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Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The Lost Roles of Arrested Development

It's now been five years since Arrested Development's too-soon cancellation; and we all know the story of how the show's subsequent rise to popularity on DVD turned the cult classic into a good old regular classic. It was a case of a high-quality comedy finding the respect it deserved a little too late, but it's still nice to see the series get its due. Arrested Development is a rare example of a show in which everything gelled: the razor-sharp writing, the stellar cast, and the inventive storytelling techniques. The cast is perhaps the most remarkable piece of this equation. The central nine-person ensemble stands as one of the best in TV history, composed of a slew of talented but disparate actors spread across three generations, who each have their own rhythms and comedic styles but still manage to form the core of a fully-functional fictional universe. It took a little finagling to get this group of performers together, and while many talented actors were considered or auditioned to play members of the Bluth family, switching out any of the key players could have drastically affected the show's tone and spelt its doom.

Let's take a look at some of the actors who almost ended up regulars on Arrested Development and how this could have affected their careers, the show, and the comedy world at large.

Andy Kindler
The role: Gob Bluth
Who got it: Will Arnett
Comic's comic Andy Kindler mentioned on an episode of Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland’s lovely podcast, Pop My Culture, last year that he auditioned for the part of Gob Bluth when Arrested Development was being cast. Kindler, a heavy-set, neurotic stand-up, seems a far cry from suave, macho Will Arnett, so the character was obviously refined once Arnett was cast. If Kindler were cast, the show would have likely focused more on Gob's ineptness as a magician and less on his smooth confidence and superficial charm. Kindler's a master of parodying and commenting on hacky stand-up comedy and he could have created a funny spin on this character by bringing that same precision to the world of magic.

Gob was a breakthrough role for Will Arnett, allowing him to branch out to a wide variety of high-profile feature, TV, and voice roles. He's perfectly-suited for the part to play Gob and it's tough to imagine anyone else in the part. If Andy Kindler had won the role instead of him, this would have prevented Arnett's ascent to stardom and changed the direction of the show, probably making it less popular, as Arnett's interpretation of Gob is one of the most beloved in a series full of stand-outs.

David Cross
The role: Buster Bluth
Who got it: Tony Hale
Before he was immortalized as bicurious Bluth in-law Tobias Fünke, David Cross was approached to play Buster. He opted for the Tobias role instead, since it was only supposed to be a recurring part at the time, it would have required him to spend less time in L.A. He ended up having just as much screentime when Tobias was made a series regular, but Cross was the perfect fit for the role he ended up inhabiting, like pretty much everybody else on the show. Cross as Buster sounds like it could be amusing but it would have thrown Arrested Development off-course and tampered with the show’s winning dynamic if he had taken this role instead.

Andy Dick
The role: Tobias Fünke
Who got it: David Cross
In an interview with Scott Aukerman on IFC earlier this year, Andy Dick revealed that Mitch Hurwitz had wanted him for a part on Arrested Development. Dick wasn't positive about which character he was sought for, but he presumed that it was Tobias Fünke, which I'd say is a pretty safe assumption given the similarities between Dick's personal life and that of Tobias. Dick couldn't take the part because he was locked down to the ABC sitcom Less than Perfect at the time, which Mitch Hurwitz had left in order to work on Arrested Development.

The Tobias character was originally intended to just be a guest starring role (as was George Sr.), but everyone was so impressed with David Cross's performance that they kept him around. Needless to say, Cross was the right choice for Tobias and Andy Dick couldn't have done it any better, but Dick's version of the character could have been equally absurd and frightening in its own right. Given Dick's commitment to the ABC show he was on, he couldn't have taken this part full-time anyway, so Mitch Hurwitz hiring him would have involved Dick making occasional guest appearances and Tobias being a much smaller character on the show. Dick would eventually make his way onto Arrested Development in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo as the host of a fictional TV show, Why We Were Scared of the 70’s.

Rainn Wilson
The role: Gob Bluth
Who got it: Will Arnett
A few years before being cast as The Office's Dwight Schrute, Rainn Wilson auditioned to play Gob and was a finalist for the part. While he seems a better fit for the character than Andy Kindler, Wilson was destined for a different role. He would have made an interesting Gob though, albeit a much different one than the version we eventually got. Wilson's Gob wouldn't have had Will Arnett's gravel-voiced smoothness, but he would have been a little more demented and dweeby.

Rainn Wilson booking the Arrested Development job would have hurt the comedy industry by preventing Will Arnett from finding his breakout role and keeping Wilson away from the role that made him famous on The Office. The Office and Arrested Development have been two of the best sitcoms of the last decade, and Dwight Schrute and Gob Bluth are arguably the most beloved characters on each of their respective series. The Office-sans-Wilson and Arrested Development-sans-Arnett could have still worked, but both shows would have been weakened considerably, which would have had a devastating effect on all of the shows and comedians they've influenced and inspired.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • Morley Zhi@facebook
  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    Arrested Development is like the universe. A million things went right and created "life"/"an amazing sitcom", and the smallest detail being different would result in the "end of life as we know it"/"the show not being very good."

  • Andrea@twitter

    I cannot get enough of this series.