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Exploring Ron Howard's Groundbreaking Narration in Arrested Development

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By Kim Handysides on March 20, 2022 at 9:00 AM EDT

From witty comments and pointed statements to punctuated clarifications throughout each episode, the voice narration of Ron Howard in "Arrested Development" is there to keep us grounded across the chaotic world of the Bluth family and all of their hilarious misadventures.  Surviving a seven-year stint in television purgatory and returning 10 years after its initial release, Arrested Development changed the way we look at not just a narrator, but the format of an American sitcom. 

Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one narrator who had no choice but to keep them all together. It's Ron Howard's Arrested Development

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The Impact of Ron Howard’s Narration

In his only known narration role, the Oscar winner (and show's producer) went totally uncredited for his series-spanning voice-over. Appearing in all 82 episodes of the beloved series, and sharing his no-nonsense insights as a detached observer, Ron Howard manages to bring us closer to the characters. He keeps us in the loop through every scheme, lie, and plot, and taking a light-hearted approach to the role he uses his position as the narrator to make us like even the most objectionable of characters, showcasing relatable family issues.

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A testament to the quality of his voiceover, our narrator succeeds in helping us all fall in love with the Bluth family - even though most of them are either terrible or vastly misunderstood. Years after it’s the official finale, we can't help but love, quote, and identify with the individual characters and talk about their favorite scenes to anyone else that's seen the show.

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A Comedic Documentary

“Then, mistaking a group of garishly dressed men for pirates, Tobias boarded a van full of homosexuals.”

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Jason Bateman at Kimmel
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Howard's voice carries us through just about every scene and acts like the glue that holds the series together - mirroring how its protagonist Michael Bluth holds his family together. In fact, his narration is so prevalent throughout the series that it wraps itself around each episode like a neatly tied bow that spans from the opening credits to the ending scene. By providing a complete exposition of the story at the beginning of each episode, Ron Howard's narration is a warm invitation that prompts potential fans to jump on at any episode and find their bearings just as easily as if they'd started from the beginning.

The narration fits so well, in fact, that Howard actually mentions it as the reason the series got picked up in the first place.   

A Coincidental Narrator

When the beloved show was initially pitched, Mitchell Hurwitz and Ron Howard toyed around with the idea of using a narrator but were still undecided. Eventually, Howard was asked to do a bit of narration for the pilot episode, but neither of the producers could have predicted that a celebrity voice-over might become the highest testing element among focus groups. Suddenly, the best part of the series wasn't the plot, writing, or characters, but the off-screen voice-over. Somehow the objective narrator who wasn't even a character becomes a character - but more on that later.

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 Whether it's guiding us through the shenanigans of each episode or following each individual character, Ron Howard uses his skill as a narrator to keep his audience in the loop about everything that's going on in the series, almost like a documentary. Anytime Gob does something reckless or Lucille does something selfish, our well-timed narrator is there to tell us exactly what's going on and why; even if we didn't ask for it. 

This style of narration works so well because it draws the audience in and makes us feel like we're not just observing the Bluth family in their natural habitat, but we’re privy to every single inside joke and miscommunication.

Throughout the series, we not only follow the Bluths on all of their misadventures and struggles to find a way back to the life they'd lost, but we get a glimpse into everything they gain along the way. While the audience is tossed into the narrative relatively quickly, Howard's voiceover guides us towards the main plot in no time at all and before we know it, each audience member may as well be a part of the Bluth family. 

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Narration a la National Geographic

Even though it may not be totally obvious at first, Ron Howard's approach to the role was actually more documentary than comedic. He explained in a CNN interview that he wanted to take an anthropological perspective for his voice narration, and borrowed from National Geographic to create a sociological commentary on the Bluth family as they went through their day-to-day lives after losing everything.

Funny enough, even though he's intended to be a detached observer, our narrator actually comes into play on-screen at the end of the third season, and then again through the fourth and fifth.

Observer and Participant

Reprising his essential role in the Netflix revival of the series, Ron Howard appears in a guest star cameo for six episodes of the fourth season. Taking up his real-life position as producer, Howard imparts the task of collecting signatures from each of his family members to have rights to their story for an upcoming film about them to Michael Bluth. In a meta attempt to tell the story from within itself, Howard makes Michael the de facto Ron Howard of the story in a way that parallels his real-life role. 

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What's so intriguing about Howard's cameo as himself is that it actually mirrors his pivotal role in the production of the series, but still comments on himself as a third-party detached observer. In a clever twist of narrative skill, the commentator becomes commentated and Ron Howard indulges (and pokes fun at) himself as a part of the story. 

 Critical Acclaim

 Even though the series was cut short at the end of its third season in 2006, Netflix brought the cult favorite back after seven years of television purgatory. Joyed though they were to have it back, fans were hard-pressed to figure out why Fox had canceled Arrested Development in the first place given the accolades it received. 

The series won 30 of the 82 various awards it has been nominated for, with creator Mitchell Horowitz taking home three Primetime Emmys out of six nominations. Although, the series' critical acclaim should come as no surprise given the narrator, and executive producer, has two Oscars of his own. 

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Ron Howard's Career

While Arrested Development serves as his only narration role to date,  Ron Howard's impressive career stretches nearly five decades. With 79 different award nominations and 39 wins, his two Oscars notwithstanding, it's no surprise that he's become one of this generation's most iconic filmmakers, and even less of a shock that his involvement in Arrested Development made it the hit that it is today.

Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, coach and thought leader in her industry. Her narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.

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