In “How to Tell a Story,” Rodriguez explains that creatively mature television series have “giant overarching narratives that [are] told over a long series of episodes.” He compares this method of storytelling to that of a novel rather than a series of self-contained episodes. While each episode of Arrested Development does have a smaller arc, the show is serialized to the point that the continuing narrative must be watched in order and the “Act Two” of the series is always developing.
To examine this narrative arc, we can look at both Episode 1 and Episode 5 of Season 2. Both of these episodes have smaller arcs. In Episode 1, the family struggles to prove that they don’t need Michael while Michael struggles with the feeling that he might actually need them. In Episode 5, Michael debates whether or not to turn in his father in order to gain immunity. Both of these plotlines are resolved by the end of their respective episodes.
However, there is a larger arc that spreads the course of these five episodes, containing all of the smaller arcs and telling a bigger story that goes back to the show’s premise. The opening of Season 2 recaps information from the end of last season, telling the audience that George Sr. faked his death and escaped in order to avoid legal troubles. Season 1 dealt with these troubles while George Sr. was in jail, but Season 2 will explore them with him on the run and how that affects the family.
The first five episodes of Season 2 revolve around this larger arc of George Sr.’s escape and absence, and this drives many of the smaller arcs in these episodes—such as the family hiring a bounty hunter to find him, Michael and Gob’s brotherly competition over their father’s affection, and trying to keep the company afloat despite the legal troubles.
In a separate post, “Juggling Characters and Storylines,” a quote from Stephen Tobolowsky explains that the first act of a television show is simple, because it involves introducing characters and initial conflict. The trouble with a television show is how to move into Act Two and to keep it going as long as possible. In a movie, you have your typical three acts, but a television show typically wants to stay on the air as long as possible, so the challenge becomes how to keep Act Two both going and fresh.
Arrested Development tackled this problem in its second season by this opening arc of George Sr. out of prison. It uses the series’ original premise in a new way to get new storylines and obstacles.