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Michael Newman’s article about television narration asserts that the formal and commercial constraints of the medium are not merely restrictive, but rather they “have been adapted to narrative functions that can deepen and enrich the experience of viewers” (17).  I think Arrested Development is a great example of this, using the redundancy necessary to cohere all the characters and plotlines to create humor.

Arrested Development is highly redundant, deriving much of its humor from the narrator’s comments, frequently pointing out the contrast between what the characters say to each other and the reality of various situations.  We basically know about these contrasts, but the narrator’s remarks serve as pointed reminders.  The show also uses more expressly filmic techniques to do the same thing, cutting between dialog and contradictory action. When Lindsay comes home, having secured a role in the commercial Tobias auditioned for, and brags to Michael.  He points out that she has not yet done any work, noting that “anyone can get a job offer.”  The laugh comes with the immediate cut to Tobias weeping in the shower.  We know that Tobias is a loser who can’t get a job, but the show reminds us with this humorous juxtaposition.

The narrator also describes events that we see happening on screen (extremely redundant!), but adds insight that makes the onscreen antics even funnier.  For example, as Gob tries to throw the letter into the ocean, the narrator points out that he is doing so out of spite, but that it “proved a more difficult dramatic gesture than he anticipated.”

The narrator often uses overstatement and understatement for humor.  For example, when Michael finds T-Bone working at the banana stand he starts to leave, but goes back.  The narrator says Michael “still had some unanswered questions, so he did a little detective work.” Michael then asks T-Bone, “You burn down the storage unit?” T-Bone replies, “Oh, most definitely.”  Obtaining this kind of information usually should involve what we think of as detective work—accumulating clues, etc—but the simple question and answer resolution heightens the sense of absurdity in a world where such things have become mundane to Michael.  Less overtly humorous is the introductory sequence, where the narrator sums up the premise of the show in an understated way: “Now the story of a wealthy family that lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.”

 

Today Professor Mittell described the “next on” feature of Arrested Development as depicting alternate reality possibilities, or events that never really happen, but I see it as just another device for depicting events in the storyworld.  At the end of “Top Banana,” Michael and George Michael rebuild the banana stand.  The way I see it, this did happen in the world of the story, because the banana stand is present in future episodes.  It is not as though this event interferes with future plot information the way a truly alternate reality might.  The same goes for Gob throwing the dove—then dropping a rabbit—into the ocean.  These “next on” features are absolutely consistent with the story world, building on the eccentricity of the characters and packing a few extra jokes into the episodes. 

The “next on” scenes for the pilot are an exception in that they are simultaneously straightforward in indicating future events, and seem like an alternate reality to familiar viewers.  One such scene shows George-Michael uncomfortably listening to Maeby singing in the shower, a scene that appears in the next episode in a slightly different form.  Similarly, it shows George indicating a playful enjoyment of prison and friendship with an inmate named T-Bone.  A reworking of this moment appears as first scene of “Top Banana,” except that a noticeably different actor plays T-Bone.  The most enjoyable of the pilot’s preview scenes, however, is the one with Gob interviewing at the housing firm that was recruiting Michael, asserting a magic trick as a job reference.  As the show progresses, it does include some “next on” scenes that indicate future plot lines as well as just offering extras.  For example, after “Visiting Ours” George confesses to Michael that he may have committed “some light treason,” looking ahead to the arc about model homes in Iraq.

 

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