Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
While it was fairly big news in the online circles I run in (**cough** **cough**, Twitter) many of you probably aren’t aware of the recent passing of Jessica Walter.
Walter was an actress who, having just recently turned 80 years old, has been in movies and on TV since the 1960s. While she had a string of major appearances in film during that time and into the 1970s, I and many others largely know her today for a role she took on much later in life. In 2003, Walter made her debut as Lucille Bluth, one of the lead characters in the cult classic sitcom Arrested Development.
Arrested Development is a quirky show, all about the life of the once massively wealthy Bluth family, headed by patriarch and real estate mogul George Bluth who, in the first episode, is arrested for spending company money for his and his family’s personal gain.
While I was way too young to have heard of the show when it originally aired let alone have watched it, I learned about it online when I was in middle school. Though it wasn’t overly successful during its original run, Arrested Development developed a cult following on the internet. The show’s original three seasons have since been recognized for their lightning fast pacing, clever visual gags, hilarious word play, great callbacks and its incredible main cast of characters that you as the viewer love to hate.
Walter’s Lucille Bluth is one of, if not the member of the Bluth family that you love to hate the most. She plays the part of the stereotypical multimillionaire’s wife to a tee. Lucille is well known to enjoy a vodka tonic at any hour of the day (and a piece of toast for breakfast), she’s flippantly racist to their house staff, is largely ambivalent toward her children and grandchildren and is just generally disconnected from reality.
Writing this, I realize that she doesn’t sound particularly likeable on paper, which is kind of the point. The irony of the whole show plays so well that all of her and the other character’s eccentricities are played up for laughs, but not to a point where the whole thing feels too silly. There’s even moments from time to time where you can actually empathize with them.
It’s incredibly well written, with jokes coming at you fast and furious. It’s one of the only sitcoms I’ve ever seen where you really need to watch it multiple times to appreciate (and catch) every joke. The show not only makes callbacks to joke setups made earlier in the episode, but they have jokes that span multiple seasons. It certainly isn’t a show you can fully appreciate by just having it on in the background like Friends or The Office.
As I said before, the show came to an abrupt end in 2006 as a result of its poor viewership. While critics loved the show, it didn’t land with general audiences. To me, this seems to be because the show was ahead of its time; with all of its call backs and continued plotlines, it wasn’t TV made to be enjoyed week to week, you really needed to watch it in long stretches.
Because of that, when it was announced in 2012 that Netflix would produce a fourth season of the show, fans were incredibly excited, myself included. Netflix was the perfect place for a show like Arrested Development to thrive, as the show was designed to be binge-watched.
However, season four, which came out in 2013, was considered underwhelming by fans and critics alike. Netflix followed it up with a two-part fifth season in 2018 and 2019, but reception to that was not much warmer. The pacing had been slowed significantly from the original and the writing had become convoluted just for the sake of being confusing, rather than as a means of setting up intricate jokes and great character moments.
Despite the show’s generally lacklustre reception in these new Netflix seasons, Walter was one member of the cast who was still able to shine through. Despite being a decade older (she was 78 when the fifth season came out) she was as quick as ever. She didn’t miss a beat stepping back into her beloved character and it was great to watch her back in full form one more time.
Sadly, that will never happen again. I do hope for the sake of the integrity and quality of the show, this marks the end of Arrested Development once and for all. She was an integral part of the show that could not be written out (or even worse, re-cast). It would be a shame if they even attempted it.
Despite the sad news of Walter’s passing, it has pushed me to give Arrested Development one more watch, which I know I’ll get a kick out of. There’s something new to catch literally every time I watch the show, so I know I won’t be disappointed. For those of you who haven’t heard of the show until now, or maybe just hadn’t given it a chance before, I would really recommend you do that.
Take the time once exams are over to sit down and give the first two episodes your attention for the 44 minutes. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.