The past two episodes of “Arrested Development” have been some of the show’s funniest, and thus some of the funniest half-hours of TV I’ve ever seen. And yet so many people who would probably enjoy it aren’t watching it.
The MVP two weeks ago (there was no episode last week) was Lucille, the bitter, haughty matriarch of the dysfunctional Bluth family. Her uncharacteristically giddy reaction every time private detective Gene Parmesan revealed himself was hysterical; we’ve finally found the one thing that can make Lucille Bluth happy. Also a riot was the close-up of her skeptical, withered face as she slowly closed the door on her son Gob. The banner she made for Buster’s joining-the-Army farewell party — “You’re killing me, Buster” — was sheer brilliance.
And let’s not forget Buster himself, dozing off in the trunk of a car bound for Mexico, getting out six minutes later in Santa Ana and, owing to the large number of Mexicans he encounters, believing himself to be in Mexico. And the fact that he begins speaking to them in a Mexican accent, as if that will help them understand him — it’s politically incorrect, I suppose, but Buster is so dumb (did you catch the Mexican woman referring to him, in Spanish, as “el retardo”?) that it’s just funny.
Last night’s episode, dealing with the funeral arrangements for the believed-to-be-dead George Sr., was simply packed with recurring jokes, silly references and generally outlandish behavior. The scene where the family learns of their patriarch’s death and everyone reacts with selfish hysteria was classic. And the ongoing Charlie Brown references — where saddened characters would shuffle around dejectedly as the C.B. theme music played — were funnier each time.
Basically, everyone’s been telling you for the past year that “Arrested Development” is a) the funniest show on TV or b) ONE of the funniest shows on TV. (Some commentators aren’t quite willing to commit to the first option.) I freely confess that it’s not for everyone. You have to pay attention, and the more often you watch, the funnier it is. (There are frequent throwbacks to previous episodes folded subtly into the mix.) If your current choice for Funniest Sitcom on TV is “According to Jim” or “The George Lopez Show,” then you probably will not find “Arrested Development” very entertaining.
But for everyone else, what’s the problem? The show has a better lead-in this year than it did last year, coming now immediately after “The Simpsons.” The style of humor in those shows is not exactly alike, but both are a wicked blend of the sophomoric and the sophisticated. I would think nearly anyone who loves one would love the other.
And yet, only about 70 percent of “Simpsons” viewers are staying tuned for “Arrested Development.” (That’s a guess, of course; there are probably some people who don’t watch “The Simpsons” but who tune in especially for “Arrested Development.”) Seventy percent might sound good, but it isn’t. Fully 95 percent of the people who watch CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” stay tuned to watch “Two and a Half Men” afterward. In some pairings of half-hour sitcoms across the dial, the retention rate is almost 100 percent.
In case you’re curious, here are the ratings so far this season. The first number is the households watching “The Simpsons,” the second is the households watching “Arrested Development,” and then there’s the percent of “Simpsons” viewers who stay tuned for “Arrested Development.” Please note that this is the number of households; the actual number viewers will be higher, since most people don’t live alone.
Nov. 7 — 6.8 million; 5.0 million; 74 percent retention
Nov. 14 — 7.2 million; 4.9 million; 68.1 percent retention
Nov. 21 — 6.1 million; 4.2 million; 68.9 percent retention
Dec. 5 — 6.4 million; 4.5 million; 70.3 percent retention
Lots of “Simpsons” viewers gave “Arrested Development” a try the first week, but apparently a lot of them didn’t like it, because the next week that 74 percent retention had dropped to 68.1 percent, where it remains. I do think any “Simpsons” fan who watches “Arrested Development” for a few weeks would find it growing on them and becoming funnier each time. I promise, it just keeps getting better. Watch it for three weeks. If you don’t enjoy it, I’ll refund your money.
(By the way, if you wanted to buy the first season of “Arrested Development” on DVD, I’d be much obliged if you’d use the link you see here.)