Do you remember where you were when Arrested Development’s glorious finale aired? Did you watch it live (or die, depending on how you pronounce it)? In the last seven years, it never really occurred to me that I may one day get to write about the show in either a retrospective form, or about actual new episodes. I’m still having trouble believing it’s real. Maybe I should lay off the Teamocil and see how I feel about anything.
I’m not pretending this is some exhaustive comprehensive list of the show and the layered web of storylines and in jokes that it created. (This Gif History of the series is admittedly more impressive.) And I’m not saying the episodes I list are the “best” or the “most important” to the series as a whole or what it means to people. I feel the need to preamble this because the Internet is full of people who like to point fingers accusingly rather than giving in to pure celebration. And now the story of a wealthy family, and the five most memorable episodes that they gave us in Arrested Development’s first season, ordered by air date. You can’t rank these things. Come on!
Is there anything that this episode doesn’t do? It builds upon one of the best television pilots ever created, layering in joke upon joke upon joke, so that some character beats – such as G.O.B. (Will Arnett) and his assumed affinity for murdering small animals – end up paying off for the series’ entire run, and it often seems like there aren’t any jokes that don’t in some way reference or subvert information we’ve already been given. (And this episode contains one of the rare times G.O.B. calls what he does a trick instead of an illusion.) But it’s all generally new in “Top Banana,” which makes repeated viewings all the more rewarding, as familiarity with story outcomes and inside joke payoffs add another element of humor when moments happen for the first time. “No touching!” Who would have thought such a simple two word command would be used in so many different way?
“They’re grown-ups. They’re allowed to have fun whenever they want. We’re kids. We’re supposed to be working.”
And it’s a complicated episode on top of everything else, going back and forth in time and criss-crossing stories guided by Ron Howard’s always on point meta-narration. The pilot made it look like this family was having problems, but the flagrant greed and debauchery come out in full force here, with fat jokes and alcoholic jokes and gay jokes and incest jokes and everything else that makes the Bluths the most horrifying and relateable family I can think of.
”I’m doing the time of my life.”
We see the first of many times Michael attempts to do better than his father only to avoid the obvious-in-retrospect problems that he stubbornly avoided understand. This fallibility is one of the reasons Michael is such a great anchor for this band of wacky characters. George Sr.’s own stubbornness about hiding his involvement in past crimes doesn’t help Michael’s state of mind, nor do G.O.B. and Lindsay’s attention-seeking selfishness and Lucille’s…well we can’t sum up all of Lucille’s personal faults on something as small as the Internet. But we love her more than anyone because of it. “Top Banana,” while maybe not perfect, gives the illusion of being perfect, and that’s just as good.
Things That Make The Episode Memorable
“There’s always money IN THE BANANA STAND!!!”
Mister Manager, a simple joke that made me laugh every time.
“DEAD DOVE. DO NOT EAT.”
G.O.B. as “The Goofball. The Joker. The Magician!”
Ice cream sandwiches and Maeby’s bad banana math.
Tobias crying in the shower, wearing cut-offs. Little did we know…
The reason that Tobias was crying in the shower: the absolutely hilarious Fire Sale audition. Several times in the series, a scene will either cut or end right in the middle of David Cross singing something, and it never fails. In this case, it’s “Amazing Grace,” sung for those who perished in the fictional fire.
The doublespeak is all over the place here, but Patrice O’Neal’s “flamer” T-Bone is one of the silliest. It’s one of about a billion homosexual puns put to use.