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Our Arrested Development

The Bluths, returning this weekend for a fourth season, are the Jewish world’s archetypal family

Liel Leibovitz
May 24, 2013

Technically, just one of the characters in Arrested Development, the cult series embarking on its much-anticipated fourth season this weekend, is Jewish: the would be paterfamilias George Bluth Sr., who slaps on a yarmulke as soon as he ends up in prison, way back in the show’s early episodes. But look closer, and the Bluths—the whole lot of them—aren’t just Jewish, but classic archetypes of Jewish life. Each of them represents a sort we know too well, not only from our own families but also from the world at large. Here, then, is our field guide.

. . . is the grandpa you love, mock, admire, and despise. Careless, dashing, and felonious, he’s the guy we all want in charge until we realize he may have struck deals with Saddam Hussein, mistaking him for the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Signature quote: “My back is in knots. I haven’t had a massage since prison.”

. . . is the brother you can’t believe you have. Like his magic illusions—never call them tricks—he’s impressive for the first five seconds, at which point you realize that his confidence is just a highly evolved form of madness. Signature quote: “If I can’t find a horny immigrant by then, I don’t deserve to stay here.”

. . . is the brother-in-law you can’t believe your sister married. Deeply committed to his ideas and his emotions, he fails to realize that they’re too idiosyncratic, and awkwardly put, to make much sense to those around him. Signature quote: “As a psychiatrist, I was a professional twice over—an analyst and a therapist. The world’s first ‘analrapist.’ ”

. . . is that boy giving you creepy looks at Hebrew school. Fifty years ago, he’d been known as a nebbish. Free to pursue his worst tendencies, he’s to the spineless dweeb what Godzilla is to a newt. Signature quote: “These are my awards, Mother. From Army. The seal is for marksmanship, and the gorilla is for sand racing. Now if you’ll excuse me, they’re putting me in something called Hero Squad.”

. . . is the girl in high school who didn’t realize she wasn’t as attractive as she’d imagined until it was much too late, at which point she was dependent on the kindness of strangers. Signature quote: “You know what? I’m going to throw on a skirt, take off my underwear, and make your Pop-pop proud!”

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.