it can be seen upon examination of its characters.  

Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that it is the retelling of the Bible or anything as silly as that.  O Brother, Where Art Thou is a clear retelling of The Odyssey.  Arrested Development simply follows a theme of Abrahamic religious myths, and it can directly be seen with the characters of Michael, G.O.B., George Sr., and Lucille, the former two characters having their names directly borrowed from figures in Abrahamic religion, while George and Lucille’s names are only a few letters away from their counterparts: God and Lucifer.

George Michael and his cousin Maeby also draw parallels between the Biblical figures of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  George Michael’s pure heartedness is juxtaposed with his unnatural attraction to his cousin Maeby who often displays questionable morals.  I believe, however, that these characters don’t share as direct a link as the four previously mentioned characters, so I’m not going to go into too much depth about their place in this allegory.

Michael Bluth is characterized as the, “good son.”  He is the only character in the second generation of the family who has any work ethic, and throughout the first three seasons he dedicates himself to rebuilding the company despite the roadblocks put up by his family at every turn.  This is mirrored by the Archangel Michael.  In scripture, the Archangel Michael was second in command after Lucifer was banished to hell, and he commanded God’s armies against Lucifer’s armies of hell.  Throughout the series, we constantly see Michael at odds with his mother Lucille in his attempts to guide their company out of legal and financial troubles.

In the bible, Job (pronounced the same way as G.O.B.) is the man over whom God and Lucifer make a wager.  God bets that no matter what type of tragedy he throw’s in Job’s way, Job will never forsake him.  G.O.B. in Arrested Development is constantly being manipulated by his parents.  George Sr. always seems to have a strange faith in G.O.B. and he uses him in his attempts to run the company from prison.  Lucille states early in the show that she, “[doesn’t] care for G.O.B.”, making it clear that she holds contempt for him, and has zero faith in him.  Despite this George Sr. consistently gives G.O.B. precarious, dubious, and important tasks.  More often than not, G.O.B. fails at his assignments and is made the laughing stock of those around him, and in addition to that, Michael usually points out how their father is using or manipulating G.O.B.  It never matters though.  G.O.B. is always loyal to his father.

George Sr. is the patriarch of the family and the founder of The Bluth Company.  As the official leader of the company, he may have performed some light treason, and it landed him in jail.  It seems that the only thing George Sr. has a bigger penchant for than hiding things in walls is his habit of dedicating himself to faith and using it to dissociate himself from trouble.  He seems to be a natural leader as he constantly finds ways of building a following throughout the series, and he often uses spirituality to achieve those means.  

In the first season he becomes a dedicated Jew after being thrown in solitary confinement.   He uses his powers of faith to build a following among his fellow prisoners, get Cindi Lightballoon to divulge that she’s a mole, and ultimately escape from prison by hiding a syringe of medicine in his yarmulke that he uses to fake a heart attack.  

In the second he briefly converts to Christianity when he finds a pamphlet in the attic, and this is when I’m going to become a little speculative.  Behind the scenes Fox had reduced Arrested Development’s season from 22 to 18 episodes during filming.  This means they needed to finish the season with 4 fewer episodes than planned.  This left the writers scrambling to just finish the story. It happened again in season 3 when Fox reduced their episodes from 22 to 13 during filming, meaning a lot of content needed to be slashed.  In season two George Sr.’s foray into Christianity seemed to be cut short, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was due to these cuts.  I believe that if we had a full 22 episodes in seasons 2 and 3, we would have seen George Sr.’s devout Christianity play out, and we would have likely seen his conversion to Islam in the third season.  This would follow the pattern of Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and eventually Mormonism.  It would also make sense within the story itself as the Bluths became confronted with the fact that they were building houses in Iraq.  This is only a theory, however, and it will likely never be confirmed.  I would have loved to watch George Sr. become a devout Mormon, but alas, it was not to be.

This leaves Lucille as the counterpart to Lucifer.  Despite being surrounded by people with questionable morals, Lucille always demonstrates a more feverish commitment to heathenism and selfishness than her counterparts.  She always has a drink in her hand and is constantly trying to manipulate her family and the company for her own gain.  At the end of season 3 it is revealed that she was the mastermind behind all of the actions that led to the treason charges.  If any character in Arrested Development is the embodiment of evil, it’s Lucille Bluth.

This is the most interesting part of this allegory.  I like the idea that God and Lucifer are more than accomplices to the misery of the world, but they’re actually spouses.  God is a builder.  In becoming a successful builder he acquires fortune and power, but he has done so by following the nefarious instructions of his spouse, Lucifer.   He’s just patsy, but he is unable to confront the repercussions of his actions.  At a loss of how to get out of his responsibilities, he creates religion so he can weasel his way out of facing the punishment of his complicity to Lucifer’s crimes.   

It also speaks to the nature of Lucifer and evil itself.  In the Bible, Lucifer tempts Jesus in the desert.  Lucifer can’t use magic powers to corrupt Jesus, he must manipulate and tempt him, and this is what Lucille does too.  Lucille convinces George Sr. to perform treason by tempting him with more riches and power, and she plays her children off each other so she can always retain control over the family.  

In the very beginning of the series, Michael expects that George Sr. will put him in charge of The Bluth Company, but he puts Lucille in charge instead.  Lucille is quickly cast aside and Michael becomes the eventual CEO of the company, but Lucille is still set up in her penthouse, and she uses her powers of influence and manipulation to control the company and ensure her steady income flow.  This is similar to Lucifer being cast out of heaven because of his thirst for power, but even though he is cast away, he sits in the depths of hell and uses deceit and temptation to influence mortals.  

These are clear indicators that this was a deliberate and thought out theme that was put into the show.  Michael and G.O.B.’s names are direct references of their Biblical counterparts, and while George Sr. and Lucille aren’t directly named after their counterparts (naming characters God and Lucifer would be a tad on the nose) their names are close enough, and their actions demonstrate who they’re meant to represent.  

What does this mean? Arrested Development puts forth the idea that God is complicit in the horrors of the world.  While atrocities are never directly his idea, he is often fooled by his partner Lucifer into going along with the plan.  As a result he creates religions in which he can put himself in the light of being a perfect being, one who could never be responsible for the crimes of which he has been accused.

Television shows - especially comedies - are not often seen as forms of art.  This could be because of the sheer volume on television shows that exist, the fact that they’re largely controlled by corporations and executives, or just the existence of reality television, but if you look back to Shakespeare, his art was usually commissioned by the aristocracy and royalty.  Does this make Shakespeare any less of an artist? Of course not.  Arrested Development is a narrative with depth and it also holds a mirror to American culture in the 2000’s.  It directly tackles the American war in Iraq and the crash of the housing bubble.  It is a show with strong thematic expression and I hope it will be remembered in the canon as one of America’s great television series.  In closing, here is one of my favourite bits from the show:

Thanks for reading!