Greetings, banana stand employees! Take a dollar and throw a banana out, because we’ve got a flaming hot episode to discuss here!
SEASON 1, EPISODE 2: Top Banana
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & John Levenstein
Directed by Anthony Russo
Original airdate November 9, 2003
Previously on Revisiting Arrested Development, we discussed the difficulty of comedy pilots, and why so many of them miss the mark. However, producing a second episode of a comedy series can be an equally risky tightrope walk. The show needs to completely re-establish its premise, re-introduce its characters, and deliver an episode simple enough for new viewers to follow yet high enough in quality that it retains its viewers for future weeks – this is, after all, a crucial part in a show’s life, particularly back in 2003 when ratings determined everything. Obviously, comedy pilots (and their second episodes) are a bit of a different story these days, with complete season dumps via online streaming services and the increased level of serialisation across tv comedy in general, but even today, it’s very rare to see a show deliver such a strong episode so early in. Top Banana isn’t just good by “second episode” standards, or even Arrested Development’s standards; it’s one of the best damn episodes the show’s ever produced.
Yes, you’d be hard-pressed to find an ADdict who doesn’t list Top Banana in their top 10 episodes (for the record, it’s my #2, behind Mr. F) – or such was the consensus when I was a regular at The O.P. (a fantastic little AD fan site that sadly closed its doors a few years ago). And while Michael’s interactions with his parents largely reiterate what was established in the pilot, the episode stands strong, both as a stand-alone piece of television and an instalment of the show in general, providing clear, concise arcs for all the characters involved that reintroduce us to those characters brilliantly, not to mention a plot that’s quite easy to follow by AD’s standards – one that’s built around subtly setting things up for a big, hilarious pay-off in the final minutes (much like the aforementioned Mr. F – which probably says a lot about what I watch the show for).
Like the pilot, Top Banana starts in the middle of things and jumps back in time immediately thereafter, only this time the narrative technique is used to craft a central mystery: Who burned down the banana stand? Multiple red herrings are introduced as the episode progresses (namely in the form of T-Bone – he’s a flamer – but also with Lindsay’s interjection “If I know my daughter, that stand won’t be there in a week,” and Gob’s malfunctioning fireball trick), and the general motif of fire carries over into Tobias and Lindsay’s plot, in the form of a FIRE!!! … sale. The theme of work also ties each plot thread together into a narrative unity, with Michael struggling to maintain his dominance as the new head of the Bluth company, George Michael and Maeby both taking on hours at the banana stand they don’t really want, the aforementioned commercial audition, and Gob’s desire to be included more in the company.
As I mentioned in the previous Revisiting Arrested Development, I’m going to avoid summarising the plot as there are plenty of other places online one can find it, but what makes this episode so great is just how many brilliant comedic set-pieces there are. Your average sit-com would kill just to have a single moment as funny as, say, Michael discovering the dead dove in the freezer, but Top Banana just keeps hammering them out at a shockingly fast rate, utilising all 22 minutes of its total runtime perfectly. Moments like Tobias’s fire sale audition and Gob’s dramatic “act of defiance” remain fan favourites to this day, along with quotes like “There’s always money in the banana stand,” “I’m Mr. Manager,” and of course – the ubiquitous “NO TOUCHING!”
The other reason I love this episode is just how damn dark it is. Many people single out season 4 as being “too dark” in comparison to the rest of the show, but really, it’s been a major element of the show since day one. If you remove the jokes from this episode, every single character’s story begins with ill-placed motivation and ends in failure and disappointment (the narrator’s line “Lindsay and Maeby separately went to the same restaurant to celebrate the jobs they hadn’t actually performed, with money they hadn’t actually earned” pretty much summarises the Bluth/Fünke mentality to a tee), with Lindsay complimenting Tobias as he steps out of the shower being the closest thing anybody gets to a happy ending. These would all become standard elements of the show, along with the Bluths’ tendancy to somehow continue to lose money, and the episode ending on a revelation that recontextualises multiple scenes that preceded it. Combine this with the near-perfect structure and pacing, and the endless barrage of jokes, and you’ve got yourself a perfect episode of television right here. If the fact that Arrested Development was able to produce a genuinely great comedy pilot was an anomaly, then the sheer quality of their second episode is a god damn miracle.
MY FAVOURITE JOKES/MOMENTS
* “You just made a fool of yourself in front of T-Bone.”
* “DEAD DOVE Do Not Eat!” will forever be hilarious (likewise for Michael’s reaction), but the security camera footage of Gob purchasing (and then accidentally killing) the dove is wonderfully morose.
* The entire scene of Michael and his family in the living room is great (“Is there a carbon monoxide leak in this house?”), but I will always laugh at Tobias’s delivery of “Well, excuuuuuse me!”
* Lindsay and Roger Danish talking about how crazy their hair used to be, while both sporting equally crazy hairstyles.
* Every damn moment of Tobias’s audition:
* And Gob hurling the letter into the sea:
* I haven’t really mentioned much about Lucille or Lindsay, seeing as Gob and Tobias completely stole this episode, but this exchange is fantastic:
* “You burn down the storage unit?”
AMENDMENT: I’ve been told in the comments that the line is actually “Oh, most definitely,” which would seem to be correct (and frankly, makes me feel a tad foolish for having misheard/misquoted it these past 12 years), but I’m just gonna pretend this is what he said, because I love the implication that, despite T-Bone fully admitting he attempted to burn it, he’s still open to the possibility that someone else actually finished the job.
I have also learned in the comments that Patrice O’Neal, the actor who played T-Bone here, passed away in 2011, so R.I.P. Patrice O’Neal.
* “You mailed that insurance cheque, right Gob?”
* The entirety of this episode’s ‘on the next.’
* Only one for this episode: Gob refers to the fireball as his least consistent trick. ILLUSIONS, GOB!
* In a rare instance for the show (pre-season 4, that is), Buster is nowhere to be seen – I can only assume the writers decided to narrow the scope a little while viewers were still acquainting themselves with the Bluths (Tobias would also find himself absent from episodes 4 and 6).
* The title of this episode refers to both the power struggle between Michael and George Sr. as well as the banana stand.
* This is the first instance of “No touching” in the show, along with establishing George Sr’s love of ice-cream sandwiches (and their weird association with prison within the AD universe).
* This is the only episode where we see Luz as Lucille’s housekeeper. She is replaced by Lupe in Charity Drive a few episodes later.
* Many Gob runners are introduced here – his penchant for hiding doves in his suit (and accidentally killing them, of course), his faulty fireball trick, and the phrase “from whence you came!”
* We also have our first yearbook photo:
* This is the first time we hear George Michael and Maeby refer to Lucille as “gangy.”
* Tobias’s cut-offs can be seen very briefly while he’s crying in the shower. We do not get an explanation for this until episode 8: In God We Trust.
* George Sr’s tendancy to hide things in the walls would later come up again in The One Where Michael Leaves.
* We will also learn at the end of the season why Lucille and George Sr. were so adamant about burning the company’s flight records.
* The theme song sounds a little different in this episode. This is the first time we hear it in full (though variations were present in the score to the pilot), and the mixing is a little different here – most noticeably, a prominent electric guitar in the mix. They would later experiment more with adding additional instruments to the opening theme in season 4.
* There’s a great deleted scene for this episode following Maeby’s phone call to Michael on the beach, when Gob suggests they take the segway. We then smash cut to the two of them on the segway, which goes as slow as molasses due to the extra weight, and Michael decides it’s quicker to just run.
THIS INSTALLMENT’S DISCUSSION QUESTION
I mentioned “top 10 episodes” lists earlier, so: What are your 10 favourite episodes of Arrested Development?