Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Season 2 Episode 6
Originally broadcast December 19, 2004
I've talked about a few of my favorite shows already. However, there's one show on my list which I think is the absolute pinnacle. Without embellishment, this is probably the best show ever made. 3rd Rock might be my favorite, but I believe that Arrested Development is without equal.
What is the show?
The Bluth family, real estate moguls living large in Newport Beach, California, have fallen on hard times. Rather, hard times have fallen on them. Mirroring real-world corporate meltdowns like Enron, the government has cracked down on the Bluth Corporation and is investigating it for shady dealings. The Paternal head of the company, George Senior, is thrown in jail and his son, actually competent Michael, comes in to try to pick up the pieces and salvage what's left of the sinking ship. It sounds pretty dry and even a little tedious, but it isn't. The spiraling chaos that is the Bluth family offers a level of dysfunction and entertainment that is unrivaled.
Did I mention the whole thing is narrated by Ron Howard?
What really sets the show apart (aside from being narrated by Ron Howard) is just the sheer amount of work that was put into it. 'Meticulous' doesn't even come close. Every single detail of the show has a purpose - everything (I mean down to random background props) has a story to tell and a joke to deliver. Intricate, complicated jokes are carefully built up and established, only to pay off later, sometimes numerous episodes later. Every single frame is packed with visual gags, references, callbacks, or other juicy tidbits. It's only after the second, third, or even fourth viewing that you can really appreciate it. I can't tell you how many times I've watched the entire series, and I will still find new jokes that I've never noticed before.
It was a show ahead of its time. I'm pretty sure it was a pioneer of the single-camera, continuous format TV series. It uses the episodic format as a comic device (each episode ends with a series of joke "next time" clips), but ultimately it's one continuous, incredible story from the first episode to the last. It's a show that's meant to be binged, and it came out unfortunately just before that was a thing. Low ratings and general lack of interest slowly choked it into cancellation in 2006, but it has found a renewed life on Netflix, both figuratively and literally. That is its natural habitat.
I have spoken highly about shows on this list already. However, make no mistake about this one: Arrested Development is a masterpiece.
What is the episode?
Being a continuous format show, it's hard to just drop in right in the middle without a lot of context. The fact is that if you haven't watched this show before, you should just go ahead and start from the beginning anyway, because it's worth every single second.
The Bluth Company (or what's left of it at this point) is getting ready for the annual Christmas party, and trying to ignore the current boss and oldest son of the Bluth family, GOB. GOB is excited about the annual tradition of "toasting" the boss, even though he clearly can't take a joke and immediately fires everybody. Michael, trying to distract himself from the fact that he wasn't chosen to be the boss in his father's absence, tries to spend time with his son, George-Michael, but it turns out George-Michael would rather spend Christmas with his girlfriend and her hardcore Christian family. Meanwhile, Lucille, the family's regularly drunk Matriarch, deals with the stress of having her husband a fugitive (oh yeah, George escaped from prison and is hiding in the attic - it totally makes sense if you watch it). Buster, the youngest son, runs off to Army, only to be distracted by a claw machine. Lindsay, Michael's twin sister, tries to distract herself from her crazy husband who is stuck at home because Lucille deafened him when he went to her apartment dressed like a Blue Man . . .
Ugh, this show is hard to sum up. Let's just say that this episode, right in the middle of the series, is quite possibly the perfect Arrested Development episode. It is a tangled web of insanity, which unravels delightfully in the episode's climax (featuring Will Arnett in a giant banana costume). It features some of my favorite jokes from the whole series, some of which I will reference to this day. Actually, if I were going to pick my favorite episode of the show, I might just pick this one - the fact that it's a Christmas episode is just a bonus.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for the cameo by a Bart Simpson doll . . .
Where can you watch it?
Lightning doesn't strike twice, of course, and the fourth season produced for Netflix just doesn't live up to the first three. Don't get me wrong, it's okay - it just isn't the same. It's like hanging out with your college friends a few years after you left. It feels the same, but there's some spark missing. The magic is gone.
Anyway, Will Arnett in a giant banana costume reminds me of some other wacky Christmas costumes . . .