As Seen on TV: Bluth Company / Enron

By Mike Schuster  OCT 14, 2009 9:05 AM

The journey from riches to rags is a quick one.


Lauded by critics, cherished by fans, unwatched by the masses. Fox's (NWS) Arrested Development was a spectacular single-camera mockumentary and an aberration in the deluge of mindlessly banal sitcoms. Featuring an ensemble cast whose talent reached the heights of the Cheers gang in its heyday, the show followed the literal trials and tribulations of the Bluth family -- an upper-class clan embroiled in accounting scandals with the family company.

Jeffrey Tambor plays patriarch George Bluth, Sr., who cooked the company books as CEO of the Bluth Company -- a real estate-development firm responsible for building mini-mansions and, yes, a few homes for Saddam Hussein and his cronies. The Securities and Exchange Commission arrests the senior Bluth and freezes company assets. Aside from the personal shenanigans in which each family member becomes involved, the series documents George's son Michael and his struggle to keep the company afloat.

Arrested Development was created by Mitchell Hurwitz in the wake of the dot-com crash and the bevy of accounting fraud scandals from Enron, Worldcom, Tyco International (TYC), and Adelphia. Hurwitz has stated he was interested in writing a "riches to rags"-style story that poked fun at white-collar criminals and the end to wanton extravagances in their downfall. As development for the series progressed in 2002 and 2003, more cases of underhanded money management popped up in the news, fueling plot lines for seasons to come.

As a whole, the Bluths were a perfect representation of the self-absorption and obliviousness to reality that seems to be ingrained with every high-roller nabbed by a federal agency. There's little difference between the suggestive ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David featured in former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski's $2 million gala and Gob Bluth's eager destruction of the family yacht in an eye-catching magic trick.

The Bluth family's unorthodox legal proceedings and business moves mirrored almost every step that came with corporate fiasco like the Enron implosion. Executive compensation, audit committees, plea bargaining, credit downgrades, and -- if a small number of conspiracy theorists are correct -- a faked death.

Following George Sr.'s arrest -- and his twin brother's after a mistake in identity -- both men set up websites that plead their innocence. Martha Stewart took similar actions once she was accused of securities fraud, launching as a way to win back her down-home, immaculate image.

Specific name dropping wasn't unusual during the series' run. A confiscated scrapbook by former Enron CEO Ken Lay illustrates "Where the Money's Buried" -- with an arrow cheekily aimed up an elephant's rear (GOP pun fully intended). A prostitute casually mentions she knows of several business associates "consulting" at Enron. And the family begins heartily celebrating once Jim Cramer upgrades the Bluth Company's status from "Sell" to "Don't Buy" on CNBC's Mad Money.

Arrested Development's reference-heavy story lines not only skewered the exploits of Ken Lay and Adelphia's John Rigas, but also the questionable actions of the Bush Administration during the war in Iraq. Allusions are made to George W. Bush's infamous seven-minute pause while reading The Pet Goat, Cheney's executive decisions as vice president, faulty WMD intelligence, Lynddie England's pose-and-point at Abu Ghraib, and a "Mission Accomplished" banner to celebrate a dubious victory.

Although each family member -- from the boozy Lucille to the naive Buster -- had won sympathy and adoration from viewers, Arrested Development tapped in to the public's extreme schadenfreude to see white-collar criminals squirm in their own comeuppance. If the series caught on with the viewing public and continued today, it surely would've earned more adulation for sticking it to Golden Parachuted executives.

For every person who begged to see a Bernie Madoff "Perp Walk," there's an Arrested Development fan dying to get out.

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