Navigate to Arts & Letters section


Try as it might, ABC’s Sons & Daughters is no Arrested Development

Stephen Vider
March 08, 2006

Arrested Development, Fox’s much admired but ultimately doomed comedy, hasn’t yet been buried a month and ABC has trotted out Sons & Daughters, a sitcom about a diverse clan of dysfunctional suburbanites. It’s an obvious copy. There’s Cameron, a lukewarm everyman with the best of intentions and the worst of results; his awkward son with a previous wife; two flighty sisters, one of them trapped in a sexless marriage—and don’t let me forget her wise-beyond-her-years daughter.

But Sons & Daughters is Arrested Development for nice people. Where Mitchell Hurwitz might have a punchline, Sons & Daughters has a hug or a heart-to-heart, without a wink of irony. Even the zingers—”You’d have been great at Nuremberg,” Cameron tells his insensitive mother—don’t zing.

That line comes after Cameron’s adorably pint-sized daughter has repeated these words of wisdom from Great-Aunt Rae: “We’re going to Hell, because we’re Jews.” It’s funny, principally because a child is saying it, but its real purpose is exposition. As Cameron replies, “My kids are Jews, my wife is a Jew.” Why not just turn to the camera already?

What made Arrested Development a delight, even in its faltering final year, was that as broad as the characters could be, they always stayed true to themselves. It wasn’t until George Sr. had a religious awakening in prison that anyone saw fit to mention that the Bluths were Jewish. And when George ditched the yarmulke at season’s end, it remained unspoken, even when George Michael started going steady with a puritanical Christian. On Sons and Daughters, just in case you missed it the first time, Cameron’s wife, played by Debra Messing clone Gillian Vigman, says, “I’m a Jew saying that’s a Christmas card!”

The premiere even began with the dubious announcement that the show was partially improvised. But Arrested Development only felt improvised: it was actually carefully scripted. Of course, there’s nothing particularly fresh about Sons & Daughters. Fred Goss, who plays Cameron, feels like a ripoff of The Office‘s Steve Carell. And the mixed marriage at its center was already stale this fall, when The War at Home, a Fox sitcom so unfathomably unfunny it makes Sons & Daughters sound like Oscar Wilde, wiggled in a Jewish dad and his shiksa wife.

The first episode of Sons & Daughters ends with Cameron’s son drawing a Hitler mustache below his sleeping aunt’s nose in permanent marker. The show’s buildup makes me worry it’s going to stick around for a while. If so, are Hitler jokes the best it can do?