As one half of the brotherly directing team that also includes his sibling Anthony, Joe Russo was in large part responsible for the success of the critically acclaimed but criminally short-lived Fox television sitcom Arrested Development. Born a year apart in an Italian neighborhood of Cleveland, OH, the sons of a prominent liberal politician first learned the value of hard work when the political turmoil of the 1970s found their hometown the first American city to go bankrupt since the Great Depression. Subsequently determined to make a name for themselves in the world of cinema, Joe and Anthony got a head start on film-school education by using credit cards and student loans to finance Pieces, a black comedy concerning the hair-replacement industry that served as a crash course into the world of filmmaking for the pair. They shot the film in and around their hometown with the help of numerous friends and family members, and their gamble paid off tenfold when it screened at both the Slamdance and American Film Institute festivals in 1997, also earning Joe a Best Actor award at the latter.
Though the AFI screening was indeed a great success, it was the Slamdance screening of Pieces that caught the attention of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, and it wasn't long before Soderbergh and professional partner George Clooney had agreed to finance the pair's second film, the working-class crime comedy Welcome to Collinwood. As fate would have it, Kevin Reilly was heavily involved in rebuilding the FX network when he first saw Welcome to Collinwood, and he was in desperate need of a director for an upcoming pilot for series entitled Lucky that seemed the perfect fit for the emerging filmmakers. More television work followed when the pair was approached to direct the pilot episode of LAX in 2004, though their greatest television success to date was still just around the corner.
With industry attention growing thanks to two high-profile pilots in a row, Joe and Anthony next caught the attention of Imagine Entertainment co-founder Ron Howard, who, along with writer Mitch Hurwitz, were both looking to take the well-worn situation comedy in an entirely new direction. Having honed their skills in guerilla filmmaking, the Russo brothers seemed the perfect pair to take the sitcom out of the soundstage and into the streets. By shooting Arrested Development on advanced handheld cameras and minimizing the need for complex lighting and crews, the pair not only opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities, but provided the perfect visual backdrop for Hurwitz's rapid-fire writing style as well. It was indeed a gamble, but it paid off considerably when the show earned the pair an Emmy award for Best Direction. Though Arrested Development would ultimately be canceled after just three seasons, few could deny the impact or innovation that earned the series a dedicated critical and cult following. It wasn't long before Anthony and Joe opted to return to their feature roots with the 2006 comedy You, Me and Dupree.