By Joe Armenta
Like a good American, I spent this Memorial Day weekend shamelessly streaming the entire fourth season of “Arrested Development.” Alongside disturbing hilarity, I found that the new episodes provide insight into post-recession America and shed light on some of the hardships brought about by the crisis.
“Arrested Development” revolves around the wealthy Bluth family whose lives are put on hold after the head of the household, George Bluth Sr., is convicted of violating federal financial laws including conducting business with Saddam Hussein. The show focuses on his son, Michael, as he attempts to rebuild his father’s real-estate development enterprise while trying to hold the family together. The initial three seasons aired from 2003 to 2006 and returned last week after a 7-year hiatus.
Much has changed since the show’s abrupt cancellation. When the Bluth family was last seen on television, George W. Bush was still president, razr flip phones were in high demand and Myspace was the hottest means of social networking. Moreover, the housing bubble was at its peak with the national home prices increasing by 10.5 percent. In May 2006, the median cost for single-family housing in San Diego hit $574,000. By March 2012, the same index was priced at $336,250.
It is within this timespan that the new season of “Arrested Development” spends the first few episodes reviewing. Many of the characters are found victims of the crisis. Michael discovers himself living in his son’s dormitory after the housing market crash leaves his prized real-estate project worthless. His sister Lindsay and her husband Tobias buy an upscale house in Orange County mansion despite having no source of income and bad credit. It is quickly subject to foreclosure.
These subtleties add to the comedic rhythm of the show and also play off of the greater economic catastrophe of the mid- to late-2000s. While it is funny to see all members of the Bluth family essentially becoming homeless and taking refuge in the leftover remnants of their family’s empire, the conditions that they face, while hyperbolic, are not unique.
Since September 2008, 4.2 million households have filed for foreclosure. A report by the Urban Institute finds that the process of foreclosure can have an impact on a family’s level of stress, its relationship with one another and its overall feeling of stability. Foreclosure also affects the greater community by adding financial stress to local governments and by decreasing property values.
Those affected by foreclosure are not the only victims of the crisis. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual “State of Homelessness” report, over 6.8 million poor families are living “doubled-up” in the United States—defined by two or more families residing in a single-resident household. The report also showcases how median income is declining while housing and rent prices are increasing. In March, San Diego saw its cost of housing increase by 12 percent. While people are earning less money, the cost of living is getting higher.
All of this lies in the backdrop of “Arrested Development.” The new season is about hitting rock bottom and finding yourself handcuffed in a storage unit after a failed Christian-themed magic show, or coming home only to be arrested for soliciting a minor who happens to be your daughter. Yet, the show is also about recovery, both economically and personally. The Bluth suffers endless hardship, but remains at the same dysfunctional level of as they were during the first three seasons.
In short, the new season is about persevering through America’s arrested development.
Photo by Ammon Beckstorm