I’ve been slowly rewatching Arrested Development, as I do every year or two. What gets me this time around is how complicated some of the jokes are. And how proud I am of getting the jokes, where they’re almost designed to instill a feeling just short of arrogance. “A ha! I got that. Bet lots of other people watching didn’t, and that’s why it was cancelled!” The scene where George Michael finds George Sr. in the spider hole and examines his teeth and how that ties into the photos of Saddam Hussein’s capture, for example. They way that joke is built up just to make a reference to a current event, and how that current event and the lampooning of the Bush administration was all done throughout the show, is a special kind of humor. The Simpsons’s “Baby Watchmen” gag hits a similar note for me on a smaller scale.
In my Philosophy of the Law class we spent a lot of time studying John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. One of the common knocks against utilitarianism is the (false) idea that all things increase utility equally. Plato had a thing about the difference between Socrates and swine. The idea being that there are base pleasures in life and complex ones earned through study. An easy joke out of Two and a Half Men might be funny but it doesn’t stick with you and enrich your life. You don’t sit around with friends years later and laugh about it. Like I said, it’s all very snobby. It’s how people wind up saying they don’t like popular music because it doesn’t have the same depth as Mozart.
Anyway, there was a great thread on Metafilter a while ago about Arrested Development, and I found myself looking for it today to find a particular comment about one of the jokes:
[M]aybe my favorite thing in Arrested Development is when George Sr. puts on his wig and hat and sneaks into Buster’s room at night, and Buster calls him ‘Uncle,’ whereupon George Sr. says 'I’m not your uncle, I’m your father,’ which is what makes Buster go swimming in the ocean and lose his hand. But the thing is– Buster tells Lucille that he knows who his real father is, and she gets mad at Oscar for telling Buster, so there are four people involved in the drama, and none of them has the same understanding of what events transpired, and none of them is correct about what events transpired. And the show doesn’t even make a big deal out of it.
And then also:
My favorite joke is from the very last episode, “Development Arrested,” where they essentially set up a visual joke in reverse order.
Michael walks into the office, and there’s a visibly injured employee being led to the elevator.
Then there’s a brief piece of dialogue between Michael and someone else. Lindsay maybe?
Then you see another employee, wearing a white button-up shirt and sunglasses but no pants, saying, “I just didn’t see it there!”
Then back to Michael and the other dialogue for a beat.
Then a shot towards the end of the hallway, where there’s a banner that says “Risky Business” that’s attached at one end but hanging loose at the other end, and a ladder collapsed onto the ground.
SO! Based solely on the premise that the company has been upgraded by Jim Cramer from “Don’t Buy” to “Risky” (a callback to the first episode of the third season, where he upgraded them from “Sell” to “Don’t Buy”), as if that’s something to celebrate, the company throws a Risky Business-themed party. Then, by imitating a character from that movie, one of the employees demonstrates that Bluth Company actually IS a risky business by causing an easily avoidable accident that injures another employee. And all of this is revealed in reverse order, in the background, while main-plotline dialogue is going on in the foreground. It’s such an elaborate setup for something that’s so easy to miss, I love it