Saturday, August 14, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 8: "We can have unlimited juice? This party's going to be OFF THE HOOK!"

8. A show everyone should watch.
Arrested Development
"You haven't auditioned yet?"
"Oh, no, no. I'm not in the group yet. No, I'm afraid I just blue myself."
"...There's got to be a better way to say that."

Of course, it won't do them much good now -- the ship has long since sailed, and it's long since been canceled. But Arrested Development is the one show I would recommend to everybody. Why? No big mystery, no great revelatory ta-da: it's hilarious. That's all -- Arrested Development is probably the funniest, smartest comedy in the history of television.* More than that, it's a universal humor: Arrested Development has something for everyone.

"I don't want no part of your tight-ass country club, you freak bitch!"

Considering the wake of similarly-styled shows that followed it -- sitcoms done up documentary-style, no laugh tracks, addressing the audience directly -- Arrested might do better in today's television market. But at the time, it was revolutionary. It's also shockingly dense, and not just for a comedy -- rarely has any television show been so carefully scripted, filled with foreshadowings and allusions and callbacks. (My favorite device on the show are actually the occasional callforwards, subtle jokes left in that are only funny when you're watching certain episodes for a second time.) Not only that, but the show shatters the fourth wall at every opportunity, tossing in constant jokes and references to the cast's previous roles and careers (such as a throwaway moment when Henry Winkler, famous for playing the Fonz, jumps over a shark that's been left on a pier.) Of course, most of the more obscure stuff is tucked safely in the background, or sails by at such a quick pace that it doesn't bog things down -- if you don't understand why it's funny that a character played by Scott Baio is hired by the family to replace a character played by Henry Winkler, because he "skews younger," well, that's okay. The joke is gone and onto the next before you realize.

[Jessie]: "Daddy lost his shot at happy, and it's all your fault, Opie."
[Narrator, played by Ron Howard]: "Jessie had gone too far, and she had best watch her mouth."

There's a plot between all those jokes, of course, but it's succinctly summarized by Ron Howard in the opening title sequence, and it isn't all that important here, so we'll skip it. Arrested Development is a show that can't really be all that summarized, anyway -- even the quotes I'm providing here, while funny, only truly take life in their original context. The universe of the show is so deep and rich, so brilliantly realized, that it's amazing to realize they did all in just three seasons -- the show's most iconic moments and creations will stick with you long after you've finished the series.

"Okay, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was therapist twice over? An analyst and a therapist: the world's first analrapist."
"Yes, and you were almost arrested for those business cards."

There's really nothing more to it than that -- no deep themes, no meaningful insight into the decline of the American family. It's just funny. And that's why I'd recommend it to everyone -- as I said, I think it's truly a universal show. If each episode deals out about a hundred jokes (which is probably fair to say), there's a good one in there for everybody.

"Oh, and I know you're the big marriage expert -- oh, no, wait, your wife is dead! ...I'm so sorry...."

*Honestly, the only one that comes close for me is Seinfeld. And...yeah, I'm not sure which I one like more.

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