Friday, September 01, 2006

Guide to Getting Arrested

With all 3 seasons of Arrested Development now released, you no longer have an excuse for not taking in one of the greatest comedy series of all time.  To help get you started, here’s an introductory guide.
The Family:
George and Lucille Bluth – George is a corrupt businessman under indictment throughout the series, and helped all of his children develop series complexes as their father.  Lucille is at least equally manipulative, controlling, and is alcoholic.
Oscar Bluth – George’s identical twin brother, a penniless hippie pothead with feelings for Lucille.
GOB (George-Oscar Bluth) – Oldest son.  Professional magician that has been cast out by his peers, and dramatically compensates for an inferiority complex.  
Michael Bluth – The good son, but with control issues.  Constantly tormented from the lack of approval from his father.  Widower and father to George-Michael.
Lindsay Bluth Fűnke – Michael’s twin sister (or is she?).  Airy and a part-time activist for causes that catch her eye.
Buster Bluth – The youngest son, that in many ways remains a child.  Has an oedipus complex.
Tobias Fűnke – Lindsay’s closeted husband.  A former psychiatrist that becomes infatuated with acting.  
George-Michael Bluth – Michael’s son.  Follows in his father’s footsteps but struggles with asserting himself.  Develops a major crush on his cousin Maybee.
Maeby Fűnke – Tobias and Lindsay’s daughter with disputed origins, but certainly inherited her grandparent’s ethics.
Annyong Bluth – Adopted from Korea by Lucille to teach Buster a lesson about eating his peas.  
The Presentation
A.D. is vaguely similar to the BBC’s The Office in two general ways: no laugh track, and a large amount of hand-held (documentary-style) filming.  The absence of a laugh track, confusing and upsetting to many of today’s King of Queens viewers, allows for much more panned humor and a more fluid pace.  Arrested episodes are crammed full of jokes, and with no laugh track to emphasize them, rewatching shows is almost requisite.  Numerous gags are also subtle and away from the action.  The show often times explains a dialouge reference through a quick cut-away, several of which are so brief as to require pausing the DVD.  In general, Mitch Hurwitz and the rest of the show’s creative control force refuse to pander to “the idiot demographic” (their words, not mine!).
     To other defining traits of the show are its continuity and its near-improvisational rewriting.  All post-pilot episodes feature numerous running jokes from prior shows, and more interestingly, several key jokes are planted many episodes before their “punchline.”  The specific nature of George’s chief crime is teased at in clever ways throughout Season 1, there are several planted clues that foreshadow a major Season 2 turning point for Buster as early as Season 1, and Annyong’s major revelation at the series end is foreshadowed 24 episodes earlier.  Coupled with multi-episode story arcs, this makes Arrested best watched sequentially, and multiple episodes at a time (I fully expect that you have Netflix at this juncture, otherwise we’re going to fight).
     The writing on the show is taken very seriously, as the plots themselves do not always provide the majority of the humor.  Sharp, witty dialogue carries much of the load instead.  David Cross (Tobias) largely improvises his lines, and most of the cast is free to deliver their lines in styles that they choose.  Writers were kept on set, and the lines were constantly tweaked based after rehearsals.  
The Running Themes
     As mentioned, there are many running jokes on the show.  Many of these take the form of running themes that are presented in a host of different ways.  On of the best examples of this are allusions to The Wizard of Oz, and in particular the Tin Man.  This stems from two basic sources: regular guest Liza Minelli (daughter of Judy Garland), and the Tin Man’s symbolism (“I’m a friend of Dorothy’s”) in gay culture.  One particularly buried gag/allusion takes place in the second episode of Season 2, when Tobias finds himself in need of medical attention.  After covering himself in metallic-colored “diamond cream,” he finds that he’s inhaled too much diamond dust.  This is a particularly clever reference to a lesser-known piece of Oz trivia; the first actor to portray the Tin Man had to bow out after developing severe lung complications from an aluminum powder-based makeup.  
     Other themes to watch for:
Ron Howard (producer/narrator) – references to The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days.  Example:  Ron’s narrator expresses indignation in Season 1 after George-Michael is insulted by a woman who refers to him as “Opie.”
Peanuts – The connection to the show is unclear to me, but consider Lucille’s name, GOB’s puppet, how Buster refers to his privates, oh…and there’s that “Good Grief” episode in Season 2.
Henry Winkler – endless allusions to Fonzi, of course.  One of the most brilliant of which takes place during the Season 2 “Motherboy” episode (notice how I’m not spoiling it for you?).  
FOX Arrested regularly pokes at FOX, other FOX series, and its relationship with the network, often by way of allegorical plot devices and dialogue.  John Beard, a Fox News anchor for Los Angeles, appears regularly as…a Fox News anchor for Los Angeles.  
The Rest of the Cast – GOB regrets a hasty marriage to Amy Poehler, the pair are married in real life.  Tony Hale (Buster) re-enacts a rather famous Volkswagon commercial he did prior to joining the cast.  Portia de Rossi was once married to a man, mirroring her relationship with Tobias.   Many former castmates of David Cross (Mr Show with Bob and David) cameo.  In fact, the cameos alone could count as a theme.  We’ll leave it by saying this show had a LOT of friends.
Incest/Sexuality – not that you were going to have a hard time picking up on this one.
The Top Six:
I still hold that this show should be watched straight through, but here’s my list for the best single episodes of AD (unranked):
Motherboy XXX – Season 2, Episode 13
Afternoon Delight – Season 2, Episode 6
Mr. F – Season 3, Episode 5
Missing Kitty – Season 1, Episode 18
Staff Infection – Season 1, Episode 15
The One Where They Build a House – Season 2, Episode 2



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