Arrested Development Was Meant To Be Improvised — But The Writing Was Too Good

Arguably one of the best TV comedies of all time, every single episode of "Arrested Development" is brimming with memorable dialogue. Whether your mind drifts toward "good for her!" or "there's always money in the banana stand," you're bound to recall an absolutely stellar example of punch-line prowess and comedic delivery. Clearly, the show's stacked cast only aided in its effortless ability to land jokes, making some viewers wonder if the on-screen talent generated as many memorable lines as the folks in the writer's room. After all, hilarious shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Reno 911" are well-regarded for their casts' ability to freely improvise jokes, often eschewing a scripted approach altogether. However, the intricacy inherent to an "Arrested Development" gag often left little room for input on behalf of the cast. While there was never any rule against improvising on set, the players of "Arrested Development" honestly felt that their scripted dialogue required little improvement.

This is where the magic of "Arrested Development" lies — the actors involved are some of the best comedic performers of their respective generations (Jessica Walters, David Cross, Michael Cera), but the scripts they were given for each episode were just too good to tamper with.

Iron-clad scripts made improvisation difficult

Considering that "Arrested Development" is essentially a mockumentary, it would be easy to assume that it follows the loosely improvisational method employed in similar sitcoms like "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation." While this approach wasn't necessarily discouraged, the layers of references and allusions that become enmeshed in the comedic fabric of "Arrested Development" made it difficult for actors to make off-the-cuff revisions to their dialogue, despite the impressive comedic backgrounds of each featured actor.

During a panel at the 2011 New Yorker Festival, Ron Howard (who executive produced the series and served as its omniscient narrator) said that he encountered this very phenomenon during various set visits.

"I would go (to the set) to talk to (the cast) and ask them if they were improvising, and they would say, 'We're free to, but the scripts are so great.'"

Though "Arrested Development" was a critical darling with a vocal fan base, Fox canceled the show in 2006 after only three seasons. But this wouldn't be the last that people heard from the dysfunctional Bluth family—it would take seven years for a then-burgeoning streaming service to take the reins and introduce a new generation of sitcom enthusiasts to the show.

David Cross switched it up for the season 4 revival

When Netflix announced that a long-demanded new season of "Arrested Development" would hit its service in 2013, fans felt that their prayers had finally been answered—particularly because the central cast agreed to reprise their roles (yes, even the legendary Liza Minelli came back to portray Lucille 2). Some new faces were also added to the roster, one being comedian Maria Bamford, who plays Tobias' (played by David Cross) fledgling love interest after he and Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) seem to split for good. Often sharing scenes with Cross, Bamford noted in an interview with Slate that the actor was able to improvise to his hearts' content. As she put it, "improv was encouraged" and Cross was "able to improvise whole, hilarious monologues."

Honestly, there's a case to be made that the subsequent fourth and fifth Netflix seasons of "Arrested Development" pale in comparison to the original three-season run. Perhaps that's why Bamford observed an abundance of improv on-set from her frequent scene partner—the scripts just weren't as immaculate from the get-go as they used to be. With a seven-year gap between seasons three and four, it also makes sense that the show's typical reliance on cultivated inside jokes and references might not fly. While longtime fans of "Arrested Development" might wish to believe that the revival was made simply to cater to them, the truth is that the show needed to foster a new fanbase — meaning that the rigidity of the show's writing probably needed some loosening up.

As it stands, the original three-season run of "Arrested Development" remains the clear champion when it comes to boasting some of the greatest scripted TV gags ever written — but sometimes, all viewers really need is a good-old-fashioned improvised riff.