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There’s always money in the banana stand: I take a look back at 3 seasons of “Arrested Development”

Must confess that I was not one of the many who highly anticipated the return of  beloved and misunderstood TV show Arrested Development after a hiatus of 7 years and its season 4 premiere on Netflix this spring. Intrigued and interested, yes, but I worried that the show just wouldn’t be the same after all these years.

Instead, I took advantage of an Arrested Development rerun marathon on IFC channel and watched all 3 seasons of this spectacular show to truly find out if I needed to get back into the game and excitement over season 4. Consensus? Jury is still out. When there was initial talk of an AD movie about 5 or 6 years ago, I was ecstatic. But time passes, actors move on, we discover a new series to watch, and the original magic behind this ingenious show slowly fades away.

Or does it? Even though I’m not super psyched as the rest of the die-hard fans for the new season, I can still say its an incredible show. And it was an absolute pleasure rediscovering the Bluth family.

Here are the highlights from the re-watch of S1-3:

Overall thoughts:

Season 1 is by far the best of the bunch. This isn’t to say that the series as a whole went down-hill from then on, but there was a certain novelty to the specific kind of humor used on the show in the first season that tended to get overplayed and worn out as the series went on. Also, despite the fact that AD is still probably one of the most genius and hilarious shows ever to grace TV, it was definitely flawed. While it was one of the first sitcoms ever to throw inside jokes and subtle humor at its audience and not over explain the jokes (or sometimes not at all), there were moments when this formula went wildly astray- season 3, I’m looking at you- but it was also groundbreaking, ballsy, and twisted enough that it garnered such loving and devoted fans AND paved the way for other shows with similar humor to become “accepted” on network TV.

Perhaps accepted isn’t the right word, but AD just wasn’t beloved during its initial run thus dooming it to an early cancellation. Not many people got it. Even so, without AD would shows like 30 Rock, the American version of The Office, and Parks and Recreation even have had a chance? I don’t think so.

Still funny after all this time

  • George Sr. in jail. “Caged Wisdom” still cracks me up.
  • The shows ingenious use of flashbacks and montages. My fave: after the narrator explains that a previous staged intervention by Bluths led to one of their best parties ever, we are treated to a montage of Buster playing piano while Tobias naked but for his jean shorts dances frenetically in the background and Michael is sitting at table, presumably buzzed, wearing what looks like puppet Franklin’s wig.
  • Tobias as a “never-nude”. Never not funny!
  • Franklin the puppet and Buster’s use of it to channel his inner rage towards Lucille.
  • The Stair Car (and later the Cabin Car) and all the jokes associated with it: inmates using the stair car to jump over the wall, Mexicans using it to jump over the border, Hop ons (or Live ins with the Cabin Car)… always hysterical.
  • “By the statue of the kid who found the severed hand”.
  • George Sr. hiring a man with a prosthetic arm to teach lessons to his children throughout the years, and then Michael tries to use the same gambit with George Michael: “And that’s why you don’t teach lessons to your son!” Actually, the Pier Pressure episode from S1 might be my all-time favorite.
  • Every Bluth doing own version of what he/she thinks is a chicken.
  • GOB riding up in his segue scooter and saying “Michael!”. Runner up: every time GOB says “Club sauce!”.
  • The opening theme song to GOB’s illusion shows.
  • Tobias as Mrs. Featherbottom.
  • Bob Loblaw and Barry Zuckercorn: the world’s worst lawyers.
  • Michael’s complete disdain for George Michael’s girlfriend Ann.
  • Lindsay trying to get back to her Fundraising roots and failing miserably (“I think I maced a crane, Michael!”)
  • Buster taking his instructions to act like a student of the Medford Academy (Children should not be seen nor heard) to heart and spends an entire episode lurking in the background and trying to blend in without being seen (“On the next Arrested Development: Buster heads to the kitchen” and Buster just sulks slyly around the corner).
  • George Sr. trapped in the attic for much of season 2.

Surprisingly UNFUNNY the 2nd time around

  • George Michael’s crush on his cousin Maeby. It started out funny in season 1 and the more the show hammered this joke home, the less funny the premise became.
  • The “Tobias is really gay” jokes. Again, had Tobias been written simply as a naive nerd who really was clueless about what came out of his mouth rather than a closeted “is he or isn’t he” character, then the jokes might have been more funny. Instead, the jokes and innuendos are so in your face and obvious that you would think Lindsay or SOMEONE in the family would say something to Tobias. This didn’t bother me first viewing, but definitely rubbed me the wrong way second time around.
  • Annyong. Totally didn’t laugh once during Annyong’s (hello!) brief stay with the Bluth family, despite finding the random adoption of this Korean kid by Lucille and George Sr. absolutely hilarious first viewing.
  • Michael’s co-dependent parenting of George Michael. Re-watching this relationship, and despite some very touching father/son moments, I found Michael’s needy and controlling attitude towards his son almost creepy and definitely over played.
  • Much of Season 3, but especially the Mr. F/Rita/”Michael goes to Britain” story arc. Actually, I didn’t find this arc funny the first time around either. I know the show was trying something new here, but there was WAY too much going on to truly appreciate the humor. And the humor was questionable at best. Rita as a mentally retarded love interest for Michael (though he’s unaware of her condition) was definitely a risky move.

Random Thoughts and Observations

  • The show knew how to use guest stars. Liza Minnelli, Ed Begley Jr., Henry Winkler, Judy Greer, Martin Short, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (just to name a few) absolutely shined on AD. Part of what made these guest stars stand out is that they melded perfectly with the wackiness of the characters on the show by adding just a twinge of wackiness on their own part. This is actually hard to do. I don’t think many of the guest stars on 30 Rock (with the exception of Jon Hamm and Paul Rubens) despite giving great performances ever quite fit into the crazy and offbeat world of the main characters and they tended to stand out like sore thumbs (sigh, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek).
  • In order for AD to work, it required serious comedic acting chops from its actors and they delivered in spades. While the entire cast is fantastic, kudos go to Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, and Jeffrey Tambor who deserve special mention only because I’m not sure it was ever truly known before this show how funny these actors really are.
  • Did you ever get the feeling that Michael’s dead wife was really an “Ann”? Family members here and there make snide comments about his wife, including a brief “her??!” from George Sr., and I’m wondering if this was an inside INSIDE joke referring to father and son going after the same kind of woman and Michael not realizing it.
  • So many Happy Days inside jokes! Question: was the British story arc supposed to be “Jump the Shark”…on purpose??
  • The show fudged many times over with the ages of the characters on the show. I think George Michael went from 16 to 15 at one point. GOB is supposed to be the older brother, but at one point it’s mentioned he’s 35 and then a few episodes later Michael says he is 35.
  • Perhaps this was intentionally done by producers/writers on the show as an inside joke, or they didn’t feel the need to explain it further, but the distance between Newport Beach (the Bluth homestead) and Hollywood is about an hour to three hours depending on traffic (and probably longer on a bus, etc.). For non- Los Angeles residents, the traffic between LA County and Orange County is HORRIFIC. So in order for Maeby to get to her studio job she would have to drive (at age 14 by the way) or take public transportation, but either way she wouldn’t have been home much. Same thing for Tobias- in order for him to even have a chance at a successful acting career given the commute distance he would most likely have had to move up to LA County. I wonder if this was done deliberately to show how naive he really was about the entertainment industry.
  • Untapped Relationships: Michael was the center of the Bluth world and almost all relationships revolved around Michael, with a few side relationships that didn’t have much to do with him- Maeby and George Michael, for example, or Lucille and Buster. Interestingly, Lindsay has virtually no interaction on her own with either GOB or Buster and I wonder why these relationships were not flushed out further by the writers. It seems strange that the only sibling she really interacts with is Michael. Maeby and George Sr. do not have any time together alone onscreen either.
  • The show works best when the characters are grounded in some sort of reality, stuck in an absurd world but with a real and strong need (Lindsay and Tobias at the marriage counseling session, for example, or Maeby fighting bias and discrimination as Surely Funke is another instance), and Michael always works best as the straight man. Obviously Michael has his own idiosyncrasies and failures, but the minute the show toyed with Michael not using enough common sense (this is the main failure of the rest of his family, but not his) the story tends to go off the rails. I think this is why the S3 British spy/Rita story line didn’t work. There was too much wackiness with not enough reality (Wee Britain, anyone?), and Michael coming off as a complete chump for no apparent reason.
  • All of the immigrant and ethnic jokes: I don’t remember the first time around, but were any of the comments towards Mexicans and Asians considered controversial at the time? The writers do insert some pretty risqué stuff.
  • GOB probably has the most complete character arc. If you watch the series as a whole, not many of the characters advance very much except GOB: he’s kicked out of Magician’s Alliance and then let back in, he has a serious girlfriend (Marta) and then they break up over Michael, he secretly elopes and then tries to get an annulment, and he finds out he has a long-lost son: Steve Holt!
  • All of the little side gags that the narrator or other characters choose to ignore are comic gold. The show was brilliant at letting its audience find the funny. Case in point: in an early episode in Season 1, Michael finds GOB alone in the copy room quietly running slices of bread through the shredder while he and Michael carry on a conversation about something else. Michael never mentions the bread. Why is GOB shredding the bread? Do we need to know? No, it’s just really funny to spot. Equally funny: Nellie, the mysterious consultant/possible long-lost sister, is listed as “Conslutant” and Michael doesn’t get the hint as to Nellie’s true talents…
  • This was not an easy show to just drop into mid-season and understand what was going on. I know because my DVR failed to record about 4 episodes between end of Season 1 and top of Season 2 and while I had seen the show before, I still had to do some backpedaling and wrack my brain as to the origins of George Sr.’s twin brother Oscar and how he came to the story. AD tried very hard towards the end of Season 2 and Season 3 to recruit new viewers, since it was aware the Network wouldn’t renew unless the ratings went up. I remember Jason Bateman’s passionate speech during the Emmy’s or Golden Globes asking viewers to spread the word and start watching the show. However, probably a lot of curious new viewers did try to watch and maybe couldn’t catch on to the very broad and intricate story lines the show had going at the time. It also might not have helped that AD made quite a bit of fun of the Iraq war going on during the time- a sensitive topic to be sure.

So folks, those are my thoughts! If you have any thoughts on Arrested Development or want to comment on the new season leave them here!


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