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


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Summer Stream

Miss me? Anyone? Hello?

Been awhile – but absence, fondness, and melting of writers blocks. With no sports but baseball, a paltry selection of summer movies, and little in the news, it’s been one of the longer summers I can remember. Dog days became months. Thankfully, football is gearing up like storms in the gulf, and fall TV isn’t all that far off either.

My summer recap of thoughts, anecdotes, and impressions:

We need a new airport hub for NYC. LaGuardia (est. 1939) is tiny and dingy – even its President’s club reminds me of an abandoned downtown lounge. Newark (est. 1928) is just a mess and its cabbies charge extortion rates ($16 for a 6-block drive). JFK (est. 1947) is slanted towards international flights, but I hear it’s undergoing a serious facelift, so I might check it out soon with Jetblue.

That’s right, Jetblue. I’m a card-carry Continental man, but these guys are getting an audition for a couple of reasons: (1) they were offering ridiculously cheap roundtrips ($200) at the right moment – I’m giving up a quarter of my annual income on flights right now and had to tack on another East Coast wedding, (2) no layover, (3) Direct TV and XM radio for everyone!

That last one’s a biggie. I can’t sleep on flights, even after a week of carousing 20 hours at a pop. It’s not the flight itself, even though I always regret napping in cars/planes because of the pinched neck and groggy headache that follows. I stay awake because of the in flight movie. Even one-star disasters have a hold on me like late night cable. I’ve only been able to resist two movies in my flying career: ‘White Chicks’ and ‘The Shipping News.’ On the August flight to LaGuardia, I surrendered to ‘She’s the Man,’ which was a blatant puree of ‘One of the Guys’ and ‘Ladybugs.’ Amanda Bynes was alarmingly more convincing as a boy than as an attractive female lead. I really hope that Direct TV frees my soul.

Only a few discoveries on the June and August trips to Manhatters: Joe’s Pizza in the village (seen in Spiderman 2, I swear that wasn’t what brought me there) has completely altered my understanding of what good pizza is supposed to taste like; it’s worth the trip to Magnolia’s not for the place or the cupcakes (in fact, I prefer their mini-cheesecakes), but for the Chronicles of Narnia poses to send to friends via camera phone; PJ Clark’s on 55th and 3rd is the ultimate early morning stop on the way home after a home night – full menu until 3am (get the bubble and squeak!) and Cheers-esque feel; the staff at the 57th St Four Seasons may be worth your room price by themselves – they’ll have you confused about your personal celebrity status within two days; like finding out that you have a grandmother with racist tendencies, I was shocked to realize the shopping bigotry while accompanying on a trip to Bloomingdales – that place sends its unwanted customers to the derelict subbasements like they’re morlocks. We shan’t have our valued vistors setting their eyes on the likes of you! Down below with the low ceilings, dim lighting, and dingy tiled floors is where you’ll be!

Only other rough spot in NY was the asscab we mistakenly got into one day on our way to Dinosaur BBQ (far East side of Harlem, though the Rochester location remains my favorite). We hop in and I let the cabbie know that we’re headed to 132nd and twelfth.
(in unison) “132nd and twelfth”
“132nd Whut?”
“132nd and twelfth
“132nd Whut?”
(in retrospect, this is the point I should have started Lil Jon-ing)
““132nd and TWELFTH!
“132nd EAST OR WEST?!!
“What the hell is the problem with you!”

Note – this would have been a ‘my bad, I don’t know NY like I wish’ moment, had 132nd been bisected by Central Park. However, CP runs from 60th to 110th, so why this guy blew a gasket is past me. We go east a bit and swing south, which perplexed us a little, but I’ve learned from experience that the worst thing you can do in Manhatten is be a backseat driver in a cab. I assume he just needs to take a zig-zag roue to hop onto the Eastside highway, which we’ll need to run up to the 125th/132nd exit. Unfortunately, he continues past two different signs for the highway and is halfway to the Village before my friend finally, gratingly, double checks that he understands that 132nd is in Harlem. The response we get is that he figured we were trying to get to “the hospital downtown.” That cemented him in my hall of fame for good. We eventually get to the best BBQ in NY, but I was disappointed that the fare wasn’t $19.99 so I could give him a twenty and an earful. Oh well.

Speaking of foreigner service, I returned to Outer Banks, NC, to find that 30% of the people working there were from Eastern Europe or Russia. That was a tough one to reconcile fully. The island is thankfully still the strip of heaven that I remember. A lot of new construction, but nothing gaudy or corporate, aside from an out of place Applebees and Outback. Because OBX is a sliver less than a mile wide and is a hurricane front line, it’s resisted the Myrtle Beach treatment. Almost all of the new stuff is welcome – a new bar/club with a concert stage, a few more grocery stores, and 5 Guys. 5 Guys is a hamburger joint that would capsize every fastfood place in my world if it opened up in Houston. Put simply, the burger patties themselves aren’t unbelievable, but the whole package is. Toppings that outdo a picnic in terms of freshness. Fries that you douse in vinegar (I can’t articulate how big a draw this was for me). One “small” burger will leave you in need of a wheelchair. If you ever see one, make the move.

Had to counteract those burgers somehow, so I continued my (unfortunate) marathon training while out on the island. If you weren’t aware, the marathon’s back, despite how the inaugural one went. DC’s Marine Corps marathon on Halloween Sunday and the Houston one in mid-January. Thank the wife for the second one. She decided that the running needed to serve a higher purpose than my misery, so she had us registered for Team-In-Training, a group that prepares amateurs for endurance events in exchange for cancer-related fundraising. Wifey’ll be paying a rather high price, in that she’s signed up for Houston’s half-marathon (she’s never run before). Anyway, a nugget from my OBX running – even if you’re not in Houston’s swamp-like atmosphere, jogging 11 miles in the sun without water isn’t the best idea in the world. That disaster led to a pre-hurricane-esque run on CVS’ water/gatorade supply later.

Only other mentionables from the NYC/OBX trips: seeing a car with bumper stickers for Grateful Dead….Phish….and O.A.R. Sure enough, they were no older than 19. One of these things is not like the other…Hit a wedding in VA and got a classic: the groom involuntarily struggled and failed to repeat “to be your faithful husband…by not being able to get in the “faithful” part on to separate tries. This sits with (outdoor ceremony, self-written vows that became spontaneously inspired) “Jasan, it’s easy to love you on a day like this” in my all-timers. A funny development in our days of technology: all the upper class people huddling like hobos on the floor at airports so they can plug in their laptops.

On the music front, I fell into a re-discovery of Bruce Hornsby; realized he’s ten times the artist I ever realized. Completely went past me that he’s close with guys like the Dead and Floyd. Saw a fantastic show from Paul Simon (The Boxer nearly broke me, it was so good). Only movie that I really enjoyed was Ricky Bobby (“I’m all jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!”), though I have to say that Devil Wears Prada isn’t a bad choice for a bullet to take on a date night. Fairly painless way to make sure you can go see Jackass 2.

So that’s just about it for my summer. I hope to get back to more regular posting again, and hope that all 3 of you will be here to read them. I’m going to try and leave more of the sports stuff on the Fox blog if I can. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go grab the just-released Arrest Development Season 3 DVD set and enjoy a nice evening with the Bluths.