23 March 2013
Written by Abraham Higginbotham & Chuck Martin
Directed by Jason Bateman
With so many riches to choose from, I don't know if it's appropriate to call "Afternoon Delight" the "best" episode of Arrested Development's second season. Certainly, "Good Grief" puts in a good argument for that title, along with a couple of episodes yet to come. But "Afternoon Delight" is, at any rate, just about my favorite episode of the season, and surely I'm not alone in this. For this is an episode of many great things: the first appearance of the banana costume, the first time that Gob's "come on!" as an active, characteristic catch-phrase is used, and some extraordinarily inventive filthy jokes. "Does not seem like it would be that dirty" grouses an embarrassed Michael at the end, in reference to the Starland Vocal Band that lends the episode its title. On the contrary: "Afternoon delight, in the hands of these writers, seems almost unbelievably dirty for something that made it onto network television. And that is part of what makes it so damn wonderful.
What Arrested Development did as well as anything ever has, was finding incredibly smart ways to smuggle naughty jokes past the censors, such that it's not just a rude gag, but a tremendously well-written, complex, challenging rude gag that rewards attentive, focused viewing, and "Afternoon Delight" has what might be the most subtle and wonderful joke in this vein the show ever put out there. I'm of course referring to Gob's rant that starts with "-king $6300 suit!" (great little touch, how the price keeps sneaking up throughout the episode, until he has been humiliated, and the dollar amount sinks with his bravado), and after a few minutes, skips to a flashback that cuts him off at "I want to spill booze all over my f-". Like all acts of genius, it's obvious once you've seen it, but my God, being the writers to come up with that idea...
It's probably the most impressive grace note of an outstanding script, but "Afternoon Delight" is full of similar structural games: it has one of the most complex but wholly rewarding chronologies of any episode in AD history, stretching from a "three years earlier" flashback (impeccably written: "there is some speculation that George has been into the kitty" is both the first volley in the episode's onslaught of dirty jokes, and a gag reliant on the viewer's independent recognition of AD backstory to qualify as any kind of "joke") to a ballsy "six seconds earlier", with an entire scene built out of time jumps. The terrific juggling of scenes lets just about every single character get plenty of time in the sun: indeed, one of the most rewarding things about "Afternoon Delight" is that it has such a democratic approach to letting the characters get airtime, with Maeby continuing to become a more and more important character being largely used in the background of Season 1 - Alia Shawkat's befuddled reaction to Lucille's "She's got thick arms" is indescribably splendid - and Gob, who for my tastes hasn't been quite up to snuff in Season 2 till this point, is in peak condition, for reasons already described. Along with literally everybody, though those two are perhaps the ones that stand out the most in my mind, among a crowded field.
"Afternoon Delight" also succeed for being, arguably, the most thematically rich episode to this point in the season: "Good Grief" did a fine job of digging into Michael's character, but the current episode does a better job of exploring the dynamics of the Bluth family as a whole: especially between Michael and Maeby, a relationship that never got quite the attention it deserved, but it's quite nicely expanded on here (where we find them united by a desire to stick it to their loved ones, only to have that turn into something friendly and amicable). There's quite a lot of familial feeling on display throughout, though, even when it's not obvious: George's knowledge of his wife (which is even better in a terrific deleted scene on the DVD, with yet another filthy joke), for example. And as far as the show's treasured idea that these people spend a lot of time talking past each other, there are few jokes that crept up on me as well as the moment where Tobias, having loudly proclaimed that his health is in real jeopardy if he falls asleep, immediately nods of on the couch, at which point his wife very thoughtfully and caringly starts whispering.
Like most of the episodes I love the most, the more I go on before I cut myself off, the more I run the risk of gushing, so let me just throw a few thoughts out there: the structure, in addition to being inventive chronologically and formally, is really tight sitcom plotting, with all of the main plots (the company's disastrous Christmas party and the relationship drama it brings to the fore; Lucille's misadventure with pot; Buster playing hooky from Army - love the foreshadowing, and the lack of "the") all converging in the same climax, hinging on a truly inspired dumb visual gag with a giant banana peel; the dramatic music and slow-motion on Tobias realising he wasn't called by the Blue Man Group is a fantastic joke that's one of the funniest "let's play with visual language" gags in the show's run; Jason Bateman's reaction shot to "put it in her brownie" wonderfully underscores how brazen the writers are in getting away with the huge extra joke of sex and incest in this episode.
And one last thing, which is a spoiler for those who haven't seen the whole show: the single best piece of foreshadowing in the entire series takes place here. It's the last time Annyong Bluth is mentioned - and rather spuriously, it would seem - until Season 3; it's also an episode that opens with the Bluth's banana stand disfigured with what appears to be the words "I'll get u Bluths Hello". The mind reels. Fucking reels.