It’s only fitting that “Arrested Development,” the most self-referential show on TV, would go down chronicling its own demise.
The sitcom is essentially a lame duck after Fox announced in November that it wouldn’t order a full third season — broadcasting 13 episodes instead of 22. Though an Emmy-winning critical hit, its ratings have been paltry, averaging fewer than 5 million viewers this season.
Monday night’s episode blatantly parodied the show’s situation.
“The Bluths were desperate,” the narrator (Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning director and one of show’s executive producers) intoned about the show’s hyper-dysfunctional family. “The press had them all but finished.”
Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, then announced: “If we want a chance of keeping this family going past the next few weeks, we’re going to have to pull out all the stops.”
The episode — the ninth of the season — at various points pretended to be 3-D, trotted out celebrities including Andy Richter, Ben Stiller and Zach Braff, and turned into a pseudo-live broadcast.
The plot involved a fundraiser for the family’s legal bills — a veiled plea for the show itself. Though such a premise could be expected to rile network executives, Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said the network didn’t have a problem with the show.
“Our backs are against the wall and it’s really come to begging,” Michael Bluth said — which the narrator immediately followed with: “Please tell your friends about this show.”
The second season of “Arrested Development” was also cut from 22 episodes, to 18. Fox appealed for support for the program and the Web site http://www.SaveOurBluths.com was founded.
In May, the network surprised many by not only renewing “Arrested” for a third season, but moving it to 8 p.m. on Mondays — a move Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori called “audacious.”
“We have confidence in the show,” Liguori said at the time.
With Fox’s November announcement, “Arrested” has been rumored for a possible move to cable — and even that development was satirized in an exchange between Jeffrey Tambor’s George Bluth Sr. and Bateman’s Michael.
“I don’t think the Home Builders Organization is going to support us,” George says.
“Yeah, the HBO is not going to want us,” replies Michael. “What are we going to do?”
“I think it’s show time,” George then says.
Chris Alexander, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox, which produces the show, said both Showtime and ABC have expressed interest in “Arrested Development,” but no deal has yet to be reached.
The show has won six Emmys and one Golden Globe, but some critics have suggested it’s too zany to keep up with and the upper-class characters aren’t “relatable” to audiences.
In a concluding speech on Monday’s show, Bateman had even acknowledges that by saying: “We’ve been given plenty of chances, and maybe the Bluths just aren’t worth saving, maybe we’re not that likable. We’re very self-centered.”