What Can We Steal From “Best Man for the Gob,” an Episode of the Television Program Arrested Development?

Title of Work and its Form: “Best Man for the Gob,” an episode of Arrested Development
Author: Written by Mitchell Hurwitz (@MitchHurwitz) and Richard Rosenstock and directed by Lee Shallat Chemel.
Date of Work: The episode originally aired on April 4, 2004
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The episode is included in the Arrested Development Season 1 DVD package that you should have on your shelf.  You can also stream the episode on Netflix.

Bonuses:  Here the episode’s page on The O.P., a very cool fansite.  Here’s a Tumblr filled with animated GIFs from the show.  (A necessity on par with food and water and air.)

Here is the pain Tobias went through after Lindsay and Maeby quit the band and he learned about the conference’s policy regarding parking validation:

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Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Characterization

Discussion:
It’s hard to summarize any episode of Arrested Development because of the simple fact that SO MUCH HAPPENS in all of them.  In this first season classic, accountant Ira Gilligan points out that money is missing from some of the Bluth Company’s accounts.  Gob is going to have a bachelor party to celebrate his union with Wife of Gob; George Sr. takes the opportunity to turn it to his advantage.  What’s the plan?  The bachelor party will be an excuse to make Ira think he killed a narcoleptic stripper, leading him to leave the country and end his investigation of the theft.  Tobias, Lindsay and Maeby are getting the band back together.  Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution played lots of wellness conventions, informing listeners about the side effects of drugs such as Teamocil.  (“There’s no I in Teamocil…at least not where you think…”)  Buster is thrilled about the unlimited juice (fake blood) at the bachelor party and Michael, offended at being passed over as Best Man, takes George Michael on what he intends to be a fishing vacation.  But poor George Michael wants to spend time with Maeby and play wood block in the band because he’s such a good percussionist.  The bachelor party goes wrong, of course.  Ira’s a designated driver, so he’s not drunk.  He vows to testify against the Bluths.  The kicker?  Ira’s the one who stole the money.

One of the greatest strengths of Arrested Development is its dedication to giving secondary and one-time characters full citizenship in the story.  We’re never going to see Ira Gilligan again, but we learn a great deal about him.  He’s annoyed by working with incompetent people, he puts up with a lot of abuse (being called “Gilligan”), he seems like a moral person (until the reveal), he’s good at his job…  Ira Gilligan is a real character and you can imagine what happens to him after the episode is over.  Now, you can’t make EVERY character in your piece a complete citizen.  Think of Law & Order; sometimes you need a witness who isn’t a full character to simply point out where the bad guy ran.  But look at this list of secondary characters from Arrested Development:

  • Wife of Gob
  • J. Walter Weatherman
  • Steve Holt!
  • Bob Loblaw
  • Stan Sitwell
  • Sally Stickwell
  • Warden Gentles
  • Tony Wonder

The list goes on and on.  Even though these people are only given a few minutes of screen time, the writers, directors and actors make them real, well-rounded people.  Why is this a great thing?  People, just like characters, don’t exist in a vacuum.  When you write a story, you’re creating a world and are just choosing to focus on specific characters from that world.  In spite of this focus, your protagonist inhabits a reality filled with people who are protagonists of their own stories.

One of the many ways that Arrested Development sets itself apart from other programs is that the characters are extremely unlikeable in a number of ways.  Each Bluth is selfish and is usually willing to cheat the others to get what they want.  George Sr. embezzles from his business.  Lucille dislikes most of her children and has smothered Buster so much that he can’t function on his own.  Tobias refuses to get a job or to acknowledge the truth about himself.  Lindsay is insanely shallow.  Gob lies to women (a lot of them) and ignores his son.  Why don’t we hate the Bluths?  Their misadventures seldom cause terrible damage to the lives of others and, just like a real family, there are moments of genuine love between them.  (Just think of the Lucille intervention that turned into one of their best-ever parties.)

lucille intervention

Your audience will see the humanity in the worst character if you depict them in full.  Tom Perrotta’s Little Children depicts a child predator in an appropriately sympathetic light.  You love your crazy uncle, even though he’s crazy.  We can appreciate unpleasantness in the people we read about so long as we have some clue as to WHY they are the way they are.  (Lucille just wants her childrens’ love, Gob doesn’t know how to love, George Sr. is really a henpecked husband…)

Arrested Development stole a lot from Seinfeld in the structure of its plots.  The Bluths spend a lot of time apart in the rest of the episode.  The bachelor party climax of the episode, however, brings together many of the elements from the episode.  Gob’s relationship with his wife, the theft of the money, the strife in Tobias’s family, Buster’s addiction to juice…they’re all dealt with.  Interestingly, this moment also evokes a lot of emotion.  In spite of all of the unpleasantness the Bluths try to visit upon each other through the episode, Michael and Gob share a kind moment between brothers and the problems in the Fünke household are dealt with in some manner.

What Should We Steal?

  • Populate your world with a full set of real people.  You may not tell the reader what your tangential characters do in the future, but your reader should nonetheless be able to figure out some of the secrets that reside in their hearts.
  • Allow your characters to be unlikeable…allow them to be human.  Superheroes have been given increasing amounts of pathos for a reason.  Real people are flawed; if you look deeply enough, there is darkness in us all.  (Except for me.)
  • Build your plots and subplots to a meaningful crescendo.  No matter what you’re writing, think of yourself as a conductor.  Your climax is the place where you detonate all of the land mines you’ve planted and when you get to show off your skills to the fullest.

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