Re-watch: Arrested Development, Season 1

20 May

The San Francisco Chronicle loves it!

So I’ve started the moderately ambitious project that I’m sure many more around the country have as well, rewatching every episode of Arrested Development to prepare for the new episodes coming out next week.  I’ll be discussing some general thoughts on the first season and the experience of rewatching it here.

I’ve seen some of these first season episodes probably ten times but most of them (I’ve caught a couple of episodes here and there on IFC) not in at least three and probably more like five years.  However, after just a couple of minutes, most of these first season episodes come right back, even though it’s been a while.  It’s like quoting a bicycle.  The most surprising moments are when I see the occasional joke or scene that I have totally forgotten about.

I was ever so slightly concerned that the appeal of Arrested Development would have dimmed over the years, and that years of hype, some of it propagated by myself, would have built up the show in my mind to a level that the show couldn’t possibly actually meet (this was aided by a couple of friends who watched the show much later on and described it as good, but not great).   Fortunately, it turned out I had nothing to worry about.  Almost from the get go, Arrested Development again proved itself one of the best comedies of all time, and not just because all the jokes came streaming back into my mind (though it’s hard to watch a show like this with truly fresh eyes, I’m sure I was at least influenced somewhat by my memory).

The pilot episode is solid enough, but it, like many comedy pilots, is a bit weighed down by needing to focus extra on premise and exposition.  It’s the second episode, Top Banana, where the show’s genius really becomes to come together.  Top Banana’s key plotline, as the title suggests, involves the Bluth frozen banana stand, and particularly, its burning down.  The miscommunication that makes up many of the show’s best jokes is in play, as the line, which George Sr. tells Michael, that, “There’s always money in the banana stand” is tragically misinterpreted.  Michael believes he simply means the banana stand turns a profit, while, we and Michael learn later on that there is quite literally hundreds of thousands of dollars lining the walls of the stand.

An unlikely show I think Arrested Development has a lot in common with is The Venture Bros.  Both shows pick up on offhand moments and mentions from earlier episodes and flush them out later on, making it appear as it was always the plan to incorporate these references.  Of course, sometimes it probably was always the plan, and Arrested Development’s incredible foreshadowing is like no other comedy on TV.  What’s more remarkable is that Arrested Development was doing this in 2003, making serial comedy in a way where ordered viewing was important and re-watching was valuable, at a time just before DV-r and Netflix and internet viewing really came to the fore.  I’ve often wondered if Arrested Development was always doomed to be cancelled, or whether, if it had come out a couple of years later, the cult popularity would have been enough to keep it going longer.

The elements that make the show so good are all here pretty much from the beginning.  Many of the show’s great recurring bits and lines start debuting in various first season episodes episodes, including Gob’s “I’ve made a huge mistake,” the prison’s “No Touching” policy, the cornballer, and the chicken dance.   Memorable recurring and single-episode characters start appearing too, such as Tobias’s muse Carl Weathers, Steve Holt, Lucille Austero, and George Sr.’s twin brother Oscar. The chemistry between family members in palpable immediately, and the one on one interactions between different family members, often speaking on different levels to one another are an important part of the show from the beginning.

The Pier Pressure/Public Relations back-to-back about halfway through the season may be my favorite two consecutive episodes of the season.  Pier Pressure contains classic one episode character J. Walter Weatherman, a one-armed man who worked for George Sr. and was tasked with teaching the children lessons by terrifying them during their youth (his popularity resulted in another appearance a couple seasons later).  It also contains Gob’s wonderful enthusiastic pitch to George Michael, “All right, kid…let’s deal some drugs!”  Public Relations, in which Michael hires a cute public relations woman to help reshape the Bluth family image, has many fine moments, but my favorite may be the simple scene where crazy PR woman Jessie walks away from Michael, and as she’s leaving the house, Michael just says, “Jessie.”  When she turns around and attempts to figure out what Michael wanted, Michael awkwardly replies, “No, I was just saying your name as you walked away…I didn’t…I have no follow up.”  It doesn’t necessarily seem like it should be a funny line but Jason Bateman exclaims it with the perfect level of “Why did I just say that?” emphasis, a frequent occurrence for Michael.

The biggest change in my impressions from re-watching the season in order was in my personal character ranking.  As I want to leave open a possible character ranking post, I won’t go into too much detail about my overall standings, but, during this re-watch Lucille shot up, while Tobias fell down a bit.  Tobias’s he’s gay but doesn’t realize it gimmick is a bit much and gets a little old; there’s only so many ways to keep harping on it, and not all of them work.  It’s a credit to David Cross that he wrings as much out of sometimes obvious or too over the top material than he does, as well as the physical humor, which is all Cross.  Lucille on the other hand was a revelation.  I’ve always liked every major character, but I’m not sure why I didn’t like her more before.  Her recurring hatred of Gob always makes my day, and her cruel  one-liners to her family are constantly a joy.  Michael and George Michael also remain very high in my rankings, particularly due to both of their levels of compelling awkwardness, but I’ll have more to say on that when I talk about season 2.

I think it’s interesting to note that at least half the cast seems to be pretty much playing the role they played in Arrested Development in their work after the show was cancelled.  Tony Hale (Buster) on Veep, Will Arnett (Gob) in 30 Rock, Michael Cera (George Michael) in Superbad, and Jessica Walter (Lucille) in Archer all seem to be playing very similar characters in the listed movies and TV shows as well as others which have come out since.

I’d like to end with one of my favorite non sequitur Arrested Development quotes of all time, from the episode Not Without My Daughter, when George Michael says to Gob, “You know, say what you will about America. 13 bucks still gets you a hell of a lot of mice.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

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One Response to “Re-watch: Arrested Development, Season 1”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Re-watch: Arrested Development, Season 2 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - May 30, 2013

    […] to get in the spirit for the new episodes appearing this weekend.  I talked about season 1 here; a bunch of scattershot notes about season 2 […]

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