Original airdate November 9, 2003
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz and John Levenstein
Directed by Anthony Russo
Production Code #1AJD01
“George Michael tries to distance himself from Maeby by requesting more hours at the banana stand, but his plan backfires when Maeby starts working there as well. When George Sr. learns of his grandson’s promotion, he tries to meddle in the family business from prison. Lucille also proves a hindrance to Michael as he embarks on a fruitless search for the Bluth Company flight records. Meanwhile, Tobias auditions for a fire sale commercial, but Lindsay ends up landing the part instead, and Gob is tasked with mailing an important letter.”
NOTE: Deconstructing Arrested Development openly discusses spoilers when relevant (which can include episodes that come later in the series). Readers who have not seen the series in its entirety are advised to proceed at their own discretion.
In the last deconstruction, I talked about 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 just as much of a 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 they return – this is, after all, a crucial part in a show’s life, particularly back in 2003 when the Nielsen 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 finest sit-com episodes ever produced.
Yes, you’d be hard-pressed to find an ADdict who doesn’t list Top Banana in their top 10 episodes, or cite at least one scene/quote/moment from it among their all-time favourites. And while Michael’s interactions with his parents largely reiterate what was established in the Pilot, this episode stands strong, both as a stand-alone piece of television and an installment of the show in general. Over its 21 minute runtime, it manages to provide amusing narratives for all the characters involved that also serve as effective reintroductions, not to mention a plot that’s quite easy to follow by Arrested Development’s standards – one that’s built around subtly setting things up for big, hilarious pay-offs (which quickly became one of the show’s signature storytelling mechanisms).
Like the pilot, Top Banana starts in the middle of things and jumps back in time from there. 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 helps achieve some 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 entry, plot summaries aren’t going to be a point of focus for these write-ups, but what makes this episode so great is just how many brilliant comedic setpieces 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 lightning speed, really getting the most out of the limited runtime it has. Scenes 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, “NO TOUCHING!”
The other striking thing about this episode is just how dark it is, at least for a show that appears on the surface to be a quirky, light-hearted jaunt. If you remove the jokes from this episode, what you’re left with is a series of small character arcs about failure and disappointment, with a nonchalant complement being the closest thing anybody gets to a happy ending. Failure and disappointment would be revisited frequently throughout the show’s ongoing chronicle, along with the Bluths’ incredible ability to somehow continue to lose money. On paper, it often seems like the dead opposite of comedy fodder, but of course, we laugh because the Bluths are every bit deserving of their misery as they are responsible for it.
If the Pilot was all about building the sandbox, then Top Banana is a triumphant declaration of just what can be attained within that sandbox: A non-stop barrage of A-grade material from start to finish. It’s assurance that the high standard set by the pilot wasn’t just something the show could continue to meet, but surpass with ease. A wink to the viewer to indicate that there’s plenty of money in the banana stand.
George Sr. takes a quick break from his ice-cream sandwich love affair when Michael asks if he was taking vacations in the company jet:
“You just made a fool of yourself in front of T-Bone.”
“Woah, bumpy road ahead!”
I mentioned this moment earlier, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a GIF of Jason Bateman’s performance as Michael inspects the bag in the freezer:
“…Well, I don’t know what I expected.”
I love how they continue to build on this joke throughout the episode; ie. When Michael mentions the dead dove in the freezer and Gob immediately asks “You didn’t eat that, did you?” Gob really seems to think there’s a high possibility of someone finding the dead dove and eating it. And it makes perfect sense that his concern derives entirely from his desire to get a refund from the pet store – a detail that makes for its own hilarious cutaway:
“What is your return policy, by the way?”
The entire scene in the model home living room is great (“Is there a carbon monoxide leak in this house?”), but the highlight for me is undoubtedly Tobias’s delivery of “Well, excuuuuuse me!”
“You stay on top of her, buddy. Do not be afraid to ride her. Hard.”
Beginning with “Then why don’t you marry an ice cream sandwich?!”, Michael and Lucille’s scene in the penthouse is gold from start to finish. Jessica Walter in particular really steals the scene as an aggressively defensive Lucille – A particularly stand-out moment is her delivery of “Something-dale. I don’t know, Brookfeather, Raintree… It’s hot, it’s very hot there. I’ve never been. Get a warrant!”
While on the subject of this scene, I’d also like to highlight one of my favourite shots in the series, when the camera goes out of focus as Lucille attempts to maintain her lies:
Every damn moment of Tobias’s audition:
Lindsay and Roger Danish talking about how crazy their hair used to be, while both sporting equally crazy hairstyles.
“Yeah, no, no, I did not book this one. I, uh… think I made the fire too real, uh, for them, and, uh, and probably failed to highlight the sale, so, good for her, and, uh… will you excuse me, please?”
“Gob was intrigued. He also suspected he couldn’t return a completely frozen dove to a pet store and get the full refund he felt he was entitled to.”
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 sums up the Bluth family mentality to a tee.
Gob’s act of defiance is another of the show’s all-time best moments. In fairness, you could film just about anybody attempting to dramatically hurl an evelope into the sea and the results would likely be amusing, but Will Arnett’s sheer commitment to the bit enhances the comedy factor tenfold.
“Don’t take that tone. He’s my son, I want you to make him stop calling me.”
NARRATOR: Michael realised that his father had even taken control of the banana stand. But he still had some unanswered questions, so he did a little detective work.
MICHAEL: You burn down the storage unit?
T-BONE: Oh, most definitely.
(One of the most commonly misheard lines of the show, many people still misquote T-Bone’s line there as “Almost definitely.” Admittedly, I was one of those people for a very long time, though after much scrutiny, the evidence would indeed point to “Oh, most definitely” as the correct line.)
GOB: I should be in charge. I’m the older brother.
MICHAEL: Do you even want to be in charge?
GOB: No… But I’d like to be asked!
MAEBY: He’s about to do something really irresponsible.
MICHAEL: You think it’s irresponsible? I’ll be right there.
One of the more understated moments of the episode, but a very funny one nonetheless:
“You mailed that insurance check, right Gob?”
The entirety of this episode’s “On the next.”
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, the presence of a rather prominent electric guitar. Once they settled on a mix, which I believe may be the very next episode, both the theme song and the opening credits would remain completely unaltered until season 4.
When Michael is visiting George Sr. at the beginning of the episode, watch the extras in the background You’ll see a couple sitting down at the table behind Michael one moment, then behind George Sr. walking towards the table in subsequent shots, before then appearing in the process of sitting down behind Michael.
Similarly, when Michael learns of Lindsay’s job offer in the model home kitchen, you can see Lindsay’s bouquet of flowers atop the counter. A subsequent shot then shows that bouquet resting inside Lindsay’s bag, with Lindsay then removing the bouquet and placing it back in the initial position we saw.
Gob refers to the fireball as his “least consistent trick.” ILLUSIONS, Gob!
When George Michael and Maeby go out for lunch, she still has some chocolate from the banana stand faintly smeared on her face. In the next scene when she calls Michael from a payphone, the chocolate is still there, but it’s a lot more pronounced and visible.
During the sequence where the banana stand burns down, the shot where Michael says the “best summer ever” line (a callback to the footage of Michael’s childhood from earlier in the episode) is letterboxed in a standard aspect ratio:
It would appear a minor edit has been made to the blu-ray edition of the episode, which opts to crop this particular shot instead:
The title of this episode is a literal reference to the banana stand, while also referring to George Michael’s promotion and the power struggles within the Bluth family (“top banana” being an idiom for the person who possesses the most importance/power – in a business context, this would generally mean the boss).
John Levenstein receives his first writing credit here, co-writing the episode with series creator Mitch Hurwitz. The two had previously worked together on The John Larroquette Show. Levenstein would pen a handful more episodes over the first two seasons (Visiting Ours, Marta Complex, Missing Kitty, Whistler’s Mother and Good Grief), though would remain a consulting producer for the entirety of the show’s run. Other shows he’s worked on include Baskets, Brotherly Love, the US remake of The Inbetweeners (alongside Arrested Development writer Brad Copeland), Kroll Show (which he also acted in, as did Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz), The Life & Times of Tim and Silicon Valley.
This is the only episode in which the late comedian/actor/radio host Patrice O’Neal appears as T-Bone the flamer (the character appeared briefly on-screen in the Pilot, but was portrayed by an uncredited extra).
Sadly, Patrice O’Neal passed away in November 2011. If you are interested in checking out more of his work, there’s quite a bit of his stand-up floating around online (in addition to a few official posthumous releases), and he had several minor/guest roles in the 00s, including multiple episodes of Chappelle’s Show and The Office.
This is also the only episode where Luz appears. The character is replaced in Charity Drive by her sister Lupe, who remains on as Lucille’s housekeeper through to season 4. Luz is portrayed by Lillian Hurst, who has a large resume of tv credits to her name (including a recurring role in the HBO comedy series The Comeback, a show I cannot recommend highly enough).
The saddest fact of all, especially in light of the episode’s themes, is that Luz may be the hardest worker of anyone. She goes so far beyond what can reasonably be asked of a housekeeper here.
This is the first time Michael Bartel is seen playing a young Michael Bluth in flashback footage. He would appear in 6 more episodes across the show’s first 2 seasons, before they finally recast the role of Child Michael in season 3’s Making a Stand.
This is the first instance of “No touching” in the show. The episode also establishes George Sr’s love of ice-cream sandwiches, and begins one of the show’s most absurd background runners; each subsequent mention of ice-cream sandwiches throughout the series reveals more specificity to their association with prison in the Arrested Development universe.
Additionally, several Gob runners get their origins here, such as his penchant for hiding doves in his suit (and accidentally killing them), and his use of the phrase “from whence you came” (sometimes said as “from whence it came”). The unreliability of Gob’s fireball illusion would also become a much more elaborate runner in later seasons, even proving an important plot point in season 2’s Burning Love.
We also have our first yearbook photos:
This is the first time we hear George Michael and Maeby refer to Lucille as “gangie.”
This episode’s closing interaction between George Sr. and Michael would be mirrored by Lucille and Michael in season 2’s Spring Breakout. Additionally, George Sr’s tendency to hide things inside walls becomes an important plot point in the season 2 premiere, The One Where Michael Leaves.
The South Coast Boutique commercial is the first of several acting opportunities that pass Tobias by due to a missed phone call. Here’s hoping he can find some parts in Tractor Pull to help tide him over.
Other than my mention of the theme song earlier, I’ve yet to really touch on one of the most important components of the show: Its composer, David Schwartz (whose vast body of original soundtrack work includes The Good Place and Deadwood). Having been involved from the very beginning through to present day, his off-kilter score may very well be one of Arrested Development’s most integral ingredients. And certainly one of its most iconic; I’m sure I can’t be the only person who immediately associates the sound of ukulele with the show.
There are a lot of little idiosyncracies to Arrested Development’s soundtrack. You’ve got character-specific instruments and compositions, situation-specific instruments and compositions, and variations thereof. On top of this, there’s also a more general rotating soundtrack, which sees some pieces of music added to the repetoire, and some pieces leave it over time. There is the occasional composition that’ll only appear in a single episode of the show, with quite a few of instances here. Several variations on the closing credits music also make their way into Top Banana’s score – something the show wouldn’t do very often after these first few episodes.
Furthermore, this is that rare episode to use a licensed piece of music as part of its score, in the form of “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman–Turner Overdrive.
This episode’s production code of “1AJD01” is a little misleading. For those unfamiliar, here’s a quick run-down on how to read Fox’s tv production codes, which are arranged as such:
(SEASON NUMBER), (UNIQUE 3-LETTER CODE ASSIGNED TO SHOW), (EPISODE NUMBER)
Fox adopted this style of tv production codes towards the end of the 90s, after switching from their former four-character production codes. Arrested Development’s 3-letter code is “AJD” (it seems they cycled through the alphabet for these, ie. AAA, AAB, AAC, all the way through to ABA, ABB, etc. – Futurama, for instance which premiered almost five years before Arrested Development, has a production code of “ACV“).
Now, Top Banana, being the second episode of the first season, should logically have the production code 1AJD02, but instead, its production code is 1AJD01, which reads as “Season 1, Episode 1.” This is because the Pilot was actually assigned the production code of 1AJD79 – an absurdly high episode number for a series of this nature, as Arrested Development wasn’t guaranteed any further episodes at the time the Pilot was made (presumably, this approach might’ve allowed for Fox to reuse the “AJD” production code had they not proceeded with ordering more episodes). Top Banana is technically the first episode of the production cycle, at least from a numerical standpoint.
… Television is confusing like that.
Buster is nowhere to be seen in this episode. There are actually several episodes this season in which Tony Hale doesn’t appear (likewise for David Cross), though seasons 2 and 3 would feature the entire cast in almost every episode. This was a conscious decision by the writers, who’d received negative feedback about the character following test screenings of the Pilot, and wanted to dedicate a whole episode to “reintroducing” Buster to the audience. I’m inclined to say Buster’s absence here is for the best – this episode’s tight enough as it is, and would likely have felt overstuffed had they tried to add more to it. Not to mention this decision resulted in the excellent episode Bringing Up Buster.
Top Banana has a total runtime of 22 minutes and 3 seconds, and is rated TV-PG-DL. It is one of only three episodes from the Fox era to run over 22 minutes; the others are the aforementioned Bringing Up Buster, and the season 3 finale Development Arrested.
Michael asks George Michael to “hop on” his cousin’s lap, laying the groundwork for the term “hop-on,” which gets a more formal introduction two episodes later, in Key Decisions.
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.
Lindsay’s order of bananas foster foreshadows the incineration of the banana stand.
The name of the dessert Lindsay chooses may also be foreshadowing her own origins (if so, it would be the earliest hint in the series that Lindsay is adopted).
The big reveal in the season 1 finale Let Them Eat Cake eventually makes clear why Lucille and George Sr. were so adamant about destroying the company’s flight records here.
The first deleted scene from the episode better explains the motivation behind Michael’s actions (and, in turn, makes the ending even more depressing, since he ultimately achieves the exact opposite of what he sought out do to). Taking place before the opening scene in prison, Michael speaks to Lindsay in the model home living room, while a comatose Tobias lounges between them, presumably asleep. Michael informs Lindsay of his plan to get some money to help keep the company afloat: He’s learned they can claim a substantial tax refund if he can prove the corporate jet was only used for business. Lindsay cheerily feigns encouragement until Michael leaves the room, then lies down on the couch next to Tobias. The camera then pans over to Gob on the opposing couch, who stares into space for several seconds before murmuring “…Michael.”
There’s an extended version of the scene at the beach, after Michael speaks to Maeby on the phone. Gob offers the use of his segway to help Michael get to the banana stand…
… and Michael soon realises it’ll be much quicker on foot. Michael hops off the segway and starts running, as Gob yells “I’m right behind you, I just gotta get a recharge!”
Lastly, there’s a deleted “On the next”:
NARRATOR: Maeby develops a newfound respect for her cousin.
MAEBY: I can’t believe you actually burned down the banana stand.
GEORGE MICHAEL: Yeah… Well, yeah. I, uh, I’ve got some dark stuff.
MAEBY: Let’s go rob a carwash!