First airdate: 7 December, 2003
Written by John Levenstein and Richard Rosenstock
Directed by Greg Mottola
The minutiae first: “Visiting Ours” was the fourth episode of Arrested Development in production order (or at least, that’s what its production number would indicate), but the sixth aired (the order followed on Netflix and Hulu), and the fifth if we follow the DVD viewing order; this last being both the presumably definitive choice, and the one that makes the most sense; for it is in “Visiting Hours” that we have, for the very first time, specific continuity with events in a previous episode, and it makes sense that it would thus follow “Key Decisions” as soon as possible, given the nature of that continuity; it is not at all like Gob Bluth to allow something like a small slight to go unanswered for even the length of a single intermediary episode.
At any rate, this thus becomes the moment when continuity – real, episode-to-episode continuity, and not just the obvious fact that the pilot precedes everything else – enters the world of Arrested Development, and the show is irrevocably changed. 10 years isn’t an especially long time, but it’s been long enough to almost completely erase the fact that, once upon a time, sitcoms weren’t serials. AD wasn’t the first half-hour show to make that jump, certainly, but it was still a rare thing at the time, and when it became obvious that watching the show in order was an important thing to do, if you wanted to catch the ebb and flow of the plot and jokes, it was clear that this was ambitious in a way most sitcoms were not, as if the incredibly costly, cinematic production quality of the series that had been in place from the first moment hadn’t already gotten us to that point.
The incredibly specific form that continuity would end up taking isn’t obvious yet, partially because it’s still being seeded: for the real arc of Arrested Development is not in its plot (although in the second and third seasons, that would become a big part of it), but in the development of an unnervingly sophisticated series of call-backs and foreshadowing. It is a show made up of jokes that set up punchlines which wouldn’t pay off until another episode or another season, jokes that are funny chiefly because they comment on or invert a joke from earlier in the show’s run. It’s perfectly satisfying in the moment, just a top-notch sitcom, but it becomes a work of genius the longer you live with it, and the more difficult it is to think about it except in terms of its crossing back and forth within itself, like the sitcom version of Pale Fire.
None of which really has much to do with “Visiting Ours”, though what triggered all of this was a strange joke in which Tobias is found to have a pair of cut-off jeans underneath his towel; this is the second time we’ve seen such a thing, after “Top Banana”, and the first time it’s had attention called to itself, though at this point there’s absolutely no clue as to why it’s there.
The fact of the matter is, though, that “Visiting Ours” doesn’t rate especially high in my personal esteem, ignoring that there are just a couple of AD episodes that are actually “bad” in any way, and even the most utterly middleweight are still better than the highest peaks of most sitcoms. Coming right after “Key Decisions” had such a phenomenal confluence of extraordinary dialogue, perfect acting, smart non-diegetic inserts, and wonderfully inspired music cues, “Visiting Ours” feels less ambitious: there’s not nearly as much narrative density, nor any real self-reflexive formal humor. Although the narrator does get one of his very best first season one-liners early on (“Kitty realized her mistake… But not immediately”).
Instead, most of what we get is character-driven humor; and that’s hardly a problem, for the characters on this show are tremendously great, and some of the individual gags are quite brilliant (“Daddy horny, Michael”; Lucille’s baffled horror at life by the pool; George-Michael’s deer-in-the-headlights terror at prison and carnivals, the latter expanded in a deleted scene on the DVD that I wish had made it into the whole episode). Some are not: Gob’s revulsion to the appearance of his father’s secretary – and it is certainly one of the episode’s strength that it introduces Judy Greer’s sexually voracious Kitty Sanchez, though there’s not a single Kitty appearance later in the show that I don’t like better – plays itself out long before the gag is retired, and other than the pleasure of seeing David Cross and Bob Odenkirk sharing the screen, there’s not much about the Lindsay/Tobias marriage counselor plot that does a whole lot for me personally.
Basically, I tend to think of this as being a good baseline episode of Arrested Development: this is how funny the show is when everything is working and nothing is particularly bold or memorable and inventive; when it expresses the characters without digging into them; when it presents the dynamics of this family without drawing us into that dynamic. It is, in short, one of the most “average” episodes of the series, though that’s a hell of a relative way of putting it, and the fact that this is AD‘s average says pretty much all there is to say about the heights the show was capable of hitting, and had already reached.