And now the story of a bunch of vehicles that transport a wealthy family who lost everything and the one staircar that who had no choice but to keep knocking down banners. It's... the cars of Arrested Development.
Arrested Development made its triumphant (or not so triumphant, depending on who you ask) return with an all new season on Netflix. My run through the episodes made me realize that while this isn't the same show anymore, it still has that essence of Arrested Development that I had missed for so long.
While the focus of the show can hardly be considered vehicular, the way that cars are used throughout the series made me realize that they are as much a piece of the puzzle as the seal with the yellow bow tie, the Aztec Tomb, or a big bowl of candy beans. (Note: I tried to keep plot points of the new season to a minimum. If you don't want to know about cars in the new season, stop reading.)
There are three vehicles that sum up the former largesse of the Bluth family in very different ways.
First, there is the Ford F-350 stair car, which originally was used to put the Bluths onto their very own private plane. Of course, everything that the stair car does in the series is the opposite of its former aristocratic duties.
It takes down banners. It makes trips south of the border. It nearly helps people escape prison. It gets hop-ons. Oh, it's gonna get some hop ons. It's gonna race at LeMons. Like the stair car, most the other family vehicles in the Bluths' lives are left over from their times at the top.
That includes George Sr.'s W126 Mercedes S-Class, a car that was the ultimate expression of German over-engineering. And in a world of under-engineered Bluth houses with interiors that fall apart when you look at them wrong, the W126 is the perfect foil. It's George Sr.'s prized possession; the kids can't even eat ice cream inside the car.
The Mercedes also shows the resiliency of the Bluth clan. It has boulders in the back seat, crashes, runs over G.O.B., gets nail polish all over the interior, and somehow it still survives. If that isn't an analogy for the Bluth family's seemingly imposible ability to stay afloat, then I don't know what is.
In the same way that the Mercedes represents the the ability of the Bluth family to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and somehow survive, the family cabin (aka half a cabin on the back of a truck) shows them falling apart. It's appearances in season three solely represent times when the family is at its lowest points.
Michael and George Michael go to spend time in the cabin, which George Sr. kept a secret from Michael as a kid, only to find the cabin stolen out from under them by George Sr. Michael's MRF girlfriend Rita is also drugged by the family in the cabin, making it a central location of the low points of the Bluth family, especially when Lindsay is told her new car is a Lincoln.
Those cars represent the family as a whole, but there are other little trinkets that embody the characters themselves. For instance...
GOB has a Segway for a few reasons. He's a "magician," and a former leader of the Alliance of Magicians needs something magical to ride around on. The Segway basically stands on its own, which is craziness and kind of a magic trick.
The only actual car that GOB — who Tobias "pictures [living] in a lighthouse" — actually drives is a limousine. And it isn't a good one. It has a broken rear partition that lets GOB see things that only make him want to take a Forget Me Now.
Both of these vehicles tell a bigger story of GOB. Segways eliminate walking, which plays to GOB's other strengths of sitting and lying around the model home. A limo also represents sloth and laziness to some degree, which again fits GOB to a T. Except that he has to drive this one, not ride in it, which is really what he desires. Even in the new season, his desire to be in the back goes totally unfulfilled. Poor GOB, he's our fourth least favorite Bluth.
Michael is hard working and practical, which makes his bicycle a fitting choice at the start of the series. What isn't fitting is his sudden move to become flashy with a C5 Corvette convertible. He buys it because he wants to treat himself and hates literally everything else he sees. But the deciding factor is that the 'Vette comes with a jacket and sunglasses. He trades it for a a date with Sally Sitwell, which ends up not happening, because Michael is too conservative for a Corvette, and apparently not dangerous enough for Sally (Until they get together two episodes later).
Ever one to be embarrassed by his wheels, Michael gets a new car in the fourth season, a Subaru Impreza Something Street View car. It continues the tradition of Michael driving a multi-purpose vehicle and also lets them comment on Google's disparate views on privacy. They'll take pictures of private homes, but won't let the producers of Arrested use the name "Google" in filming. It also lets the writers say that the car will get a lot of "stares," and Michael can then say he's used to a car with a lot of "stairs."
Maeby, who is possibly the smartest of the Bluth family members, conned her way into a job as a studio executive producing hits like The Young Man And The Sea and Gangie, at the ripe old age of 15. And for her company car she chose a Mercedes SLK350. It's basically the only choice that the producers had for the car that a young up-and-comer in Hollywood would drive. A small, luxury cabriolet is the automotive choice of anyone in Maeby's position.
Frightened Inmate #2 and Analrapist Dr. Tobias Funke is considered the nelly of the family, but a lot of that is just based on the way he talks. But he might also be the only gear head in the Bluth clan. That's because he rents a Mini Cooper S as his car to fit the part as Mrs. Featherbottom. He claims that he had it shipped over from Blackstool and it was the car that he used to "drive the Roger Moore's about in."
Another car is much more telling, and it's what he drives in the brand new season four (spoilers ahead in the next two paragraphs if you haven't watched it yet). He has a late 1980s VW Cabriolet. This might be the most telling bit of car casting ever in Arrested. The VW Cabrio is not exactly known as a car that is driven by very manly men. In fact, it's known as a car for people that like hot sailors, or, better yet, hot seame.... Y'know what, let's just stick with hot sailors.
Of course, Tobias' frequently poor word choice doesn't help with this interpretation, even after he vehemently denies the idea that he's gay. Maybe it was his desire to let everyone know he was getting "a new start" on his license plate. ANUSTART just doesn't have the same ring to it.
That's what makes Tobias like nearly every VW Cabriolet buyer: They want a convertible, and there are better options out there, he's just a bit misguided and a little stupid. Or a lot stupid. It's another one of those cases where Tobias prematurely shot his wad on what was supposed to be a dry run, and now has something of a mess on his hands.
George Sr. seems to be a bit of a car fan too, because he sneaks out of his attic hiding place to head over to the Ford dealer. As he tells Michael, "have you seen the new Ford Mustang? You could hump that hood!" But he ended up testing something else, a white Ford Escape. Of course, the salesman explains, Ford gave the SUV that name in an attempt to shed the image that was created by the Bronco in the OJ Simpson chase.
There is also a brief appearance by an Austin Healey (maybe a 3000 MK as has been suggested?), driven by Michael's secretly intellectually disabled girlfriend's uncle Trevor. This casting call is a work in contrasts. Trevor is trying to intimidate Michael and he's doing it in one of the smallest and least intimidating British cars ever made. Yet, somehow, he is able to make Michael question if dating Rita is smart. It also makes him notice how bad a British person's breath can be.
Family lawyer Barry "Barry Good" Zuckerkorn is frequently seen in Cadillacs, sometimes a DTS and sometimes a CTS, depending on what the casting director had that day. The DTS fits him. It's a car driven by an older crowd, folks that think they're slick. Those folks tend to include realtors, lawyers, or really anyone that owns white shoes. And since the DTS has been discontinued, it was replaced in the lastest series by a pretty flashy CTS. Still fits the bill as far as I'm concerned.
Finally, nobody makes sexier cars than Aston Martin. Not many people are sexier than Isla Fisher. So of course Isla Fisher's character and the show's new love interest Rebel Alley drives a V8 Vantage Roadster. Everything about the character, from her accent to what she drives, oozes sex appeal.
A V8 Vantage is sexy and all, but it's no stair car. And any program that can make a moving airport staircase a popculture icon has done a far better job casting cars than most any show in recent memory.
Photo Credits: Arrested Development Wiki, Arrested Development screen shots