Arrested Development: Pilot   Rewatch 
June 22, 2014 12:14 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Michael Bluth prepares to be named partner of the family business at his father's retirement party.

Future in-jokes and plot points (indiscriminate spoilers to follow):

Tobias joins the gay protest against the yacht club, believing it to be George Sr.'s pirate-themed retirement party, and discovers something about himself: he's gay his calling is to be an actor.

The first appearances of the Alliance of Magicians, the Aztec Tomb, and the Banana Stand.

Maeby proposes that she and George Michael kiss in order to "teach a lesson" to their parents.

George Sr. states that he has "the worst fucking attorneys", but we know that's not true: he's got Barry (he's very good).

Buster's status as a (hapless) perpetual student is introduced when neither his knowledge of 18th-century agrarian economics or cartography ("Obviously this blue part here is the land") can save the family from the SEC.

Next time on: We're presented with fake(?) scenes of George Michael rooming with Maeby and GOB being turned down at the same Arizona firm that Michael applied to--but the final scene introduces an (off-screen) T-Bone in advance of "Banana Stand"

"I got a job. Something you apply for, and then they pay you to--never mind. I don’t want to ruin the surprise."
posted by kagredon (34 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I first watched the series in order, years after it went off the air, so obviously this was the first episode I saw. And I hate to say it, but at first I was baffled about why the show had such a phenomenal reputation. If I had been forced to reach a judgment about the show after the first episode (or the first 4 or 5 episodes), I would have stopped watching ... and I would have made a huge mistake.

It gains so much from going back to rewatch it after being familiar with the series. To the first-time viewer, Maeby and George Michael are just a couple awkward teens, but when you care about the characters, their scenes together in this episode are nothing less than magical. (Alia Shawkat, who plays Maeby, has said their first kiss was her actual first kiss.)

The whole feel of this episode is a little "off" — which is completely normal and understandable for a TV pilot. The pace is too slow, as if they're trying to drag it out to fill the space (the opposite of later episodes). I remember Michael has a long monologue that feels very forced. I love Jason's Bateman's acting and his character, but he hasn't quite gotten into the right zone in the pilot. (Again, this is no major criticism — I'd be hard-pressed to think of any TV series with a perfect first episode.)

One of my favorite parts of this episode is the sweet scene between Michael and Lindsey. "We're an incredibly disappointing family! But we are a family..." One of the great things about Seasons 1-3 (which they seemed to forget in Season 4) is the occasional sweet, slow moments, to contrast with the usually manic, ruthless tone of this fantastic series.

Thanks for starting this Fanfare, kagredon. Though I think it took a few episodes for Arrested Development to get off the ground, Season 1 is my favorite overall, so I look forward to future posts.
posted by John Cohen at 1:35 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Forgot that there was an extended pilot version on DVD...Netflix has just what I assume was the official pilot that aired. I agree that in this pilot--like most pilots--things haven't quite "gelled," but there are individual elements that I think they nailed in the pilot and that lasted throughout the shows (maybe not Season 4).

One of these is wardrobe--I just love the use of outfits in this show and didn't realize how defined the different characters "style" was even in this first episode.

I also like the use of music, and the newspaper articles and Fox News clips. I don't think I ever noticed before this re-watch that they called the protestors pirates: "More intrigue on the high seas tonight as dozens [DOZENS!] of local pirates were arrested today protesting the yacht club's discriminatory policies..."

I get that tune "whatcha trying to say to me..." stuck in my head an inopportune times, right along with "balls in the air"...
posted by freejinn at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


And the fundraisers! HOOP!
posted by freejinn at 2:38 PM on June 22, 2014


The pace is too slow, as if they're trying to drag it out to fill the space (the opposite of later episodes).

It does seem a little slow. (And Ron Howard's voice over is so much more ... relaxed?) The pacing actually feels snappier in the extended version. On a Simpsons DVD commentary, I recall writers bemoaning the loss of even 90 seconds of show time: first to go were standalone jokes that, no matter how funny, didn't advance the storyline. The extended pilot is seven minutes longer and there's a writeup here that covers some of the differences between the two cuts.

Lucille wins the episode from the start. It just makes me want to set myself on fire!

"I don't care for G.O.B"

gets me everytime.
posted by Lorin at 3:50 PM on June 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


...or candy
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 PM on June 22, 2014


One of these is wardrobe--I just love the use of outfits in this show and didn't realize how defined the different characters "style" was even in this first episode

I just noticed that Tobias spends about a minute and a half of screen time repairing a pair of glasses (while wearing a nearly-identical pair) when he 'realizes' the party is pirate-themed. He is wearing the repaired ones in the rest of the episode. I like the idea that he thinks his darker-framed glasses are more piratey...

I agree that the pacing is a bit slow -- and that's saying something, considering that in 22 minutes it concisely introduces each of the Bluths and serves as a launching point for several ongoing plot lines -- George Sr.'s SEC issues, Michael trying to control the family's spending, GOB and the Magician's Alliance, Buster's schooling and Mommy issues, Tobias's acting career and his sexuality, George Michael and Maeby's flirtation...

Either the writers had the whole thing planned out from the start or they just based most of seasons 1 and 2 on threads from the Pilot episode. Either way it's some very tight writing.
posted by mmoncur at 12:54 AM on June 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'll have to go back and rewatch this in full, but one thing I recall from a previous rewatch is that when Maeby is first introduced, the narrator describes her as "George Michael's cousin, Maeby." Which can alternately be heard as "George Michael's cousin, maybe." Potentially foreshadowing the third season plotline that Lindsay may have been adopted, which would make George Michael and Maeby not biological cousins.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:37 AM on June 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm surprised to hear negative opinions of the pilot because I think it's one of the most amazing first episodes of any show, ever, especially considering the context of what else was on television at that time. To introduce all those weird-ass characters in one shot and make it coherent and hilarious is quite a feat. I mean, the first words spoken by any character are Lucille: "'Look what they've done, Michael. Look what the homosexuals have done to me." !!! It's so gutsy and original, right out of the gate.

I just finished re-watching the whole series last night and wanted to give y'all a heads up to look for this:
"Tobias is an albino black man: The Arrested Development writers were known for using a lot of foreshadowing (think of all the references to Buster losing his arm to a seal, none of which will be included here because they’re well-documented elsewhere). One such plot development that the writers started to foreshadow but never followed through on was about Tobias being revealed to be a black man with a rare skin condition." (from this link)

There really are references to this scattered everywhere throughout the show that you would absolutely not notice otherwise. Genius writing.
posted by something something at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Maybe the pacing only seems off because there's SO much exposition and we already know these characters. Get to the jokes! (Just kidding, there's jokes*) The densely layered references that build as the season progresses create a sense of quickness impossible in the pilot.

It really is a great first episode. It's not like, say, Seinfeld, which took well into the second season to find its tone.

Tobias is an albino black man

I've read this before and I dunno, it sounds like ... writers' room bullshitting that never would have made it into the show. Considering S4, I guess it doesn't seem that off. Double meanings, sure, but the references listed on Splitsider seem more about Tobias' attraction to black men: "I am surprised that she’s going after somebody so similar to my own type." Still, it's fun to theorize, and so many of the connections are there, and are obviously planned, that it's easy to see them in every little detail. It's like, is there anything to G.O.B's "We need ICE" in the first episode; are the writers that good, or is it funny in hindsight? The various references to Buster's hand do prove the plotting was by and large a Swiss fuckin' watch though.

*
"as ... BUSTER you can't do that on the balcony buddy?"
"Well... you've got to remember, you're going to be all splattered in red paint. That's gonna distract the eye."
Lucille's first wink: "I wonder how I can talk you into never making that face again."
The first of many comedic bleeps: "**** off traitor." (Which isn't censored / as funny in the extended pilot.)
"Sounds like you saved enough skin to make ten new boys."
"Is that enough of a reference for you?"
posted by Lorin at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love Jason's Bateman's acting and his character, but he hasn't quite gotten into the right zone in the pilot.

I think one of the key things about Michael's characterization is that he can be often be just as rash, selfish, and illogical as any of the rest of them--he's just more successful at repressing that impulse at least some of the time. That doesn't really come through so much in the pilot, though I don't know if that's an oversight or a deliberate choice (that is, that Michael starts backsliding more into his family's idiosyncrasies as he spends more time around them--which would be a very true-to-life interpretation.)
posted by kagredon at 10:23 AM on June 23, 2014


(Which isn't censored / as funny in the extended pilot.)

There are a few places where, IMO, the censors made the episode funnier. The switch from 'cocaine' to 'candy' in GOB's 'a trick is something whores do for money... or X' is an improvement to my mind, because it comes across like GOB caught that he said something inappropriate for kids but thought that could be amended by changing 'money' to 'candy.'
posted by shakespeherian at 12:17 PM on June 23, 2014 [11 favorites]


when Maeby is first introduced, the narrator describes her as "George Michael's cousin, Maeby." Which can alternately be heard as "George Michael's cousin, maybe." Potentially foreshadowing the third season plotline that Lindsay may have been adopted

Well, it's foreshadowing the ongoing suspense throughout Season 1-3 about whether they're really cousins, which is sparked by their kiss later in the pilot. It really starts with Marta Complex, in the middle of Season 1 — George Michael to Tobias: "What do you mean, you couldn’t conceive? Was Maeby adopted? Is she not really related to me? Is she just some girl I know?"
posted by John Cohen at 7:27 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, this is just great! I've seen the show countless times but I haven't seen it a year or so. Random thoughts:

This is also the first appearance of the man with the "Freedom" sign. Also, the first of Tobias's auditions.

"Everything they do is so dramatic and flamboyant, it just makes me want to set myself on fire."

This is pretty good for a pilot. They weren't quite there, but it's not like they switched out any actors or made any real changes. Once you've seen the show and know how high the bar is set, it's quite amazing that they reached that bar within the first episode or two and never lost their stride. I'm also surprised to see now that so much of the pacing and energy is set by Ron Howard.

I think Lucille is the most fully-formed right out of the gate, with Tobias a second and maybe George Michael and Buster tied for third.

There are a few places where, IMO, the censors made the episode funnier.

I love how instead of changing the bad words they just made a running gag out of how the character covers his or her mouth

If you have the DVDs and haven't yet listened to the music bonus, do! Even as a non-musical person it added a whole new layer to the show. For example, this episode is the first appearance of George and Maebe's theme music (seen at the end, just before the "next time" segment, and a great song on its own.)

Lucille's first wink

Am I the only one here who winks at the medicine bottles when they have eyes?

Arrested Development Wiki

posted by Room 641-A at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe they should have been concerned about an uprising.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:25 PM on June 23, 2014


I forgot to watch for it...did "come on" debut in the pilot episode?
posted by freejinn at 11:37 PM on June 23, 2014


"I'll see you when the first parent dies" sums up, so perfectly, what it's like to be part of a dysfunctional family.

I love this show. Thanks to this post I've started re-watching it for maybe the fourth time. I can't hold back though and I'm already up to episode 6.
posted by bondcliff at 6:30 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm currently in S3 of my first ever watch of this show, but I'll jump in this rewatch too.

For the first viewing, I didn't pay close attention throughout the first handful of episodes. Partially because it's the kind of show that takes some getting into, and partially because I expected it to not live up to the hype. Somehow, I kept getting Buster confused with Tobias. I find that incredibly amusing now.

The scene where the family is on the couch, together and happy feels out of place.

Buster running the company is something I would have liked to have seen more of.

When George Michael approaches Maebe toward the end of the episode with his "maybe we should kiss again," she gives a smirk when he isn't looking. Without knowing what happens between them in the last 2 seasons, (they did kiss at the end of S2), I'd say she knows exactly what she's doing to him.

So many things I didn't notice or pay attention to the first time!
posted by 2ht at 1:01 PM on June 24, 2014


If you have the DVDs and haven't yet listened to the music bonus, do!

The DVD commentaries are pretty good too. Not Futurama good, but worth a listen. The best of them have a large number of cast members and you can really hear how much they enjoyed working together. From the extended pilot:

Mitch Hurwitz and ... a Russo Brother on editing:

RUSSO: Watching this makes me think of Mitch's, uh, you know, that goal you set for the show, you said one time, "I want this show to be so funny that you could just throw like half the stuff away and not even worry about it. We're so loaded with jokes and fun," and I just see, watching this I see that — "

HURWITZ: So many things that, only in this long version, like we actually set up the [passing of the] torch, we set up that he's calling people partner. And so then this little throwaway of the blue sign that says Happy Trails —

RUSSO: He really is in a major cowboy phase here.

Jason Bateman and Mitch Hurwitz on Next time...:

BATEMAN: So this whole tag sequence that is in every show, this is meant to uh, [...] wrap up stories that you've just watched, and in fact not to tease the next episode ...

HURWITZ: No it started as a, yknow, there is no next episode when you make a pilot, so it was kind of a lie, it was kind of an inside joke.. on the next episode.

BATEMAN: Buy this show and you'll see this stuff

Other useless trivia:

— Jason Bateman deadpans that he had his prom on the Marina Hornblower. It's difficult to tell if he's joking.
— The house in the pilot is a real house, contrary to what Michael Bluth tells his son. Subsequent appearances were a replica built on a soundstage. (I suppose this is no big surprise, but it made me giggle.)
— The drawer that breaks when Lindsay is looking for valuables in the model home actually broke, when Mitch Hurwitz was looking around for things to break.
— David Cross learned and performed that entire song for his audition, but they opted to use one of his flubs instead. So, somewhere out there, there's footage (among the 32 hours shot for the pilot) of Tobias Funke singing "I'm A Bad Bad Man" from Annie Get Your Gun in its entirety. How is that not a DVD extra???
posted by Lorin at 1:51 PM on June 24, 2014


I love that the band on the boat is playing the theme song in the background in the first scene.

Lindsay's first line is "good grief!" and Lucille says it in the episode as well. Very subtle foreshadowing there - this is the title of a later episode and is said again and again.
posted by sockermom at 7:51 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also I love that Tobias is wearing a shower cap before he gets ready. He's bald. A shower cap is unnecessary. It's the little details like that that make this show so funny.
posted by sockermom at 8:07 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Next time on: We're presented with fake(?) scenes of George Michael rooming with Maeby and GOB being turned down at the same Arizona firm that Michael applied to

When you call them "fake(?) scenes," are you suggesting that the "Next time on" scenes aren't supposed to be part of the story? I'd disagree with that — I can think of one that's integral to the plot. Of course, if you just mean that these scenes are usually not in the next episode, you're right about that.
posted by John Cohen at 8:18 PM on June 24, 2014


Totally missed those subtle foreshadows you mentioned sockermom. Nice.

Also agree that the cover up of the swears is funnier. If I were being interviewed on Inside the Actors Studio and asked what my favorite curse word was, I'd have to say the Franklin/Buster combo hook-ass mother (air horn) from Meat the Veals.
posted by freejinn at 9:29 PM on June 24, 2014


Has a viewing schedule been picked out yet?
posted by Room 641-A at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2014


Has a viewing schedule been picked out yet?

This raises a broader question: what is an ideal viewing schedule? I've been posting a few episodes a week for another show (under "Rewatch," years behind with a still-running series). I'd be interested to know if this is considered excessive.
posted by John Cohen at 6:33 PM on June 25, 2014


Most of the rewatches seem to have been doing 1-2 per week, which seems reasonable for an hour show. I could see a half-hour show such as AD doing 2, maybe 3 per week, but I don't think I'd want to go beyond that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:32 PM on June 25, 2014


I'd be happy with two but I'm mostly in-between shows at the moment. I can see how these could start to add up so I'm fine with whatever everyone else wants.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:04 PM on June 25, 2014


I could even see the value of watching two show at a time, essentially a S1/E2-3 thread, although I'm not sure if it would work in the current FanFare framework. I know that's an unorthodox approach, I'm just throwing it out there as something I think would be a way to dig into more of the callbacks/foreshadowing in a fluid way.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:11 PM on June 25, 2014


I could even see the value of watching two show at a time, essentially a S1/E2-3 thread, although I'm not sure if it would work in the current FanFare framework.

I don't think it would work. The site requires you to specify one number for the episode, and once you post an episode, you have to wait 24 hours before posting another. If people want to discuss two at a time, two users could coordinate doing roughly simultaneous posts (I'm not volunteering to do that). Or you could just do two episodes 24 hours apart, which would produce nearly the same effect.
posted by John Cohen at 9:32 PM on June 25, 2014


Twice a week sounds about right. I'd go three, but then I lack gainful employment.

Multi-episode threads would be great for a first watch, but as we've all seen the show I think single episodes are OK. When it comes to callbacks etc, there's nothing wrong with a bit of elasticity. I can't see some overlap spoiling any individual episode for discussion.
posted by Lorin at 11:12 PM on June 25, 2014


When we first see Buster, he's giving Michael a massage, which we'll see him do in later episodes after he has the claw, to unfortunate results. Later in the pilot, he tries giving one to Tobias, and a quickie to George Michael.

In the pilot, the origin of the banana stand (founded by George, Sr. in 1953) is a bit different than it will be later on ("Annyong!").

First use of the phrase "dipped into the kitty"--by Lucille. This, of course, takes on a new shade of meaning after we learn of George, Sr.'s relationship with his secretary, Kitty.

I don't think it's said aloud, but when Michael (and later GOB) go to interview for the job in Phoenix, you can see a Sitwell Housing logo in the background.

(I watched the extended pilot, just in case that causes discrepancies in my observations.)
posted by ChrisTN at 2:12 PM on June 26, 2014


Stan Sitwell seems not to be an existing character at this point.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:16 PM on June 26, 2014


I noticed the Sitwell logo in the background, too, in the non-extended pilot on Netflix.

I wonder if they named Stan Sitwell just because of this, or if it was already planned, or what. It would be really interesting to be a fly on the wall in the writer's room for this show, or for a show like Seinfeld - they're so self-referential and almost recursive that you have to wonder how it actually comes together.
posted by sockermom at 2:26 PM on June 26, 2014


I can't see some overlap spoiling any individual episode for discussion.

Oh, not for spoiler reasons, but to possibly eliminate some of the bouncing back and forth between threads that I'm anticipating. I was really just typing out loud, though -- I think it's all going very well.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:00 PM on June 26, 2014


Totally agree. And after a few more episodes it'll probably be more obvious if adjustments are needed. All I know is I am keen for another.

I guess technically anyone can make a post, but I'm not sure about the timing--whether it ought to be certain days of the week, or every N days, or?

Also, how much detail do we need in each post? Is there an expectation of being funny/insightful, or is the Netflix synopsis adequate? It would be easy enough to slap up a post for the second episode but if someone is already constructing one ... well, I guess they could post it as a comment anyways. Just thinking out loud.

One of the nice things about FF is there's no need for so-called fig leaf posts. Personally I am fine with something along the lines of ... Episode 2: Go!
posted by Lorin at 10:05 PM on June 26, 2014


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