The Black Comedy That Inspired The Russo Brothers' Arrested Development Run

If "Arrested Development" taught us one thing, it's that there's always money in the banana stand. The show's absurd humor and mockumentary style was a unique approach to TV comedy when it debuted in 2003. But during an interview with GQ, former showrunners the Russo Brothers revealed it was actually inspired by one of their favorite black comedies — "Man Bites Dog."

"It's really expensive to make single-camera comedies," said Joe. "And you know, we don't want to do a sitcom. So, what do we do? Can we go guerrilla with it? Anth and I loved a movie called 'Man Bites Dog' that had won Cannes, you know, a few years earlier."

The hit film was a crime mockumentary telling the tale of a film crew following a serial killer, only to end up wrapped up in the murders, becoming accomplices to the killer's crimes. And while Ron Howard presumably never committed light treason, the Russos sure borrowed the film's chaotic, realistic style:

"It was a very twisted comedy that was shot extremely Verite, we love the style of it. And we said 'Look, we think we can use this as inspiration to make a show at a cheaper budget, that you know, has 30, 35 location changes over the course of 5 or 6 days of shooting.' Which was unheard of at the time, for television. It was very expensive to do that."

The cold, hard Bluth

Created by Mitchell Hurwitz and Ron Howard's Imagine Television, "Arrested Development" tried something fresh and exciting, stepping away from expensive sitcom traditions and taking a more guerrilla approach to shooting a TV show.

"It was the first primetime scripted show shot on digital video, not shot on film," said Anthony Russo. "That was all a part of the effort that Joe and I were bringing to it, that guerrilla energy that, you know, Ron Howard was looking for in terms of to shake things up."

The exaggerated realism of the Bluth family's escapades worked wonders. Of course, it helps that these monstrous caricatures of a wealthy family are so compelling. But I can't help thinking the show wouldn't have anywhere near the same kind of impact if it was shot like a regular sitcom. Instead, we find along for the ride – a much closer view of the Bluth's carnage than we might want.

And that's the true genius of "Arrested Development." As Anthony Russo added: 

"I think part of the reason why it works so well is because the show is completely absurdist, but to apply a very grounded Verite realism, documentary realism, to it felt pretty weird."

The result was that "Arrested Development" became an instant classic, spawning five seasons and a collection of memorable catchphrases. And it owes it all to a Belgian mockumentary from Cannes.