Arrested Development: the greatest show on earth

Arrested Development is the greatest television show ever made.

There. I said it.

If you look at lists of great TV, there are many fine shows that I absolutely love. The Wire was a phenomenal examination of how drugs affect our lives, and grew over five astonishing seasons into a novelistic view of an entire city, its inhabitants, politics, schools, media, and it’s slow, agonising decline. It was majestic, truthful, nuanced, tough, sophisticated, and ought to be on every curriculum there is. The world’s politicians should be made to sit down and watch it, as it rubs their noses into what their capitalist system is doing to those at the tough end. It’s almost unbeatably good television.

The Sopranos was consistently stupendous: complex, powerful, dark, funny, endlessly entertaining, and with a stunning central performance. James Gandolfini was electifying even when he was just shovelling pasta into his face. I even loved the last 30 seconds, which few people really “got”.

In Britain we have a wonderful history of great programming: The Singing Detective, Blackadder, Attenborough and much more. We should be intensely proud of them all.

But above everything else is Arrested Development, simply the funniest sitcom ever. And you’ve probably never heard of it. But you should have. Go to Amazon this instant, and buy all three glorious seasons. Are you still here? You should be on Amazon!

Arrested Development follows the Bluth family, three generations of money-grubbing, lazy, stupid, insensitive, racist, selfish, incestuous, treacherous bastards, being held together by Micheal, the only sane one, and the only one who’s ever done a day’s work.

The programme is incredibly fast-moving, and every episode has as much farcical plotting as 3 whole seasons of any other sitcom. It plays brilliantly with the expectations of TV, comments on the terribly management decisions at Fox which brought about its cancellation, and features omniscient narration by Ron Howard, perky and gleeful as he dishes the dirt on this terrible bunch of crooks.

I must have watched every episode a dozen times, and still find new jokes. Literally every single day I find myself laughing outloud at some line or joke or chicken impression from the show. I often giggle in the supermarket, and find myself needing to grab the people who are staring at me and tell them they must watch it as a matter of urgency.

Who’s in it? Who isn’t in it!

  • Jason Bateman
  • Micheal Cera
  • Jeffrey Tambor
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Ben Stiller
  • Charlize Theron
  • Carl Weathers
  • Gary Cole
  • Heather Graham
  • Ron Howard
  • Will Arnett
  • Portia de Rossi
  • Scott Baio
  • Ed Begley, Jr.
  • Zach Braff
  • Rob Corddry
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • Judy Greer
  • James Lipton
  • Amy Poehler
  • Frankie Muniz
  • Judge Reinhold
  • Martin Short
  • And a cast of thousands

But don’t imagine this is Friends, with a series of guest cameos. Charlize Theron plays – there’s no other way to say it – a simpleton. Ben Stiller is an utter arsehole of a magician. Liza Minelli plays a vertigo sufferer who collapses every time she has to turn around. Martin Short plays a 93-year-old body builder who vomits when he’s shaken.

It’s just brilliant. Do yourself a favour. You won’t regret it.

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You are gorgeous

Everyone wishes they were more attractive.

But the truth is, you’re almost certainly gorgeous already. You’re just not comparing yourself to the right people.

I’m no great looker, and I’m never going to appear on the front of a Men’s Health magazine. I’m not the sexually magnetic front-man of a cool indie band. And I never will be.

But that’s fine, because those people are freaks.

They’re deformed.

Just as much as any twisted, tragic carnival sideshow in a Victorian fair, models are an extreme example of the chance occurrences of genetics.

We’re overwhelmed with an absolute tsunami of images of these twisted gargoyles, to the extent that we start to assume it’s normal.

The young and impressionable – especially girls – are led to believe that having normal genes is some kind of failing.

They starve themselves so they look like a genetic aberration who just happens to have zero body fat.

They cut and tweak and inflate parts of themselves to fit a body image “standard” that’s actually based on a million-to-one evolutionary mutation.

It’s tragic.

I imagine a scene in a parallel universe, where a whole generation of teenaged girls is desperately trying to look like another extreme version of humanity – the Elephant Man.

He was a freak, just as much as Angelina Jolie is. And he even got to be in a movie, which proves it.

I advise everybody to go to the high street and just look. Watch people. See how they really are. Compare yourself to those people. Not to the freakshow on our TVs.

Men have bellies. Girls like to rest their heads on bellies. Aged 14, girls probably like that noxious twat Bieber, but as they get older they want a boyfriend. A nice guy who thinks about her more than himself.

Boys like that don’t work out all day. They eat chips and laugh, and they get bellies and wrinkles.

That’s a Good Thing.

And no boy wants to spend time with a shallow, narcissistic airhead who spends 9 hours a day preening herself. And we don’t want to snuggle up with a tight-stretched bag of elbows.

Proper girls have proper curves. They’re plumptious and soft and lovely to hold. We want that. We don’t want to see your ribs.

My theory about how skinny and shapeless models are is this:

  • Gay men (predominantly) run fashion.
  • Gay men like to look at the bodies of boys, not girls.
  • So models are chosen for their lack of genuine femininity.

Is that good? I don’t think so. I like a woman to be a woman.

So have a pie. Like your face. Be yourself. You’re lovely.

How do I accept a compliment?

I don’t know how to do it.

Here’s an example:

Random person: You’re nice

Mole Rat: What are you selling?

Random person: Nothing – I only said you were nice.

Mole Rat: Piss off. Are you mad?

It’s not normal. I know that, but I don’t know what to do about it.

Recently, and utterly without precedent, some people have complimented me in a personal way. Someone even used the word “fit”, which I’d only previously heard directed at people stood nearby, who I immediately hated or moved into the “conceited dickhead” file in my mind.

Now, without any idea how it happened, that person seems to be me. I’m that conceited dickhead.

Except that I’m not. Dickhead, yes, granted. I’m a dickhead. But I’m not a conceited one, because I can’t believe it when I get a compliment. I don’t believe them. I don’t know how to accept them. I’ve never really had to do it.

From the age of 14 to the age of 30 I got nowhere with girls. Regardless of whether or not I’m George Clooney today (I’m not), the fact that I was George Formby for the formative years of my life has left a mark. I find it hard to believe it when – and at this point I’m going to pull a distasteful face while I type – when people say I’m attractive. Gah.

Being complimented makes me assume I’m being set-up, and that in 30 seconds I’ll be slapped with the punchline. I’m permanently ready to be at the receiving end of a cruel sexual-practical joke. So my immediate response is to beat them to the punchline, and find some way to turn their compliment into some stupid gag about my looks, intelligence or sexual prowess.

It makes me seem weird and timid. I’m not timid…

… I might be weird.

I’m normal for my family, but perhaps we’re all weird. I’m so fond of them that I’ve never given them any indication that I can bear the company of any of them. They’d hate it if I did. I was raised on a diet of endless piss-taking and creative abuse, which goes on to this day. I can’t remember a time when I said or did anything nice to my brother, or him to me. My parents love me, and I love them, at least the one who could be arsed staying alive… see? My dad’s dead, and I’m still taking the piss.

The idea that one of us might actually say “I love you”… oh my God, that would be the ultimate transgression.

People in my family are polite to anybody they dislike, and offensive and abusive to people they think are great. The more you’re insulted and mistreated, the more they like you.

To me, that seems normal. It’s compliments which are disturbing.

So I’ve got literally no experience of people being overtly pleasant to me. When somebody says a nice thing to me, my mind goes blank. I hide behind stupid jokes. I suspect I’m supposed to say “thank you” or perhaps compliment them in return. But I only know about that in an abstract way. I’ve never learned how to do it.

Has dating changed?

It’s been 10 years since the last time I had a first date.

And now I’m single again, and it’s possible – likely, even – that I’ll go on dates with people.

I know I’ve changed, but I don’t know if dating has. Last time I was single I was in my early 30s, and seemed to be in that awkward age. When you’re a student, dating is all about sex because your hormones are raging, and all the girls you meet are also into the idea of just trying stuff out. It means little, it’s just fun.

In your late 20s to early 30s (as I was the last time I was on a first date) dating is meant to be more mature. Nobody mentions it, but it’s pretty likely that you’re both looking for a life-partner. Somebody permanent. Somebody to settle down with and buy curtains. You have a little more confidence, and you’ve done the experimenting, and now it’s all about longevity. At least, that’s my experience of it.

But now I’m in my early 40s, and I’m wondering if dating has changed again. Are people my age so confident and independent that they’re all about the fun? Or are they feeling the clock ticking, and eagerly searching for their last chance at something permanent?

I guess it’s time to find out! Thank God I still have my hair, and can (in the right light) pass for 35.

Some startling statistics

Let’s start off with a big one, just to grab your attention.

The world’s 4 richest people have more wealth than the poorest 57 countries.

Is that true? Can that be true? No, that can’t be true.

It’s true. You want to know how deeply fucked up the world’s economic system is, just look at that fact. Four people are worth more than 57 entire countries. Do they work that hard? No. Are they that creative? No. Have they built an empire that employs half a billion happy workers? No.

Is politics unimportant? No.

Let’s move on.

In the UK, since 1981 wages for the bottom 98% have fallen by 18% (7% last year alone) and for the top 2% have grown 900% (200% last year alone).

“What the fuck?” (you should be saying). “You mean I’ve worked for 30 years to become nearly 20% poorer, and the guy who runs the company is almost 10 times richer?!

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I’m not saying capitalism is evil. I don’t believe it is. But there’s more than one shade of capitalism, and the shade we use at the moment isn’t working for the vast majority of people. We need a gentler, softer shade. There is plenty of money out there. The UK has over £3 trillion in savings, 87% of which is held by banks and the richest 2% of the population. We just need a system which shares that money more equitably.

“But it’s shared pretty well right now”, I hear you cry.

Since 1981, 100% of gains in GDP have been spent on tax cuts, pay rises and benefits for the top 2%. The bottom 98% have received no net benefit at all from growth.

Hold on: so not only have I been working for 30 years to get poorer, but as my nation’s income has grown, literally 100% of the additional wealth has been spent on the people at the top?

Yes. That’s right. You may read in the tabloid press that benefit scroungers are killing us all, yada, yada, yada. Not so. The percentage of our nation’s income spent on benefits and tax breaks for the lowest paid 98% of people has not changed. The number of actual pounds spent has gone up, yes, but as a percentage of the money available it’s remained the same. All the increases have been spent giving tax breaks to that guy upstairs who drives the Jaguar and goes home at lunchtime on Friday.

Which brings me to the number of hours we all work.

In 1981 the bottom 98% worked an average 37 hour week with 23 days holiday. Today they work average 45.2 hours and have 17 days holiday. The top 2% work an average 31 hours and have 46 days holiday.

And

Since 1981 productivity amongst the bottom 98% has increased 23%, but wages have fallen 19%.

So we work longer and harder, and generate more and more profits for less and less pay, and for no share in the increased profits made by the nation.

And the boss works less and less hours, for more and more pay, and gets all the money. Lovely. Isn’t neoliberal capitalism a splendid thing? Keep voting Tory folks, it’s definitely what’s best for you. It says so in those newspapers which are owned by people who are all part of the top 2%, and who are major contributors to the Tory party.

But surely we need Tories to take care of businesses? Labour are anti-business. And after all, business pay a lot of tax.

In 1981 for every £1 of tax paid by individuals, £1.50 was paid by companies. Now for every £1 paid by individuals, companies pay 22p.

So the company doesn’t pay tax, but high earners do. They keep telling us they’re taxed heavily. I can’t remember the figures, or how it compares with historical norms, but they’re squeezed and struggling and…

In 1981 the richest 2% paid an average of 62% personal tax. Now they pay an average of 19%.

That’s a lower percentage than I pay! How do they pay so little?

Well, kiddo, because there are a large number of tax breaks for people who are company directors, and if you pay an accountant £4,000 he’ll work out how to avoid paying most of your tax. If your tax bill is bigger than about £18,000, it’s well worth it. But you have to be a top 2% income to pay more than £18,000 tax.

So even if the top rate is 50%, very few company directors pay it. That’s why everyone wants to be made a director.

But surely, you say, lots of poor people are paying less tax too. I remember the bad old days of Labour in the 1970s, when we all paid a fortune.

In 1981 the poorest 40% of workers paid an average of 18% personal tax. Now they pay an average of 26% (even though more people pay no income tax as a result of earning too little).

OK, we know people are struggling right now, but their company is looking after them by paying into a pension pot. Instead of a big wage they get a decent personal pension.

In 1981 70% of people had pension. Now 17% do.

You’re scaring me.

But more people have money tied up in property, so they’ll be OK when they get older. Just get on the property ladder, and you’ll be fine.

In 1981 the average person saving 50% of disposable income had to save for 27 months to afford a deposit for an average house. Doing the same level of saving today, they have to save for 42 years to get a deposit.

OK, OK, it’s difficult for people, but David Cameron has launched the big society, and those people with a lot of money are always making charitable contributions. They’ll help us out.

Charitable donations in 2010 from the richest 2% were 0.03% of the total, even though they have 71% of total personal savings and 77% of the total disposable income.

Oh fuck.