What's nice about the Arrested Development-themed art exhibit at Gallery 1988 Melrose is that you only need to have watched the first two episodes of the series to get the exhibit's title, "There's Always Money in the Banana Stand."
The highly acclaimed but short-lived sitcom about the dysfunctional Bluth family and its incarcerated patriarch, George Sr., was canceled in 2006 with a truncated third season and, ever since, rumors have abounded regarding a possible Arrested Development film. Earlier this year, creators confirmed that there would be a fourth season airing on Netflix in January 2013.
The show's opening night on Friday reportedly had lines down the block, but the Sunday crowd was really more of a smattering -- there were only about a dozen and a half people tops, a bunch of quiet chucklers and pointers, fans of the show reminiscing and quoting old episodes, sometimes half-remembered, sometimes verbatim.
Newcomers to Gallery 1988 on Melrose (there's also a Venice location) should be aware that it is comprised of two spaces directly across the street from one another -- the small one with metal shutters across the window is probably for storage and will trick you into thinking you've somehow got the date or place wrong. Go to the place with the blue handprints all over the facade, a reference to Tobias' (the character played by David Cross) attempts to join the Blue Man Group.
This show really won't have much appeal for anyone not already in love with Arrested Development. But for diehard fans, the show's jokes are so wonderfully dense, straight-faced and often outrageous that the exhibit functions as a jogger of memories, teasing out laughs from the past and goading viewers to revisit the show's three seasons on Netflix. The best way to enjoy the art is probably to rewatch several episodes first so that the characters and the humor feel fresher.
The collection of about 100 pieces boasted some creativity (see: plush dolls and Tony Wonder playset), but seemed overwhelmingly biased toward certain characters and themes, especially Gob (pronounced like the Biblical "Job," played by Will Arnett), Buster's loose-seal incident and Tobias.
The entire family also got fair treatment in a series of portraits and one instance of vinyl art. Pleasant surprises: Tobias' banger-in-the-mouth-loving, British singing-nanny alter-ego Mrs. Featherbottom (a combination of Mrs. Doubtfire and Mary Poppins), Gob's charming and loquacious puppet friend Franklin Delano Bluth, a glamorous portrayal of Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) sitting in the wetlands, the lovely matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), a depiction of the famous chicken dance and lots of allusions to the hilarious "mole/jetpack incident" from Season 3.
In case anyone was wondering, a half-assed sign made of white printer paper was tacked on the back wall: "No Touching," a common refrain repeated in the prison where George Sr. is held.
Arrested Development is the kind of sitcom that goes for not only the big laughs but also the smaller, delayed (and maybe more rewarding) ones. Veteran viewers get the sense that the show's makers have somehow magically planted infinite jokes -- reflexive, situational, intertextual -- hidden in ostensibly throw-away dialogue, cutaways and flashbacks. There was no real way for the exhibit to replicate this heavily layered quality, as most of the artists merely referenced the show's characters. Some, though, did try to match the show's odd humor, like Basemint Design's The Bluthon 100% Daily Good-Time Classifieds Solution, a chart that referenced hot ham water, Gobias Industries, Ice the Bounty Hunter/Caterer, South Coast Boutique's fire sale and the Skip Scramble.
(Painfully and noticeably lacking were references to Barry Zuckerkorn, Bob Loblaw, Maggie Lizer, Rita Leeds, Lucille Ostero, Kitty Sanchez, Annyong, Oscar Bluth, Steve Holt and Ann Veal (her?), the longtime girlfriend of George Michael whom you couldn't pick out in a lineup of one.)
Up next we've included the 5 best artworks, and the episodes they'll make you want to (re)watch
5. Brad Hill's Hey, Parientes
The title references Buster Bluth's trademark greeting, particularly for his brothers Gob and Michael. Possible episodes to rewatch: Season 2, Episode 14, "The Immaculate Election," for the first appearance of Mrs. Featherbottom (or Mr. Fingerbottom, as Maeby quipped) from Blackstool. Also: Season 1, Episode 2, "Top Banana," for George Sr.'s love affair with an ice cream sandwich.
4. Mick Minogue & Paddy Dunne's Tony Wonder Playset
Gob's idol Tony Wonder (played by Ben Stiller) sure knows how to make food appear out of nowhere. For "howdeydodats" of all ages. Check out Season 2, Episode 15, "Sword of Destiny," for some Alliance-approved magic.
3. Michelle Coffee's Tobias dolls (from left): Pirate Tobias, Never Nude and Dad Likes Leather
Plush dolls seem like the perfect medium in which to represent a man who is all about fetishes. And the dolls look as hapless as the man himself (or "The Man Inside Me"?). Possible episodes to rewatch: the pilot for pirate Tobias; Season 1, Episode 8, "In God We Trust" for a never-nude mix-up; and Season 1, Episode 9, "Storming the Castle," for a leather-filled visit to the Gothic Castle/Gothic Arsehole.
2. Julia Heglund's For British Eyes Only
The running James Bond references were one of the highlights of Season 3, from "Mr. F" to "Notapusy." Episodes to rewatch: the first half of Season 3. Go on, you can do it!
1. Aaron Jasinski's It Is All an Illusion
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Jasinski's portrait has a flashy, mock-seriousness to it, offering a visual narrative that warrants more than a couple seconds' glance and snicker. I'd probably take this chance to tell you to rewatch the whole series, but these are good places to start: Season 3, Episode 2, "For British Eyes Only" for some free chicken, and Season 1, Episode 6, for Mr. Bananagrabber.