05 March 2013

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: SEASON 1, EPISODE 19: "BEST MAN FOR THE GOB"

First airdate: 4 April, 2004
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Richard Rosenstock
Directed by Lee Shallat Chemel

"Best Man for the Gob" is, by all means, a fine episode of Arrested Development on the whole, but oh my God, it has a killer B-plot: anxious to keep his marriage from collapsing, Tobias suggests that the Fünkes resurrect their old folk act, Dr. Fünke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution (underwritten by the Natural Life Food Company, a division of ChemGrow, an Allyn-Crane acquisition, and part of the Squimm Group. Their motto: “We keep you alive”). Maeby agrees because even the hell of cheap folk music is worse than dealing with her parents separating and therefore trying to spend more time with her individually, and Lindsay does it for the drugs. We have here one of the best first-season examples of an AD joke that works primarily because it gets right up in our face and dares us to maintain some level of composure in front of it; the band, and its repertoire of Big Pharma pitch songs are so aggressively bizarre in every respect ("There's no 'I' in Teamocil / At least not where you'd think") that half the fun of the joke lies in acknowledging that the writers were able to come up with something so enthusiastically left-field. The songs, the staging, the props, the costumes all build up an awesomely weird gag that is Arrested Development at its finest

In the face of that, the episode's A-plot simply can't compete, which to me, anyway, leaves "Best Man for the Gob" feeling somewhat weaker than, moment-by-moment and gag-for-gag, it really is. There's not a single bad moment in the episode: I'm not in love with the Gilligan's Island jokes centered on irritable Bluth Company accountant Ira Gilligan (Michael Hitchcock), as they don't grow out of the show nearly as organically, or with the same meta-narrative effect, as the references to other classic TV shows(i.e. Happy Days), but I'd certainly never go around saying that they're not good, solid, clever gags. But the episode's creative oxygen is being devoured by that one single thread - also the brief reappearance of our old friends, the Hot Cops, and a pair of terrific gags involving a sugar-addicted Buster - leaving the A-plot muted, somehow. That said, it works, more on a character-based level maybe than a comic one; it ends with a particularly strong Michael/Gob moment, and with that being maybe the show's second-most compelling relationship (after Michael & George-Michael, who get their own terrific little bonding moment: the look of misery on both their faces when they think about gutting fish), this is certainly one of the more emotionally centered first season AD episodes. Which isn't exactly what draws me, for one, to the series, but at least it feels sturdy and focused, a good episode to serve as a mile-marker as the first episode starts to look to its wrapping-up phase.

Anyway, I'm selling it short: there are plenty of terrific details not related in any way to Dr. Fünke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution, and for the first time in what feels like ages, every single member of the ensemble cast, along with both of the notable guest stars (besides Hitchcock, Amy Poehler returns as Gob's accidental wife), has at least one showcase moment. Sometimes only one - Lucille, who has over the course of this re-watch been turning into my favorite character, crops up in just one scene, and only gets to act nasty and smug towards Buster. But it's a great ensemble piece even so, not really favoring any individual character, not even Michael.

There's a lot of subdued humor here, relative to other episodes: like the very cold conference room and Michael's very hot office, gently distinguished by visuals and the sound mix, and neatly dramatising the show-long theme of Michael being constantly called into question by people who aren't at intelligent as he is. Or Jeffrey Tambor's exceptionally laconic performance beats ("I probably stole it"). And while it is not subdued at all, I enjoy very distinctly the writers' way of playing around with how limited of a one-note joke Annyong is - as of this point, they'd officially spent as many episodes mocking their own repetitiveness as indulging in it, with Gob's sputtering explosion of rage.

But this is, for me, all about the Fünkes, and their madly inventive, disaster of a folk group. It's easily the most clear and sustained exploration of that three-part family dynamic in the first season, if not the whole series, and it gives Alia Shawkat a rare first-season chance to show off while giving Portia de Rossi more to work with than she'd had in some time: "it burns when you pee and your marriage goes to hell" is an absolutely flawless line reading, one of the highlights of her entire career as Lindsay. It's zany and sweet, ridiculous enough to mock but sincere enough not to be campy. A truly great episode might have been able to bear up under this subplot as just one thread out of many; but simply by virtue of including this plotline, "Best Man for the Gob" secures its place in the AD firmament, however imbalanced.

3 comments:

Regular GeoX said...

It has to be said: "I'm a complete failure. I can't even fake the death of a stripper."

Robert said...

For all the obvious and frequently written about connections between Arrested Development and The Godfather, I hadn't noticed until someone pointed out to me that in this episode, George Sr concocts 2 schemes right out of The Godfather part II. First, bump off Gilligan on a fishing trip. And when that doesn't work, blackmail him with a dead prostitute.

Tim said...

Holy balls. Never even came close to noticing that.