The SmarK DVD Rant for Arrested Development – The Second and Third Seasons

It’s a two-fer this time around, as I was ready to do the third season of the show, but then realized that I hadn’t done the second one yet, which triggered a huge AD marathon reviewing session for me over the past couple of weeks. That’s a lot of Mitch Hurwitz, man.

Now, I’m sure by now you know the story. AD bursts onto the Fox schedule, immediately wins the Best Comedy Emmy in its first year, and subsequently gets ignored and buried by the network, as they reduce the order, move it around the schedule, and do everything but cancel it to make sure it gets canceled. And yet through it all, Hurwitz and the writers maintain a brilliant vision of what a sitcom should be, redefining the genre and basically rendering the traditional “four camera” sitcom form a dead issue in many people’s minds.

The show’s true brilliance came in the form of the endless running jokes and callbacks it presented, however. Whereas most shows would do a running gag that lasted for one show, AD would present a gag that lasted for a whole SERIES. And much of the humor was derived from fans paying attention to stuff that happened in previous episodes, which would then come back to be paid off in later episodes.

There were two distinct types of running jokes featured, as well — individual and universal. The individual jokes were things like Gob’s endless parade of failed magic tricks, or Michael’s inability to formulate a plan that works, or George-Michael’s crush on his cousin Maeby. The universal jokes were lines like “I’ve made a huge mistake!” or “Well, that one was a freebie,” which could be said by different characters, in totally different contexts, on any show.

The Second Season

Featuring 18 episodes on 3 DVDs, the second season picks up with George Sr. on the run from the authorities and Michael vowing yet again to leave his family.

Disc One

– “The One Where Michael Leaves.” The title is of course an allusion to the naming system for Friends, which will actually pay off in episode three’s title. That’s the kind of demented genius you’re dealing with here. So we pick things up with George-Michael and Michael on the run to Arizona to escape his family, despite all the “family first” stuff preached by him. However, when no one notices that they left, they decide to return so as to give their departure the impact it was lacking. First “I’ve made a huge mistake” of the season here, and the first foreshadowing of Oscar’s real relationship to Buster. Tobias doing Kegel exercises is an awesomely weird gag. The major plots see Michael looking for bail money in advance of being indicted, while Tobias joins the Blue Man Group to get over his marital problems, thinking it to be a support group for depressed men. A news report also foreshadows an upcoming seal attack in the show. Great running gag with Oscar getting clubbed by police, although the payoff reveals that it wasn’t Oscar at all.

– “The One Where They Build a House.” Michael decides to do a big ribbon-cutting party to help the company’s image, which sets up a HUGE rock-paper-scissors gag later on. Meanwhile, Gob buys a company boat (the Seaward), while Buster joins the army despite night blindness and a deformed reproductive organ. Another foreshadowing of Buster’s hand and his parentage, and George has made a huge mistake. Again. Gob turning a board meeting into a sideshow is great, and will be repeated for equal laughs through the series. Lindsay picks up Thomas “The Punisher” Jane, thinking him to be homeless, which sets up a callback to the “What’s wrong with —, there’s nothing wrong with —, oh, except they’re —” gag from season one. Tobias disguising himself in blue backgrounds is brilliant, and the final rock-paper-scissors gag (“Once again, Michael chose rock…”) is transcendent humor. “Ann / Who?” is also introduced here as a running joke. George Sr. is revealed to be in Mexico, which sets up the next episode’s title.

– “!Amigos!” The jokes in the TITLES are funnier than most stuff on TV these days. This one is notable for introducing Martin Mull as Private Eye Gene Parmesan (“AAAAAAAH! He got me again!”), master of disguise. Michael tries to gather a posse to get his father out of Mexico, while Lucille throws a going-away party for Buster, which introduces the “You’re Killing Me, Buster” banner that gets funnier with each recycling. Gob hires his own PI, Ice, to follow Michael, so Lucille hires Gene to follow Gob. Buster escapes to “Mexico,” but gets confused over distances and ends up elsewhere in the neighborhood, where he finds his old hand-chair and notes that he never thought he’d miss a hand so much. A surreal gag sees Ice searching for George from a picture printed on blueprint paper, which naturally leads him to a made-up Tobias. That’s the kind of joke it takes most sitcoms YEARS to build up to. Honestly, who would even THINK of a payoff like that?

– “Good Grief” The high concept humor continues with the best episode of the season. This one introduces Ben Stiller as Gob’s future nemesis, Tony Wonder, who once baked himself into a giant loaf of bread for the troops. The running gag here is an escalating series of Charlie Brown references, like a sign on the banana stand. George Sr. is declared dead, which God takes as the perfect chance to get on the cover of Poof Magazine. Great freeze-frame sight gag sees G-M walking past a doghouse in full Charlie Brown pout mode, with a sad-looking Christmas tree in the background. G-M finds Pop-Pop and hides him in the attic, although after promising no secrets with his father, Michael then turns around and tricks everyone into thinking that George Sr. had escaped again and re-hides him. Gob’s big illusion of course goes totally opposite to what was planned, with hilarious results. Tremendous episode!

– “Sad Sack.” Buster goes through boot camp, surprised to find that recent litigation by Wayne Jarvis prevents anyone from being called homo as a motivational technique. Luckily, Gob isn’t bound by that and is more than happy to help out. Steve Holt (“Steve Holt!”) returns as the object of Maeby’s affections (complete with a great freeze-frame gag involving his yearbook quotes), while Oscar is feeling cramped by Lucille’s affections. Wayne Jarvis (so serious that he was named “worst audience participant in Cirque De Soleil history”, according to him) offers Michael a deal in exchange for his father, which leads to Tobias borrowing Gob’s camera phone (which plays “The Final Countdown”, of course) and accidentally photographing himself in the tub. Thus, Jarvis goes after Michael with a mysterious picture of WMDs in Iraq which isn’t quite what it seems. Regardless, this bumps up George’s light treason to medium treason. Luckily for everyone, Barry Zuckercorn knows the difference between landscapes and balls.

– “Afternoon Delight” Gob is alienating people at work with his $3000 suit (“Come on!”) and it’s Christmas party time. G-M is having Christmas with Ann Egg, so Michael & Maeby decide to do some bonding without him. Sadly, their song choice at karaoke is a tad inappropriate. Gob and the escalating value of his suit is a great runner, leading to Gob firing the entire company. Oscar gives Lucille some “Afternoon Delight” in her brownie, and it all leads to Buster’s claw-game addiction paying off with Gob in a banana suit. More foreshadowing sees Buster carrying a stuffed seal around with him.

Disc Two

– “Switch Hitter” The past references come fast and furious, as Stan Sitwell returns to tempt Michael over to the dark (light?) side, although George and Gob think he’s just trying to recruit for his softball team. So of course Gob promptly takes a job with Sitwell, leaving Michael as the president again. More callbacks as Gob’s softball bonding with Sitwell brings back fond memories of being shanked in prison. Also returning is Teamocil, as Lindsay takes it for the side-effects (which are helpfully listed by the narrator as we go along). And in one of the most unlikely plot-twists in a while, Maeby accidentally gets a job as as a studio executive at Tantamount Studios. If Jude Law does a remake of “The Old Man and the Sea”, you’ll know who to blame.

– “Queen For A Day” More innuendo with Tobias, as he hits the town with Buster (“I’ll even take a chubby if I have to, and I’ll suck it up!”). Another crazy reference as Starla the Quincy Jones stalker returns for another cameo. Michael gets self-conscious about his staircar and gets a midlife-crisis-mobile instead. Buster and Tobias of course end up in a gay drag bar, where Tobias becomes a karaoke star and Buster hooks up with Lucille II again. However, she buys up the Bluth stock and takes over the company. So poor Buster gets turned into a bargaining chip, thus screwing him up even more. And speaking of screwed up, the Hot Cops return, leading to a disastrous street revue. Tobias commenting “I suppose I could paint over the Mary” make this one.

– “Burning Love” Lucille tries to find someone to bid on her at the annual auction in yet another callback. Michael meets Sally Sitwell, while Gob continues his disturbing new relationship with Lucille II, but neither wants to publicly admit it. Can you blame them? Quick cameo as Steve Holt returns as a boil-in-bag delivery guy. Rob Cordrey from the Daily Show has an inspired guest spot as TV cop Frank Wrench here. Michael, in his usual wishy-washy manner, finally makes his move on Sally, but life intervenes again.

– “Ready, Aim, Marry Me!” Lucille II grows tired of Gob, but the joke’s on her because she doesn’t realize how little Lucille Bluth actually cares about Gob. More brilliance from Tobias (“I prematurely shot my wad and now I’ve got a mess on my hands!”) as he decides to start tape-recording himself so he can hear all his malaprops. Lindsay & Gob doing chicken dances in tandem is worth the admission here. Michael calls in Uncle Jack to attempt a hostile takeover from Lucille II. Martin Short of course chews the scenery as the crippled old man (“Swoop me! To the nuts! No, the BRIDGE MIX!”) Gob & Buster go commando, tracking Lucille & Sitwell, which leads to all sorts of crazy payoffs as everyone collides at a spa. One of the season’s highlights, to be sure.

– “Out On A Limb” Great joke right away, as father & son go to lunches on a Sunday at a restaurant called Skip Church’s. Gob’s wife returns, suing for divorce, which Gob could avoid simply by admitting they never consummated it. But of course, that would never happen. Maggie the “blind” lawyer returns, now “pregnant”, some 8 1/2 months after the affair with Michael, which naturally has him flip-flopping more than usual. Buster is ready to ship off to Iraq as we get a callback to the God/Adam joke from season one, and George Sr. worries about never touching Buster’s hand again. And we finally confirm that Oscar is his real father. Ann converts Lucille (“This was a big get for God.”) and Maggie may actually be pregnant. And for the second time, something in the “On the next” bit comes true, as a seal (which Gob has released at the beginning of the show) bites off Buster’s hand. Note Buster sitting on a bench which reads “Arm Off” with him blocking key letters.

– “Hand To God” The Literal Doctor inform us that Buster is now without a left hand, which a drugged Buster takes a little too well. The funny restaurant names continue, as Maggie & Michael eat at Miss Temple’s Chinese Restaurant on a Friday. The “You’re Killing Me” banner return as “Welcome Home, Buster”. Michael discovers that Maggie is carrying the baby of the gay cops (not to be confused with the Hot Cops) but in fact Maggie Lizer lies again. The black and white cops not wanting to know who the real father is and Michael’s deadpan reaction are awesome.

Disc Three

– “Motherboy XXX” The annual Motherboy competition is in jeopardy, as Buster is having nightmares about his lost hand, courtesy of callbacks to earlier episodes. Great bit with Tobias getting a series of vanity plates to commemorate his lost roles, leading to a payoff of “Dr. House”, and he meets with Carl Weathers at Burger King (that’s BURGER KING, in case you missed the joke about corporate sponsorship). So he signs away the rights to his family’s life in exchange for a part as George Sr. The Bluth men chase the killer seal as Barry Zuckercorn literally jumps the shark in a tremendous throwaway gag. Michael & Buster attempt a daring rescue of George-Michael from Motherboy, in a gag with Buster’s hand that would be called back in season 3.

– “Immaculate Election” Lindsay kicks Tobias to the curb, and he goes to live on the set of Wrench in another callback. Turns out that the toilets on set don’t actually work. Who knew? Michael and Gob attempt to fire each other from the company, and Gob loses that one pretty handily. Lupe the Maid starts doing Buster and gets fired, so Tobias gets the role of a lifetime as a housekeeper, albeit in an obvious disguise. Michael talks G-M into running for student body president, but he’s running against the unstoppable force of Steve Holt, who is going through a crisis of conscience because he doesn’t know who his father is. And Gob keeps mentioning that he knocked up some chick in high school named Eve Holt. However, everything falls by the wayside of the awesomeness that is the Star Wars video here.

– “Sword of Destiny” Funny reference right off the bat as Michael complains about having an order cut from 22 to 18. Gee, wonder what that’s referring to? Tobias (wearing a faker moustache than usual because of his Mrs. Featherbottom routine) tries to become Michael’s assistant, while Gob buys the SWORD OF DESTINY. Michael has appendicitis, and gets Homer Simpson as a doctor in place of the Literal Doctor (“No, no, let him keep talking.”) More Fox references as Family Guy pops up on Tony Wonder’s website. Buster and Gob manage to one-up Tony Wonder with the SWORD OF DESTINY. Sadly, Gob loses his fingers as a result. Ben Stiller is of course in full-on ham mode. Gotta love the Fox-bashing here.

– “Meat the Veals” Historic episode, as we meet Gob’s racist puppet alter-ego, Franklin! The Bluths are planning an anniversary party for Gangy, although Gob is not so much with the invited. Michael, constantly trying to sabotage his son’s relationship, decides that having the Veals meet the Bluths would probably do the trick. Of course, his plan goes totally off the tracks and everyone is on their best behavior for a variety of unrelated reasons. Mrs. Veal makes a move on Michael, and the whole thing turns into a big crazy church scene, ending with Franklin getting arrested in an awesome finale.

– “Spring Breakout” Another great meta-joke sees the narrator bitching about the narration of “Scandalmakers”, the documentary Tobias sold the rights to. Lucille adds her own version of the chicken dance, while Gob goes to war with the Girls With Low Self-Esteem producers who humiliated him on their last DVD. Michael brings Lucille to rehab, while Kitty brings George Sr. to a hotel room for his sperm. This leads to a mismatched drinking contest between Kitty and Lucille, and we learn that Zach Braff is a Never-Nude, too.

– “The Righteous Brothers” The model house is falling apart, literally, along with Michael’s life. Kitty keeps trying to blackmail him, and Gob makes a Franklin CD (“It Ain’t Easy Being White”) which gets referenced a zillion times and is funny EVERY time. Tobias and Kitty flashing Michael with matching blur over their nipples is brilliant. Michael goes to jail because Gob is an idiot as usual. G-M and Maeby finally have their big moment, which is of course weird. And once again, Michael & Gob brawl in front of the courthouse, until George Sr. puts a stop to it and turns himself in. Although he turns in Oscar, which reduces the nobility of the act somewhat. And that’s season 2.

Season Three

Sadly, this season was cut down by Fox even further, reduced to 13 episodes, but much like concentrating a good sauce for flavor, this may have distilled the show down to the essence of brilliance, forcing them to cut away any excess left. It’s presented on two sad little DVDs in a single case, instead of the box set format of the first two.

Disc One

– “The Cabin Show”. The Bluth stock is upgraded from “Sell” to “Don’t Buy”, and Michael sells the cabin property to keep the company afloat, but has to move the cabin. This triggers all sorts of family issues (“Taste the sad!”) as Gob is learning life lessons all over the place, according to the narrator. Speaking of family issues, Oscar is in prison in George’s place (sadly, imoscar.com is no longer with us). Everyone heads to Reno looking for George, where Gob finds Steve Holt and fatherhood. Michael & G-M finally get to the cabin and camp out in a callback to the pilot, and Henry Winkler ends his role as Barry Zuckercorn, as Michael fires him.

– “For British Eyes Only” And it’s the beginning of the greatest run of the show. George is now under house arrest and the credits are gone for this episode. George explains the difference between prison and house arrest — “There you shut your eyes and take it, but here you shut your eyes and give it” — and blames the British for his situation. So Michael heads to Wee Britain, a very specialized portion of the OC (“Don’t call it that”) and meets Rita Leeds. This earns some threats from a sinister Brit played by Dave Thomas, although his apparent motivations for doing so are much different than we later discover. Michael eats a “whole thing of candy beans” to cope with rejections. It blows my mind how well-written this was, and how you totally buy into the spy storyline and take it all at face value until the pull the rug out from under you. By the way, no one was making fun of Andy Griffith, I can’t emphasize that enough.

– “Forget-Me-Now” So we meet the new Bluth lawyer, Scott Baio playing Bob Loblaw. We also meet Larry the Surrogate, played by Bob “Super Dave” Einstein, as they compete to see who can be more deadpan in the face of great lines. Einstein always wins that one. We also learn that Tobias, who was buy-curious in the last episode, is also an analrapist. Michael tries to find ways to keep Rita from meeting his family. Bob Loblaw charging Lindsay for phone sex is great. Buster’s banner is recycled yet again into “You’re kidding me” And of course Rita ends up meeting the family,and gets assaulted and left on a bus bench, which covers up key letters in “Wee Britain,” giving us another clue as to her real character.

– “Notapusy” Michael and Rita have a misunderstanding over the word “pussy”, while an inner beauty pagaent sees Tobias coaching Ann (“Who?”), which gives Maeby the perfect chance to resurrect Shirley. Tobias: “You have to ask yourself if you want a man or a boy. I know how I’d answer!” Uncle Mike acts as surrogate dad for Steve Holt (“Uncle Mike!”) although the “oxy-incontinent” makes it tougher than usual to run a triathalon. More clues about Rita here. And Ann’s camel-tow? Awesome.

– “Mr. F.” Oh my, all roads lead to this one. Michael finds a mole problem on the property, but Bob Loblaw suspects a figurative mole, who may be Rita. All they know is that the name is Mr. F. George orders a jetpack, which ends up in the hands of G-M, while Gob & Buster build a trainset town to fool Japanese investors. And of course it all leads to Tobias in a mole costume taking on George Michael in a jetpack as they fight over Tiny Town. Sheer brilliance. And then, as Michael proposes to Rita, we learn that Mr. F stands for something else entirely, and suddenly the whole British story arc makes a lot more sense. Possibly the best episode of the whole SERIES.

– “The Ocean Walker” This may be the second-best. Michael announces his engagement to Rita, which gives us lots of jokes about how dumb she really is. Plus a reference to Tony Hale’s VW commercial to boot. Maeby green-lights a script called “The Ocean Walker,” which pays off later. Gob’s fireball running joke continues (“But where did the lighter fluid come from?”) and another great moment has the narrator interjecting his opinion of the weirdness of the Michael-Rita relationship and hotel phone prices. That’s how they get you, you know. Double callback to Buster’s wire-slide from Motherboy XXX and Michael’s problems with Mary Poppins here. Michael finally learns what’s going on with Rita, but the Bluths learn that she’s rich and set about getting them married ASAP. The candy beans return as well. Rita walks on water to pay off the Ocean Walker bit, and then THAT is further paid off in the “On the next…” bit. And that’s how you do a running joke.

– “Prison Break-in” I think the reference material should be obvious from the title. Michael is so desperate for comforting after his breakup with Rita that he actually goes to his mother. After two years of raising money for “TBA”, the Bluths use Tobias and his hair plug issues to actually have a benefit for a real disease. Sort of. The gala is at the prison, so we get more of aspiring screenwriter Warden Gentles. The interludes with the elementary school production of “New Warden” help a lot with the narrative flow. The narrator’s non-stop stream of pot jokes is also awesome (leading up to “Although it was not the first time that he had been knocked out by a powerful lid”) This one also packs the Prison Break references in tight, with tattooed maps and Tobias calling himself “T-Bag” in between jokes about giving other people chlamydia.

Disc Two

– “Making a Stand” Michael is frustrated with Gob’s stupid business ideas (and those of his lackey-in-training Steve Holt) but realizes that his dad is just trying to play them off each other, like in the Boyfights videos they starred in as children. So in order to be less competitive, Michael gives God & Steve their own banana stand, which they proceed to set up, like, 20 feet from the original. Gob mentions a new Christian girlfriend, which pays off later in the series. And when the Bluth boys realize that George is playing them, they reintroduce us to one-armed lesson teacher J. Walter Weatherman. However, in typical fashion for the show, Michael’s master plan gets twisted in on itself. And the Funke’s divorce gets ugly, as we learn about Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog. And everyone learns lots of lessons about learning lessons.

– “SOBs” The Bluths are desperate, as Bob Loblaw lobs a law bomb and they need a new lawyer. And it means guest stars, a live ending, and someone will DIE. G-M seems to be developing OC disorder (but don’t call it that). And sadly, the HBO doesn’t want them, so it’s Showtime. The Andy Richter Quintuplets rule the school here. Lots of metatextual stuff like Michael pleading with the family to be more likeable and the narrator explaining the difference between a complex situation with no easy solution and a clear-cut situation with potential for comedy. Michael’s speech at the end is pretty much the show’s good-bye to fans, as the end was clearly in sight.

– “Fakin’ It” The witness list is released and a mysterious N. Bluth is on it. Plus Franklin, now sporting a “George Bush doesn’t care about black puppets” shirt, returns. Of course, the whole trial is set to be broadcast on a new reality show, “Judge Reinhold” (“My name is Judge!”) Buster fakes a coma to avoid testifying, so Lindsay begins protesting to have him killed. It’s a Life Mill at that hospital, you know. The mock trial of course proves to be a mockery, complete with William Hung and his Hung Jury, which is about as good a use of him as I’ve seen. And then through a weird series of coincidences, Maeby marries George-Michael.

– “Family Ties” The mysterious N. Bluth may be an older sister named Nellie, but his dad’s mass-erasure of the company computers makes it tough to investigate. Sadly, Nellie (played by Justine Bateman in some truly inspired casting) turns out to be a hooker rather than his sister. As usual Michael misses all the clues, and hires her as a consultant. And she blows everyone at the company…away. They keep forgetting to say that “away” part. And apparently God is a pimp on the side, but he’s still waiting for that BIG sign from God that he should change.

– “Exit Strategy” The prosecution tries to get Tobias to flip, but he interprets it as a CBS procedural show. Buster’s fake coma is broken by love, and we get a great joke with Wayne Jarvis turning on the TV to show a plot point, but having to sit through commercials first. Tobias getting tricked into a sting operation via a scrapbooking class run by Det. Munch is brilliant. Michael & Buster go to Iraq to save Gob, as everythign is now yellow-tinged to simulate being in Iraq while still using the same set. And once there, they discover a house full of Saddam lookalikes, which reveals that George was building houses for the CIA and really was a patsy all along. Gary Cole as the CIA taxi driver and the Soup Nazi as a lookalike are great casting.

– “Development Arrested” And finally, the end. Things are looking good with all the charges dropped, so they decide to stage a party on the same boat as we started on. We learn that Lucille was the queen-pin all along, and she had a Korean man deported years earlier. And Lindsay is three years older than she previously thought. G-M finally confesses his feelings about Maeby to Michael, and he recommends Ann instead. This leads to us learning that she’s Gob’s new girlfriend. Lindsay is actually adopted and not Michael’s twin as previously thought (although all the flashbacks where she’s a foot taller might have been a giveaway before) and she immediately decides to marry Michael and leave Tobias. Michael is less thrilled about that idea. Michael finally pays off all the robot jokes and cries at the party, and then flees with George-Michael, the yacht, and $500,000 to finally escape the family once and for all, leaving them to get raided by the SEC. We learn that Annyong tipped them off to avenge his grandfather, who was the one deported by Lucille years ago.

It was Arrested Development. Nuff said.

The Video

As Fox switched to high-definition full-time, this show went with it, and is featured in breathtaking 1.77:1 widescreen here with the absolute best transfer of a TV show I’ve ever seen. EVER. It’s far better than even the pristine initial airings of the show on regular broadcast cable looked, and the level of detail and color in the high-def masters is amazing. This is truly reference-quality stuff.

The Audio

Well, it’s standard Dolby Surround, which is too bad because gags mixed into the rear speakers would be exactly the kind of thing that this show would excel at. Still, it sounds note perfect for a dialogue-centered show, and that’s the important thing.

The Extras

Surprisingly light on both sets, as there’s a few commentary tracks from the entire cast and crew which set the standard for totally ignoring the show and concentrate on calling Jeffrey Tambor’s cell phone instead. Plus a bevy of deleted scenes on each disk, and a few quickie featurettes. I guess it’s par for the course given FOX’s treatment of the show.

The Ratings:

The Show: *****
The Video: *****
The Audio: **1/2
The Extras: **1/2

The Pulse:

Hands down the smartest sitcom ever, and that’s including Frasier, it was truly a show that came around at the wrong time on the wrong channel. On the bright side, FOX gave it three wonderful seasons before pulling the plug on it, and now we can all enjoy it forever on DVD.

Highest recommendation for both seasons.

Arrested Development Season 3