Saturday, September 15, 2007

Arrested Development and George Bush

I really liked Arrested Development when it first aired, but I was a night security guard then and missed most of the first season. Then I was in England, where it did not air. I watched random episodes this year, and loved them, and so decided to buy all three seasons on DVD and go through them in order. I am virtually done now. I have the second half of season 3 left, but I saw most of those when they were re-run on G4. I know I saw the last four.

Because I missed this when it was on, I wanted to know -- did everyone watching at the time notice the weird political skeletal structure on which the show was built? Because I am only just now watching these fully paying attention, I only just now picked up on it.

Obviously I noticed stuff like the Bluth company doing business with the Iraqi government. That is explicit -- a picture of George Senior shaking hands with Saddam prompts someone to say that it will ruin his career, at which point the narrator shows us an image of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam. There is a broad (maybe too broad) joke about homeland security being stupid, and a "Mission Accomplished" banner put up at the Bluth company for a minor accomplishment. The whole end in Iraq, with GOB's Burning Bush trick ("Burn Bush! Burn Bush!") -- of course I saw that.

What I missed was the family structure thing. I thought GOB's name was "Job," like in the Bible. Turns out it is "George Oscar Bluth." While his father, George Senior, is in prison he is put in charge of the corrupt Bluth company, but just as a figurehead. Michael Bluth, the smart one, is given a vice president role. Michael really runs the place; George Senior wants to keep him in the background so if the Feds come he will not take all the blame. Buster is GOB's even stupider brother.

So GOB (George Bluth junior) is the president. He is just a figurehead for the real power, the vice president. And behind the scenes George Bluth Senior, who used to be president, pulls the strings. The names chime as well: George Bush /George Bluth, sons also named George, GOB / Jeb . This makes jokes like GOB using George Bush's malapropisms, George Michael's school election campaign (in which he starts by aiming for the Christian vote), the clips of Fox news, and GOB's putting up posters that say "Everyone Makes Mistakes" funnier.

Two questions.

Am I the last one to notice this?


What is the status of this? It is not exactly a satire. Or is it? It is just like this odd structural detail that throws some jokes into high relief, but stays underground enough so that it never interferes with the other, random jokes the show feels like making, so that the show never becomes polemic. Is that right?


Scott91777 said...

Actually, I think I'm the last to notice this... but, even before I read this blog, I knew where you were going with the family paralells (although I initially thought maybe Michael would be George W.... but you're right, he's WAY too smart).
I would certainly consider this satire as far as my definition is concerned, but there are definitely elements of farce there. So, maybe, Farcicial Satire?

Jonathan said...

I watched all three seasons in a week s span while I was visiting NYC at the end of the summer..... I picked up on everything you noticed pretty immediately. I think everything was meant to be obvious.

It gets me wondering about other things though. If the "kissing cousins" have any satire behind them. What's Tobias' role in all of this?

Anyway, it's a great show. I like Tobias and GOB the best.

Bowlegged_Lou said...

I agree with you that there's some definite parallels between seasons 1 & 2 and the recent political situation in the U.S. - a friend of mine also pointed out the recurring theme of GOB's flimsy "illusions," a potential reference to the thinly-masked political shadyness of the Bush administration.

My problem with this reading is the third season - if we're reading AD as some sort of political allegory/satire, how do the Brits (or Charlize Theron's M.R.F.) fit in?

Arlo J. Wiley said...

Oh my God. I feel ashamed to be an Arrested Development fan and not to have noticed this. Of course, I noticed all of the obvious parallels, but not this entire underlying structure.

See? This is why I love this show...every single time I watch an episode I find something new to savor. And now I think I need to watch the whole thing again. And I've already done that twice this year.

I swear I have a life...

neilshyminsky said...

And, of course, GOB's slogan for the new development, which was supposed to distract from the Iraq investigation - 'Solid as a rock' - cracks me up every time.

I don't think that Arrested Development is a Bush administration satire, though - I think that too many characters and situations have no clear correlate for it to be meant as solely that sort of allegory, and that too much sticks to it from any number of various readings. There is, for instance, too much meta stuff going on, too much self-reference and too much fun making obscure and not-so-obscure references to the history of television.

Jason Powell said...

Geoff: "I am virtually done now. I have the second half of season 3 left,"

Too freaky. I just got done watching the first episode on Season 3, Disc 2 myself -- like literally right before logging on and seeing on MySpace that you had blogged about A.D.

Anyway, great observation. I'm another who hadn't noticed the Bush parallel beyond obvious stuff like the "Mission Accomplished" banner and the other stuff you named. That's awesome. Sort of makes me want to throw Season 3, Disc 2 right back into the player and keep goin' till I reach the finish.

Neil: "There is, for instance, too much meta stuff going on, too much self-reference and too much fun making obscure and not-so-obscure references to the history of television."

The bit in Season 2 when Henry Winkler jumps over a shark while saying, "I'm off to Burger King" is possibly the most sublime televisionary moment ever.

Geoff Klock said...

JP: OH. MY. GOD. I just now realized that that is extra funny because Henry Winkler is at the origin of the phrase Jumping the Shark (which goes back to the Happy Days Goes to Hawaii episode in which the Fonz jumps a shark on skiis in a leather jacket).

nicholas reed said...

It was kind of obvious to me once the "Mission Accomplished" banner showed up. I went back through the episodes then and picked up on all sorts of stuff.

Personally, this was my favorite show on television when it was on. The multiple levels of humor in pretty much every moment of the show, up to and including the sheer GENIUS of the final episode, was just miles and miles above every other comedy show. I honestly miss this show, though it does not surprise me that it was not a success with the general populace. My mother said to me after watching one episode, "That was very amusing, but every character is a terrible terrible person." That, plus the nature of much of the writing on the show (self-referential, obtuse references to many areas of culture [including, yes, Bush and co.], playing with the form of the sitcom) rewarded repeat viewings and serial watchers, but was not kind to those who just tune in and turn off their brains.

neilshyminsky said...

Geoff and Jason: The Happy Days jokes get better, of course, when Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio) is called in to replace Winkler's Barry Zuckercorn. The implicit joke, of course, is riffing on the fact that Baio was brought in as Chachi to attract younger viewers to Happy Days as Winkler's age caught up to him.

And it's made hilariously explicit with Loblaw's first line: "This isn't the first time I've taken over from Barry Zuckercorn. I can do everything he can do. Plus skew younger. With jurors."

Which is just to say, of course, that I think the show is operating at a number of very shallow levels that are often trying to avoid getting in the way of one another. You don't need to recognize the Bush administration parallels or the Happy Days jokes - there are so many jokes that a few are bound to hit and a few more will miss.

Jason Powell said...

"OH. MY. GOD. I just now realized that that is extra funny because Henry Winkler is at the origin of the phrase Jumping the Shark"

Exactly. I didn't notice it on first viewing, and then I couldn't believe that I'd missed it.

"The Happy Days jokes get better, of course, when Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio) is called in to replace Winkler's Barry Zuckercorn."

Yes, and of course there's the fact that Richie Cunningham is narrating the whole thing. (And even goes so far as to correct GOB when refers to "Happy Days" actor Donny Most as Donny Host. I love all that stuff.)

Not Ultros said...

Somewhere a grad student is planning a dissertation on how AD and The Wire dealt with the Bush Administration. The Wire used it to create a postmodern parallel about the decline of the American city. AD did something equally ambitious, and made it silly, too.

Streebo said...

I've never seen AD. But hearing you all talk about it makes me want to get caught up.

I still need to get through seasons two and three of LOST!



Jason Powell said...

Streebo, ya gotta check it out! You'll love it.

M. Robert Turnage said...

The idea I got from the Fresh Air interview with the AD creator (found here was that he just wanted to fill the show with every joke that was ever rejected from every other project he had ever been associated with.

He even said that the "On the next Arrested Development..." pieces came from test screening survey questions where they ask viewers, "What makes you want to see the next episode?"

So, yes, everything is a joke. Sometimes a double or triple joke.

Anonymous said...

Want another one? The Godfather.

Buster as Fredo.
Lindsay as Rocky's wife. :)
Gob as Sonny.
Michael as Michael.

Arrested Development had some serious problems of triple times 5 jokes in one tiny thing.
(seriously, you can go a bit crazy digging too deep in the show!)

Stefan said...

It's hard to go past the frenzied-yet-veiled references to impending cancellation as the third season comes to a close.

"America doesn't want this family!" Pause. Look to camera.

Champagne comedy. 'clink'.