The only real flaw in the third season of Mitch Hurwitz's flat-out brilliant sitcom Arrested Development is its unfortunate abbreviation. Fox delighted the show's fan base with a surprise pickup at the end of its second season, and then, apparently feeling remorseful about appeasing any segment of its audience not interested in American Idol, took it back, as far as they could; season three runs only 13 episodes, rather than the standard 22. Needless to say, there will be no season four.
Of course, this being Arrested Development and all, there are more laughs in those 13 episodes than a lifetime of just about any another live-action show. Hurwitz's show chronicles the twists and turns of the formerly wealthy, currently imperiled (and morally impaired) Bluth family, led by good son Michael (Jason Bateman). The show moves like a soap opera, cramming an hour's worth of bizarre plots into 20 minutes or so. Season three contains the most ambitious story arc of the show's run, wherein lovelorn Michael finds a new relationship with Rita (guest star Charlize Theron, appearing in five of the baker's dozen), a charming English woman harboring a deep secret. You may guess the twist ahead of the climactic revelation, but even if you do, it's just as much fun to notice the many clues that start to seem hilariously obvious.
Elsewhere, the show continues in its circular, self-referential patterns; "Making a Stand" has another round of lesson-teaching in the vein of season one's "Pier Pressure," and the series finale, "Harboring Resentment," is a brilliant mirror-image of the pilot. Arrested Development is probably the most densely self-referential sitcom ever, but not in the sense that it goes for self-mocking meta-jokes like The Simpsons (though there are some of those too, especially in "S.O.B.," where Michael tries to enlist help to "save" the floundering Bluths, hoping that maybe the "Home Builders Organization" - HBO - will come to the rescue).
No, Arrested excels even more at another kind of self-reference: the improv art of the callback. Jokes and motifs from all through the show's run aren't just re-used, but extended, deepened, and... OK, I'm starting to sound like Tobias Funke (David Cross), the show's go-to guy for cheerfully oblivious double-or-more etendres. Let's just say this is one of the few shows that derives endless mirth from its intelligence; once you're on its wavelength.
What keeps all of this from collapsing into a pile of repetition and self-regard is the variety of personalities in the Bluth family. Save for Michael's unfortunately named son George Michael (the letter-perfect young Michael Cera, who I hope finds work for the rest of his days), they're all selfish and unlikable in their own ways (as detailed in "S.O.B."). But selfishness comes in a terrific variety of comic flavors: the entitlement and clueless activism of Michael's sister Lindsay (Portia De Rossi); the self-centered acting career of her husband barely-closeted case Tobias (Cross); the arrogance and insecurity of older brother G.O.B. (Will Arnett), and the fussy, sheltered nerusoses of "baby" Buster (Tony Hale). There's also a conniving set of older parents (Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor; she wins) and George Michael's illicit cousin-crush Maebe (Alia Shawkat).
I'm resorting to listing characters and actors because everyone on this show is so damn good. That includes the writers, who, during the show's run, had a virtual monopoly on verbal wit in TV comedy, and directors like Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) mixing a fast pace with a deadpan documentary style. Basically, Arrested Development was one of the best things to ever happen to TV, as well as to me. Its cancellation was one of the worst.