“There is always money in the banana stand.”
No passerby could walk by Columbus Circle on Tuesday without hearing this phrase uttered by tourists and New York natives alike, all vying for a legendary frozen Bluth Banana. This stunt marked the beginning of the banana stand’s worldwide tour, heightening the anticipation for the release of the new season of Arrested Development, airing on Netflix on May 26.
Fans have awaited this day for seven years now. Since 2003, Arrested Development has only gathered more loyal fans who viewed their first episodes online. But before the criticisms and appraisals of the new season flood the internet, it is important to note the great strides Arrested Development made for television sitcoms in its short life on the air. Here is a list of what the past three seasons have taught us and television.
The show was not only revolutionary because of its multi-layered comical sketches; it was also one of the only shows on television to directly address the absurdities and contradictions of the war in Iraq. While prime time media outlets followed a surface level play by play of the Iraq war, Arrested Development did the chicken dance around them.
For instance, in the episode “Exit Strategy,” the show makes a clear reference to Abu Ghraib when Michael clarifies to George Michael that G.O.B. is being held in a U.S. run prison, he adds, “God knows what they’re doing to him.” Leave it up to a low budget comedy to truly address the contradictions of the first years of the Iraq war.
With other shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report going strong, Arrested Development stands as a testament to how powerful comedy can be in confronting politics. The veil of comedy seems to free television from the traditional constraints on mainstream media.
As a native to Orange County, I have been lucky enough to appreciate the smallest jokes that are specific to my hometown. Some might have recognized the “Living Classics Pageant,” an Orange County tradition which the Bluths attended in the episode “In God We Trust,” as a reference to the real annual event that takes place in Laguna Beach, called Pageant of the Masters.
Another Southern California specific joke was the reoccurring news anchor on Fox News, John Beard, who was actually the anchor for Orange County residents at the time. My favorite reference was Buster’s hilarious trip to what he thought was Mexico in “¡Amigos!,” which turns out to be my hometown, Santa Ana.
However, I have also been exposed since childhood to the comical absurdity that often comes with being as wealthy as the Bluth family. Their characteristics are clearly funny because they are often so real. For example, throughout the show, Lindsey maintains an inconsistent passion for charity work, particularly when it is convenient for her. When the 1% is framed in this light, their irrationality is clearer. A family like the Bluths is a family to be laughed at. They are not to be admired, not to run for office, not to run the country. The Bluths put this blunter than the reality TV shows depicting the 1%.
Well, not exactly. Of course, most fans know that the series was originally cancelled because of low ratings. Indeed, the show made it clear to us when they began pleading viewers to tell friends about the show. While television show ratings are important for advertisers, the critical acclaim and popularity the show has gained long after the series finale in 2003 proves that ratings are not the best indicator of the show’s quality. Instead, popular shows that appeal to ratings tend to rely on surface level humor, easily digestible and entertaining for as many viewers as possible.
Arrested Development rejected the typical structure of television sitcom, in which a viewer can watch any given episode by itself. While most shows stick to making episodes that can stand independently of one another, Arrested Development actually rewards their viewers for watching each episode in consecutive order. When you do, you will catch on to even more jokes that reference other episodes.