Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unless the family consists of a morally depraved patriarch and three highly differentiated siblings who, after years out of contact with each other, convene at the family home for a slowly escalating mess made inevitable by their respective and collective dysfunctions, in which case that family is unhappy in the same way as the Karamazovs.
If the same family is subjected to a criminal prosecution after being set up by a conniving quasi-sibling, if the brothers keep trying to mooch money off the family, and if the eldest brother is brash, the middle one smart, and the youngest one saintly, then we have to consider the possibility that this family actually is the Karamazovs, even if they call themselves the Bluths and they appear in an early 2000s Fox sitcom and not a nineteenth-century Russian novel. In which case Mitch Hurwitz (who has a degree in theology from Georgetown) is Dostoevsky. That’s probably the most farfetched parallel in this comparison. The rest are uncanny.
Once you realize that Annyong is Smerdyakov, everything else falls into place. [If I need to declare a spoiler alert for a show that has been off the air for six years and a novel published in the 19th century, then for courtesy’s sake, here it is.] He exists at the fringes of a family full of awful people, sort of a member and sort of not. No one suspects him of being the one-man conspiracy behind the set-up that brings the family down, partly because no one is quite sure it was a set-up at all, since the criminal charge against the family is just the sort of thing they would have done, whether they actually committed this particular crime or not. Everyone thinks he’s a simpleton, which also deflects suspicion. And remember that “Smerdyakov” is not a surname so much as a nickname meaning “Smelly,” so in both cases our villain’s name is a bad joke.
Kitty is Katya, the woman who nurtures a grudge against the family despite (or because of) her romantic interest in two of its members, and who has in her possession evidence that would clinch the prosecution’s case if she chose to reveal it, which she may or may not do.
Lucille Austero is Lise, a woman with a medical problem that limits her mobility and who starts off making eyes at the youngest son, then successfully romances him, then reverses herself and decides she wants to do whatever she can to hurt the family.
Tobias is Rakitin, the man who manages to stay involved in everyone’s affairs despite the fact that no one likes or respects him, whose plan to enter a more romantic profession (acting/journalism) is universally regarded as both unrealistic and annoying, and whose eager embrace of fashionable ideas (self-esteem and herbal medicine/socialism and materialism) makes him look even more foolish than he otherwise would.
Uncle Oscar is Father Zosima, an unworldly man of great gentleness and inner peace who is more of a father to the youngest son than the family patriarch is. Phoenix is Moscow, where Michael/Ivan keeps trying to escape to. And Fyodor Pavlovich’s taverns are his Cornballer. Some of these parallels are less critically fruitful than others.
G.O.B. is Dmitry. He’s a slave to his impulses. He’s the angriest Bluth and also the soppiest, when he gets sentimental. He lives off handouts and is always scheming to get more free money, which he feels he is entitled to morally if not legally. His lack of self-awareness frequently crosses the line into outright delusion. (If you don’t remember Dmitry as especially delusional, think of his scramble to obtain three thousand rubles in the hours leading up to his father’s murder. It was stupid of him to ask Mrs. Khokhlakov to lend it to him, for example, but “he had suddenly become totally convinced that she would not refuse him.” As the narrator says, “In spite of all his vices, Dmitry was very naive.”) G.O.B. even comes close to killing himself out of shame, in the season 2 episode “Sad Sack.”
Michael is Ivan. He is the smartest and most self-aware Bluth, a decidedly mixed blessing considering that it makes him the only one able to grasp just how awful everyone is. Most people think of Michael as the nice brother, but that’s only half right, since on an intellectual level he believes the ethical rules he lives by are idiotic. You shouldn’t put so much work into keeping together a family that isn’t worth it, his brain keeps telling him, just as Ivan keeps telling himself that he shouldn’t love a God who doesn’t deserve it. But both of them do the right thing in the end. As Ivan’s devil predicted, “You’re going to perform an act of great virtue, and you don’t even believe in virtue—that’s what keeps eating away at you.” This internal contradiction drives Michael to exasperation; if he were Russian, it would have driven him mad.
And Buster is Alyosha, not quite a Christ figure but certainly some sort of saint, as indeed he has to be to love his family. He is never judgmental although any reasonable person in his position would be. His good humor never fails, even when Jessie the publicist tells him to stay out of the spotlight because people find him odd and alienating (“I shall be neither seen nor heard!”) or a construction worker tells him to take his head out of his bottom. In the unwritten sequel to Brothers K, Dostoevsky planned to turn Alyosha into a revolutionary who ends up killing the tsar. Buster’s Army training could have come in handy for that.
At this point I can’t tell if I’ve proven that Mitch Hurwitz was definitely inspired byThe Brothers Karamazov, or if I’ve “proven” it the same way your crazy uncle can prove that the Denver Airport is ground zero for the worldwide lizard-people conspiracy. Certainly I wouldn’t want to ruin a good joke by taking it too seriously. But if AD is an updated version of TBK, then it’s worth asking what updates Hurwitz thought necessary in order to bring the story up to date, apart from the set dressing.
Dostoevsky’s intention with The Brothers Karamazov was to persuade Russians that their instinctive love of God was a great resource, and it would bring them true happiness if they would only stop enslaving themselves to reason or sensual pleasure. In the thematic map of AD, love of family replaces love of God as the thing that every keeps gesturing toward and no one quite achieves, but unlike Dostoevsky, Hurwitz doesn’t let anybody get redeemed in the end. Maybe that means he doesn’t think love is powerful enough to redeem a fallen mankind anymore, which would be a depressing assessment of our age relative to Dostoevsky’s. Or maybe it just means Hurwitz is saving the tragic but uplifting conclusion for season 4. “On the nextArrested Development: George Senior gets murdered, Michael goes insane, G.O.B. finds God, and Buster starts a revolution.” I would watch those Netflix episodes.
“…What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?” I asked.
He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we were talking about.
“I … I don’t know much yet… . Two prejudices restrain them, two things; only two, one very little, the other very big.”
“What is the little thing?”
“Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?”
“Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what … they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great deal.”
“Why, are there people who do it from reason?”
“Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very many, all.”
He did not answer.
“But aren’t there means of dying without pain?”
“Imagine”—he stopped before me—“ imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?”
“A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful.”
“I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?”
“A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it wouldn’t hurt.”
“But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that it will hurt. The most learnedman, the greatest doctor, all, all will be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won’t hurt, and every one will be afraid that it will hurt.”
“Well, and the second cause, the big one?”
“The other world!”
“You mean punishment?”
“That’s no matter. The other world; only the other world.”
“Are there no atheists, such as don’t believe in the other world at all?”
Again he did not answer.
“You judge from yourself, perhaps.”
“Every one cannot judge except from himself,” he said, reddening. “There will be full freedom when it will be just the same to live or not to live. That’s the goal for all.”
“The goal? But perhaps no one will care to live then?”
“No one,” he pronounced with decision.
“Man fears death because he loves life. That’s how I understand it,” I observed, “and that’s determined by nature.”
“That’s abject; and that’s where the deception comes in.” His eyes flashed. “Life is pain, life is terror,and man is unhappy. Now all is pain and terror. Now man loves life, because he loves pain andterror, and so they have done according. Life is given now for pain and terror, and that’s the deception. Now man is not yet what he will be. There will be a new man, happy and proud. Forwhom it will be the same to live or not to live, he will be the new man. He who will conquer painand terror will himself be a god. And this God will not be.”
“Then this God does exist according to you?”
“He does not exist, but He is. In the stone there is no pain, but in the fear of the stone is the pain.God is the pain of the fear of death. He who will conquer pain and terror will become himself a god.Then there will be a new life, a new man; everything will be new … then they will divide historyinto two parts: from the gorilla to the annihilation of God, and from the annihilation of God to …”
“To the gorilla?”
“… To the transformation of the earth, and of man physically. Man will be God, and will betransformed physically, and the world will be transformed and things will be transformed andthoughts and all feelings. What do you think: will man be changed physically then?”
“If it will be just the same living or not living, all will kill themselves, and perhaps that’s what the change will be?”
“That’s no matter. They will kill deception. Every one who wants the supreme freedom must dare to kill himself. He who dares to kill himself has found out the secret of the deception. There is no freedom beyond; that is all, and there is nothing beyond. He who dares kill himself is God. Now every one can do so that there shall be no God and shall be nothing. But no one has once done it yet.”
“There have been millions of suicides.”
“But always not for that; always with terror and not for that object. Not to kill fear. He who kills himself only to kill fear will become a god at once…”
Crime? What crime?” he cried in sudden fury. “That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one! … Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people. Was that a crime? I am not thinking of it and I am not thinking of expiating it, and why are you all rubbing it in on all sides? ‘A crime! a crime!’ Only now I see clearly the imbecility of my cowardice, now that I have decided to face this superfluous disgrace. It’s simply because I am contemptible and have nothing in me that I have decided to, perhaps too for my advantage, as that … Porfiry … suggested!”
“Brother, brother, what are you saying? Why, you have shed blood?” cried Dounia in despair.
“Which all men shed,” he put in almost frantically, “which flows and has always flowed in streams, which is spilt like champagne, and for which men are crowned in the Capitol and are called afterwards benefactors of mankind. Look into it more carefully and understand it! I too wanted to do good to men and would have done hundreds, thousands of good deeds to make up for that one piece of stupidity, not stupidity even, simply clumsiness, for the idea was by no means so stupid as it seems now that it has failed … . (Everything seems stupid when it fails.) By that stupidity I only wanted to put myself into an independent position, to take the first step, to obtain means, and then everything would have been smoothed over by benefits immeasurable in comparison … . But I … I couldn’t carry out even the first step, because I am contemptible, that’s what’s the matter! And yet I won’t look at it as you do. If I had succeeded I should have been crowned with glory, but now I’m trapped.”
“But that’s not so, not so! Brother, what are you saying?”
“Ah, it’s not picturesque, not aesthetically attractive! I fail to understand why bombarding people by regular siege is more honourable. The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence. I’ve never, never recognised this more clearly than now, and I am further than ever from seeing that what I did was a crime. I’ve never, never been stronger and more convinced than now.”