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Arrested Development? More Like "Tennessee"! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 20th, 2005


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04:25 pm - Arrested Development? More Like "Tennessee"!
So Arrested Development was like the comedy version of Veronica Mars: the low-rated-but-critically-acclaimed show with rabid, gushing fans who wouldn't shut up about how great and awesome and totally superior it was to everything else on television ever. I did try out two episodes (that turned out to be "Staff Infection" and "In God We Trust"), and while I recognized the excellent writing and plotting, I didn't find it all that funny. I had been told, of course, that this was a show heavily steeped in continuity, and it was best to watch it from the beginning.

Thus, I bought the DVDs. And to my surprise, the show was actually funny when you started from the beginning.

The reason AD is confusing and off-putting to a newcomer is because the majority of the comedy comes from the characters. It comes from knowing who they are, what they do, what they've done, how they react to certain things. Sitcom is short for "situation comedy," which implies that they're about characters stuck in wacky situations. And, well, they are.

Arrested Development is the story of a family whose life just happens to be a sitcom. And by "the story," I mean that literally, since there's a narrator (Ron Howard), who delivers some of the best jokes. I also think there's a bit too much expositional narration, though, which becomes more annoying when you're watching on DVD without commercials and without a week between episodes. Besides the "this just happened" stuff, there are too many times where the narrator describes exactly what we're seeing on screen (with no joke) or tells us what the characters are feeling or planning, even though it's terribly obvious. I'm hoping that sort of thing is network intervention, because I love narration humor. I mean, even in George of the Jungle ("Are you arguing with the narrator?").

But what is the story about? Well, the basic plot is that George Bluth, Sr., is arrested (get it? arrested!) for some sort of illegal business dealings, and now his family has to try to get the company back on track while also cutting back on their extravagant lifestyle. Throughout the two seasons, we learn more and more about what these illegal business dealings actually were or may have been, and we watch the government try to make their case. This doesn't sound very interesting, I know. But let's take a look at the characters.

George Bluth, Sr.: The patriarch of the family, he's never been a particularly good father to his children, and now he's put a huge burden on his family to try to get him out of jail, even though he may actually be guilty of his crimes. It doesn't help that he lies a lot, or maybe he just conceals the truth, as in the case of the banana stand. Yes, in addition to a large housing company, the Bluths own a frozen banana stand. Because...why not?

Michael Bluth: The one who now has to try to hold the family together. He's a good man, a nice man. He's probably the only adult Bluth with morals. I like Michael, obviously, because I identify with the nice guy character. But, like me, he's also aware that he can't just be the nice guy all the time, and he does have a not-nice side. The narrator is aware of this as well.

George-Michael Bluth: Michael's teenage son, whom he's trying to reconnect with. And totally one of my favorite characters. He's like a more socially inept Louis Stevens. Totally adorable. Everything he does is funny, and he doesn't even know it, but it's not like a mean "Ha, what a dork!" funny but a—okay, there are definitely some "Ha, what a dork!" moments. At one point, I realized Arrested Development kind of had a male Gilmore Girls thing going on, with the three generations of Bluth boys, and while the relationships aren't exactly the same, they're rather similar. He also has a mad crush on his cousin Maeby, and it's hilariously adorable. For serious. I don't even ship, but I'm a George-Michael/Maeby shipper.

Gob Bluth: Michael's older brother, a magician, and also one of my favorite characters. I honestly didn't expect the whole magician thing to last more than a few episodes, but it's an integral part of his character, and it continues to provide fodder for laughs. He's also terribly insecure since no one takes his career seriously (which, now that I consider it, I can also totally identify with). He's pretty sex-crazed and will [bleep] just about anyone. Also, he rides a Segway. Just because.

Buster Bluth: Michael's younger brother, the mama's boy in every sense of the word. He's kind of like a man-child, and he's hilarious. Watch him struggle to free himself from his mother's grasp, and then run back almost immediately! The latter half of the second season provides Buster with one of the funniest plotlines I've seen on a sitcom, but I'm not going to spoil you.

Lindsay Bluth Fünke: Michael's sister, who is hot. Her thing is charity events, though she doesn't really pay attention to what she's supporting. She's trying to keep her marriage together and remember she has a daughter.

Tobias Fünke: Lindsay's husband, who is a nut. A former psychiatrist, he soon discovers his calling as an actor. Well, not so much "discovers" as...decides. He's probably the strangest and quirkiest out of the bunch, though, really, it's a tough call.

Maeby Fünke: Lindsay's teenage daughter, and another of my favorites. A professional underachiever, she lives to rebel against her parents, if only so they'll notice her, but not so much that they'll actually spend time with her.

Lucille Bluth: Michael's mother. Emily Gilmore and Lucille Bluth would have a field day together. No, honestly, if there isn't Emily/Lucille crossover fic out there, there really should be, because they're practically the same person. Controlling, manipulative, overly concerned with appearances, and completely unaware of the first two traits.

The show is entirely Bluth-centric, so it relies on the character dynamics of this horribly dysfunctional family. Each episode is always fast-paced and never boring because the story keeps moving from one character to another, and the narrator gives it all a connected flow. The plotting reminds me of Seinfeld in the way that unrelated plotlines will end up unexpectedly intersecting at the end, and the continuity reminds me of Friends in the way that storylines will continue across episodes. But that's not really the continuity the AD fans always crow about.

You see, Arrested Development is in love with the running gag. I believe they are, in fact, married. If something funny happens in an episode, it is fair game to be used over and over and over and oh, we've gone ten episodes without—ooh, there it is again BOO-YAH! Some of them are more successful than others, some are more subtle than others, but it's one of the most rewarding aspects of watching the show in order. What AD does is craft this little world all its own, where all these things have happened, and thus they are bound to happen again.

Oh, and I love the visual style. It's shot like a documentary, as they say, so there's that, but beyond that it's full of quick-cut flashbacks á la Family Guy, except they're real flashbacks. You'll get quick cuts to Amazon.com listings and Google searches. Quick cuts of imagined photos. Quick cuts of fake movie posters. Often, with little arrows pointing things out. I love it when a medium makes full use of its resources. Oh! And the "next time on" previews aren't actually previews for what happens in the next episode, but they're hilarious and still part of the show's continuity.

And finally, the show has guest stars up the fucking ass. Here is a short list: Richard Simmons, Liza Minnelli, Judy Greer, Patricia Velasquez, Henry Winkler, Carl Weathers, Heather Graham, James Lipton, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Amy Poehler, Thomas Jane, Martin Mull, Ben Stiller, Andy Richter, J.K. Simmons, Rob Corddry, Christine Taylor, Martin Short, Dave Attell, Ione Skye, Alan Tudyk, Zach Braff, and Dick Van Patten.

There you have it, folks. Arrested Development really is as good as they say. It's clever and hilarious. If you haven't watched it, do so immediately. If you have, listen to some of my spoilery thoughts.

Marta was hot, and I really enjoyed that whole plotline, especially the confusion over "Hermano" and the fact that Gob knew "brother" in French and Italian, yet somehow forgot what it was in Spanish. The monolingualness of the Bluths doesn't stop being funny.

Kitty was hot (except, you know, when she took off her glasses and let down her hair), and I really enjoyed all that business too.

There haven't been enough J. Walter Weatherman callbacks. That shit was fucking hilarious.

"So you taught me a lesson about not teaching lessons?"
"That...was my last lesson."

I found Lucille Austero kind of annoying, but she did provide some good plots.

A misquote, but one of my favorite bits of narration humor:

So Michael did some detective work.
"Did you burn down the storage facility?"
"Damn right I did."

I love Gob's theme music and all the different variations. The cell phone ring, the funereal mix, the "Gob is Steve Holt's father" mix. And the chicken dance! Haaa. It's so ridiculous, and I love that Lindsay and Lucille have their own completely differently stupid chicken dances.

I didn't expect the Oscar thing to last so long, and I half expected them to actually kill off George Sr. but keep Jeffrey Tambor as Oscar. I never really liked Oscar, although the bits about his possibly being Buster's father were really funny (the "Pop Secret" pun was hysterical). And the twin thing sure came in handy.

And speaking of coming in handy, the stair car! I love that thing.

Tobias hijinks are kind of hit and miss for me. The Blue Man Group was funny at first, but I felt like it got old after a while. I did appreciate all the random blue paint stains on the walls, though. Oh, but the never-nude stuff always seems to work. Mrs. Featherbottom is all right. Oh God, the Burger King thing was awesome. Did they actually get product placement payment for that? So funny.

I love the two lawyers, Barry Zuckerkorn and Wayne Jarvis. The former cause he's so terribly inept, and the latter because he's so terribly...not ept. "I will hide myself behind that couch." Oh, and I love the Literal Doctor. So fucking hilarious, even though the jokes are obvious. I love how in his most recent appearance, Michael is all "Let him finish." Except now they have a new funny doctor, who is funny in a very different way.

I totally didn't expect the Ann thing to last this long. What the hell does George-Michael see in her? I mean, I know that's the joke, but come on, George-Michael! She's a terrible kisser, and you only get like one kiss every three months! Then again, she's really raring to [bleep], so there's that. I actually find her amusing when she talks, though. And while we're on the subject of George-Michael, his Star Wars kid act was so perfect. That is so totally something George-Michael would do.

horsefacehannah told me she loved Maeby's plotline in the second season, and as someone who's into movies and the film industry, I really enjoyed it too. Ha. I couldn't quite figure out what her "Marry me!" catchphrase was about, as if that was supposed to make her sound old. Then she tried "Babysit me!" to make her sound young, and...heh. Also, she totally brought down the house by kissing George-Michael COUSINCEST FOREVER! (And remember, they might not actually be cousins!)

I didn't really like Martin Short's Uncle Jack character, and I hope he doesn't come back. It was too over-the-top. Martin Mull's Gene Parmesan, however, can come back. I love how Lucille freaks the fuck out at his disguises.

Buster's hook is the funniest thing ever omg. They milk that hook for everything it's worth, and it's hilarious. "I'm a monster!!!" "It's only natural, Mother, I'm part machine!!!"

Oh, I love that they keep on using flashes of "Mommy What Will I Look Like?" photos.

One thing that's slightly bugging me about the second season is the complete and utter incompetence of the law enforcement. Okay, it was funny when they mistook balls for Iraq, but they made a big joke out of everyone figuring out where George Sr. was hiding after Scandalmakers (also? the jokes about the narrator were hilarious), and yet, no one went to get him? The picture of Michael over Gob's face was cleverly set up, but it's still so obviously a picture. George Sr. is slipping in and out of the house at all hours; I'm sure he's been spotted. It was funny and all, but it just baffles me that he was never caught.

I think that is it for now. Let's share our favorite jokes and moments in the comments, then, eh?

And that's why you watch Arrested Development!
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: Kasabian - Running Battle

(58 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:hobviously
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:45 pm (UTC)
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GEORGE MICHAEL/MAEBY FOREVER!!!!!1

And *that's* how you narrate an LJ comment.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:49 pm (UTC)
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Oh Christ! I totally forgot to mention Buster's camouflage shirt that blends in with the wallpaper. That was awesome.
From:harshday
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:46 pm (UTC)
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i love you for this.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Why thank you.
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From:pandora_17
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:51 pm (UTC)
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I heart George Michael.

I have pop pop in the attic.

And Maeby.

Hey George Michael Jesus called he wants your Thriller album.

And Buster.

Hey campers!

I'm a MONSTER!
From:vandalisimo
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:56 pm (UTC)
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I love Arrested Development to death, but it took me a few episodes to get in the groove and find it funny. Now I can't get enough!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 08:59 pm (UTC)
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That's how it is. I mean, it's only slightly funny at first, and fairly amusing. But it just builds on itself until you kind of, I don't know, figure out how it works, so you're almost anticipating certain jokes? And then you're laughing your ass off.

I don't know how I'm going to cope with only one episode a week!
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From:_jems_
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:31 pm (UTC)
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Favorite moment EVAH: "Fonzie" jumping the shark. Bwahahahahaha!

There's also the fabulous conversation between Michael and GOB that's in my icon. And have you noticed that my OTP header (because I'm all about the 'ships =) has not only George-Michael/Maeby, but Buster/Roomba as well? 'Cause that's totally my favorite part about it.

And I saw you watched BSG too. Gotta go see what you thought.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
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I totally missed the shark-jumping. I suck.

I think I remember that Michael/Gob conversation, when's it from?

Buster/Roomba haaaa. "I'm part machine!!!" Actually, I'm sad Buster and Starla didn't have much of a chance. He could have had a normal relationship for once.
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From:teenes
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:36 pm (UTC)
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Awesome post. I heartily concur.

One of my friends watched some Arrested Development but stopped after a while b/c she found all the characters unlikable and the humor mean. I was like "but..but...!!" I do love that show, and it's definitely best if you watch from the beginning and in order.

It's funny, b/c I was watching the Newsradio DVD commentaries last night, and the creator was totally anti-arc. Did not want any arc aspect to his show, and found himself inadvertently creating one with the romantic subplot. Which I found baffling, but I love arcs! I did love Newsradio, though, so obviously they're not essential to me...
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:39 pm (UTC)
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I find it hard to believe that anyone could find Buster or George-Michael unlikable. And why wouldn't you like Michael? And what's wrong with Tobias? I think the actors make their characters far more likable than the actors on Seinfeld, who didn't really try. But I also like Seinfeld, so.

I love arcs too!
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From:smrou
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:41 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I'm so glad you like the show, as I knew you would. It does take a couple episodes to get in the groove. I got into it when there was a season 1 marathon on FX, and there was nothing else on so I watched a couple episodes, and then I was hopelessly addicted. It's really hard having only one episode a week.

I find it kind of interesting that your major complaint is the over-narration. While I agree that it can be a little overdone at times--which is particularly obvious when watching all of the episodes in quick succession--the reason I find that amusing is because my biggest complaint with Veronica Mars is that I feel that Veronica's voice overs are often unnecessary and are sometimes annoying because they describe exactly what we're seeing at the moment.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 09:43 pm (UTC)
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While I feel that Veronica's voiceovers give us a nice insight into her character, and I rarely get the impression that she's describing exactly what we're seeing at the moment. Plus, it's this whole noir thing. She's a gumshoe.
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From:wisteria_
Date:July 20th, 2005 10:23 pm (UTC)
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Yes. What you said. I'm going to bookmark this post and read it over and over and hug and kiss it and call it "George [-Michael Bluth]".

I caught "Storming the Castle" by accident the night it aired. I saw "Pier Pressure" (still my all-time favorite episode) the next week, and when J. Walter Weatherman made his first appearance in the car, I fell madly, passionately in love.
From:babsonite
Date:July 20th, 2005 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I love this show! It is so freakin hilarious. Ben Stiller was soooo funny as the rival magician. And I love Tobias and Lindsay's relationship. They crack me up...
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From:sweinberg
Date:July 20th, 2005 10:41 pm (UTC)
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Took ya long enough to discover the beauty of AD! ;)

Hell, even the opening gag on the DVD menu makes me laugh!

"Oh, I thought you meant of the things we eat."
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 20th, 2005 10:55 pm (UTC)
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Yes! I love George Michael.
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From:windthebird
Date:July 20th, 2005 11:07 pm (UTC)
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I love all the characters on AD, but I think George Michael is my favorite (and Maeby). It's the first comedy in a while, or ever, that had me giggling along, and actually rolling on the ground in laughter. (Funny you should compare AD to VM; those two, incidentally, are the ones I wrote specs for that are being read at that agency.)
(Deleted comment)
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From:horsefacehannah
Date:July 20th, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
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"Marry me!" is her way of telling the people she works with that they're paying her a complement when saying she looks young. As opposed to, you know, telling the truth. At least, that's how I interpreted it.
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From:carpedi7
Date:July 21st, 2005 12:25 am (UTC)
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This has nothing to do with Arrested Development because I've only seen it once and I do not have time to get interested in another show no matter how much my friends tell me it is wonderful, but I added another picture of Meg to my picture bar on the side of my layout. Just for you, well not really, I wanted another picture, but I thought of you when I found it. :)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:56 am (UTC)
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Whee! Pretty!
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From:crazyrach
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:10 am (UTC)
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This post is awesome! Mind if I link to it?
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From:wisteria_
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:35 am (UTC)
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Best. Icon. Ever.
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From:sinca
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:18 am (UTC)
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I totally love Arrested Development! It's awesome, so many memorable and quoteable moments.

"I got it from Army"

The rape horn!

Gah! I want DVDs!! I just found out the AD S2 ones come out the same day as Veronica, eeesh.
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From:jeeperstseepers
Date:July 21st, 2005 03:16 am (UTC)
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So Michael did some detective work. "Did you burn down the storage facility?" "Damn right I did."

T-Bone's response is "Oh most definitely" which is what makes the funny in my opinion. The delivery is so great.

I'm so relieved that you like the show. Now we can be friends.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2005 03:18 am (UTC)
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Wait...now? Then...before? We were...*cries*

The delivery on his response is great, but what makes the funny for me is the extent of Michael's "detective work." I wish they had more narration humor like that, that kind of ironic exposition rather than the regular exposition.
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From:sjester
Date:July 21st, 2005 05:20 am (UTC)
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Yay, Arrested Development! Glad you like it. I didn't start from the beginning, but I still enjoy it. The first episode I saw was the one where Buster meets Lucille Austero at the party without his glasses on. I was impressed by the fact that they had Liza Minelli on as a guest star without being all "hey look! We've got Liza Minelli!" about it. It was the nonchalance, not the Liza that was endearing.

So, what show's next?
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From:kerrypolka
Date:July 21st, 2005 05:28 am (UTC)
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Pier Pressure is probably my favorite episode of the series.

"If someone had LEFT A NOTE, this innocent man would still have his arm!"

"Where is he now?"
"He's dead. We killed him when we left the door open with the air conditioning on."

"So you knew it wasn't really a drug bust?"
"Yeah. One of the hot cops is my choir teacher."

Not to mention the meta-humor that comes into play when you know that the whole episode came about as a result of a memo that FOX executives sent to the show's writers, along the lines of "Michael Bluth should teach his son a nice lesson." AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!

And of course, I have to bring up my SecretDirtyWrongCrossgenerationalIncestuous!OTP of Michael/Maeby. Viva la Afternoon Delight!
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From:alliterator
Date:July 21st, 2005 06:52 am (UTC)
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Oh god yes. I finally broke down and since I couldn't buy the DVDs, I rented the first six episodes on one DVD from Blockbuster. Cracked my shit up.

"That's why I said there's always money IN THE BANANA STAND!"
"NO TOUCHING!"

And yes, I am so a George-Michael/Maebye 'shipper. Cous(it's a)sin!
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From:caltrask55
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:18 pm (UTC)
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Hi! I wandered over from dachelle's journal. This is such an amazing post!! I have been watching the show from the very beginning and I pimp it constantly in my journal. Obsession is too small a word for how I feel about the Bluths. Would you mind if I linked this post?

My favorite moment? Well, there are so many but since I adore Gob so damn much...

Wife of Gob.: I’m in love with your brother-in-law.
Gob: You’re in love with your own brother? The one in the army?
Wife of Gob: No, your sister’s husband.
Gob: Michael? Michael!
Wife of Gob: No, that’s your sister’s brother.
Gob: No, I’m my sister’s brother. You’re in love with me— me.
Wife of Gob: I’m in love with Tobias.
Gob: My brother-in-law?
Wife of Gob: I know it can never be, so I’m leaving. I’m enlisting in the army.
Gob: To be with your brother.
Wife of Gob: No.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 21st, 2005 01:23 pm (UTC)
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I don't mind at all, link away!

And I love Gob. Ha. Nice icon.

"But where'd the lighter fluid come from?"
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From:zengoalie
Date:July 21st, 2005 03:08 pm (UTC)
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And how can you not love the Charlie Brown theme music, and the hanging of heads...and if you watch in the background of that episode, there's a beagle on a red dog house...so funny!
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From:sneaker328
Date:July 21st, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Good lord. Your inbox must be insane with "reply to your post, reply to your post, reply to your post..."

Anyway, all I have to add is, "Yay!" And you're so right about needing to start the show from the beginning. My mother's seen a handful of season 2 episodes, and she'd alway laughs and then shakes her head and say "This show is so ridiculous" so I think I'm going to rent Season 1 and make her start over.
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From:kiwikazoo
Date:July 21st, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
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A list of all my favorite Arrested Development gags would blow the word limit for comments clear out of the water. Plus, I've only seen each episode of season 2 once, and it's been a while.

I love the narration. I don't think that there's too much of it; it keeps a good rhythm going. On one of the commentaries or special features of the DVD, someone mentions that when you watch the episodes before the narration, it's totally confusing. Besides, it allows for great gags like:

Tobias: I was walking in a strange place today... a place I’d never set foot in before.
(Cut to Tobias walking down a street in the gay neighborhood)
Narrator: Tobias, walking down a street he’d been down many times...

Which then leads to my favorite throwaway joke of the first season: check out what the customers who purchased Tobias' book on amazon.com are reading...

I also love the "Footage not Found" gag in with the accompanying wind sound. Hilarious.

One of my other favorite lines is from the Pilot:

Michael: I’m moving to Phoenix. I got a job. [Pause] Something you apply for, and then they pay you to, uh... never mind. I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

"I've made a huge mistake," "I've got the worst [bleep]ing attourneys," "No touching!" It's all good. So very, very good.

By the way, the commentaries on the S1 DVDs are hilarious and totally worth watching. That's how I caught the amazon.com gag, and there's lots of neat trivia and info about the cast. They also mention TWoP, which is pretty neat.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2005 12:44 am (UTC)
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I don't think there's too much narration; I agree that it keeps a good rhythm going. It's just that too often it's overly expository without being ironic or funny, as in your example.

I loved the "Footage Not Found" gag. That was awesome. So funny.

The job line is great, and I love "I've made a huge mistake."

The commentaries are good stuff, yeah. I caught the TWoP shout-out, and one gag I hadn't noticed was in the Spanish dictionary, the pictures are of Buster, Michael and GOB, and Lindsay.
From:lilserf
Date:July 21st, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC)

Huzzah!

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Hooray, P-C finally saw AD.
I adore the first season -- loved it when I saw it, loved it even more on DVD.
I think my all-time favorite running gag is "I've made a huge mistake." Not even a gag so much as a repeated callback, but cracks me up every time.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2005 12:41 am (UTC)

Re: Huzzah!

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Oh yes, I love that one a lot. It's so simple, yet so prevalent.

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