‘Arrested Development’s’ Trump Crystal Ball
How the story of a boorish, wealthy real-estate family up to their elbows in shady deals eerily predicted the Trump White House.
And now, the story of a wealthy family in way over their head. And the one nation that has no choice but to turn to a television show to make sense of it all.
Donald Trump’s rapid ascent to the Oval Office is so unprecedented that it’s invited comparisons with other pieces of art or history. The unread have compared his administration to plot points in the Harry Potter series. The uncreative have compared Trump to World War II-era Axis leaders, to oligarchs. He’s a Roman emperor, he’s a cartoon wizard, he’s a real housewife, he’s whatever cartoon character a blogger hated the most as a child. But there’s one show that embodies Trumpland unlike any other. It’s Arrested Development.
Netflix has just announced that it’s greenlit a fifth season of Arrested Development, the cult classic-cum-cultural touchstone that only seems more zeitgeisty as time passes.
Creator Mitch Hurwitz conceived Arrested Development as a sitcom shot in the style of a reality TV show depicting the downfall of a wealthy family that had engaged in foibles like tax evasion and “light treason.” Led by a powerful patriarch, the gang of soulless idiots and grifters floundered away from the life with which they’d grown accustomed and into a higher-stakes world way more complicated than any of them had the capacity to manage. Their shameless self-serving was only matched by their dramatic lack of self-awareness.
The show’s original run offers catharsis in a world so thick with bullshit that a person can practically feel it blocking one’s pores. Arrested Development is so applicable to Trump’s White House that it feels supernatural.
The Bluths, like the Trumps, earned their money as land developers and personal brand shills, slapping their name on everything from housing developments to products that don’t actually work. The Bluths have The Cornballer, The Donald has Trump University. The Bluths have Lindsay’s Bee business, the Trump’s have Ivanka’s tacky QVC jewelry. The Bluths, like the Trumps, have been involved in shady land deals with countries that are maybe-not-OK to deal with, legally or ethically. The Bluths, like the Trumps, even have their own surprisingly successful politician.
Arrested Development invites the viewer into the creepy insular micro-culture the Bluth family has built around itself. In Bluth world, incest jokes make frequent appearances. Unacceptable attraction between members of the same family are explored as plot points. A parent and child dance and pose for photos together in a way that makes viewers very uncomfortable. We are still discussing the Bluths, of course. Nothing untoward or strange is occurring in the Trump family, nothing at all.
More devoted fans of the show will notice parallels between the characters in Arrested Development and the ones in Trump World. Donald Trump, the physically imposing patriarch of his family, might seem the obvious George Bluth equivalent, but I contend the George Bluth of the whole deal may actually be the recently deceased Roger Ailes, making Donald and his majestic mane of hair George’s twin brother, Oscar. The president’s offspring Erik and Don Jr. are the Buster and Gob Bluth—the large adult sons, if you will—of the gang. Stephen Miller is, somehow, also Buster Bluth. Ivanka is Lindsay, shallow fundraiser host and lukewarm warrior for various causes she doesn’t bother to fully understand. Mikes Pence and Huckabee, their famous homophobia combined with an unfortunate habit of speaking in wild double entendre, are both the Tobias.
Kellyanne Conway is Maggie Lizer, the fast-talking lawyer who lies as brazenly as any true Bluth. Melania is Starla, the Business Model with a sad and mysterious past (and rabies). Tiffany, whom everybody forgets about, is the Ann (Her?), the teenage girlfriend of George Michael whom the characters routinely forget about. Sean Spicer is the Barry Zuckercorn, the family’s shitty lawyer. Jared thinks he’s the Michael, the hero, but he’s really the George Michael, the awkward teen with the recessed chin. Marla Maples is the Kitty Sanchez, the ex-secretary with enough information on the company to blackmail the Bluths. Scott Baio, who plays the family lawyer Bob Loblaw, exists in both Trump World and the Bluth company. Steve Bannon is Gene Parmesan, the loud family detective who shows up at inconvenient times, much to the delight of Lucille. Unfortunately, there is no Lucille in the Trump family. Nobody in Trump world is worthy of the title, except for Ivana, if she’d stuck around.
Because every member of the Bluth family is so unreliable, the only source of truth in the series is the disembodied voice of Ron Howard, the narrator. Usually, the narrator’s corrections, brutal in their brevity, consist of two words: “He didn’t.” or “He hadn’t.” or “She wouldn’t.” In Trump World, the role of the narrator is played by what feels like millions of journalists and citizen-journalists who turn every Donald Trump tweet into a joke prompt, into fodder for outrage. It’d probably be easier if Ron Howard just fact-checked the news, but if he did that, we’d all be out of a job.
Unfortunately for television fans yearning for mirth in a world of weaponized garbage, the new season of Arrested Development won’t be available until 2018.
There’s no word on how many seasons of the Trump administration remain.