My sophomore year of college, my roommate and I started a tradition that we called “Arrested Development Quote of the Day,” which, per the self-explanatory title, consisted of one of us writing a different Arrested quote on our whiteboard every morning. We kept it up for eight months (give or take) without running out of quotes, and along the way we realized something: Arrested’s one-liners are often quite funny out of context, but they’re even better when you know the story behind them. For every out-of-context gem like “If you weren’t all the way on the other side of the room, I’d slap your face,” there are ten quotes, like “And that’s why you always leave a note,” that are only hilarious with the appropriate background information.
That may seem like a fairly self-explanatory statement, but it’s the key to the appeal of another one of my pop-culture obsessions, the endlessly entertaining Arrested Westeros. For those of you who haven’t stumbled upon this slice of awesome, Arrested Westeros is a tumblr that combines quotes from Arrested with screengrabs from Game of Thrones. It’s not the only GoT mash-up: A Song of Ice and Wire combines HBO’s epic fantasy series with HBO’s critically acclaimed police drama, and A Song of ISIS and Fire puts Sterling Archer’s words in Ned Stark’s mouth. Arrested Westeros, however, is funnier than its counterparts because, while the Archer- and Wire-based versions play off the surface similarities between the shows, Arrested Westeros goes deeper, and in the process shows just how fucked up the Bluth family is.
This difference might not be immediately apparent. There are certainly surface-level similarities between Arrested and GoT: the dysfunctional families, the unscrupulous rich men, the incest. But these parallels are dwarfed (hah! pun) by The Wire. In many ways, GoT is basically just The Wire: Special Westeros Unit. It’s got the complex social networks, the barrage of unfamiliar terms, the principled people trying to survive in a deeply corrupt world. Tommy Carcetti is on the show, for god’s sake! (Yes, I know Aiden Gillen is technically playing a different character, but take away Petyr Baelish’s accent and put him in a suit and you have Carcetti.)
The problem with building comedy out of these similarities, however, is that they’re too obvious. Omar Little’s famous line, “You come at the king, you best not miss” is begging to be applied to Robert or Joffrey Baratheon, and McNulty’s continual, guilty lament, “What the fuck did I do?” goes equally well with a picture of the hapless Samwell Tarly and Sansa’s poor, executed direwolf, Lady. The juxtapositions here are amusing, but they’re not laugh-out-loud funny, because they don’t tell us anything new or unusual about either show.
A Song of ISIS and Fire has something of the opposite problem. Some of the pairings, like Pam’s exclamation of “Sploosh!” combined with footage of the now-infamous girl-on-girl sex scene, are brilliant. Most, however, use quotes that are far from situation-specific. The site pairs Sterling Archer’s “babytown frolics” line with a picture of a knight dying of a lance to the throat, but that description would really apply to half the screenshots from a given episode. More than half, as you move through the season and people start dying at a truly alarming rate.
Arrested Westeros also has its painfully obvious entries. Some of them are extremely funny, like “I’ve made a huge mistake” plastered across Sansa Stark’s tearful face as she looks at her father’s head on a pike. Others, like Maebe’s comment about getting a kiss from “mister cool half-man” as applied to Tyrion Lannister, don’t work as well. The best entries, however, are the ones that demonstrate just how twisted Arrested Development is by laminating Bluth Family weirdness onto the even weirder characters who populate Westeros.
The heartlessness of Lucille’s parenting style comes out when compared to the even icier relationship between Tywin and Tyrion Lannister. Her disturbing bond with Buster is illustrated with the infinitely more worrisome sight of Lysa Arryn breastfeeding her ten-year-old son. And the sadism of George Sr.’s attempts to teach his children lessons using a one-armed man is aptly demonstrated by an actual severed human arm.
The absolute best examples of Arrested Westeros, however, are all about incest. It’s certainly easy to ignore the implications of George Michael’s obsession with Maebe and Lucille’s affair with her husband’s twin brother when they take place in the absurd Arrested universe. But when Buster’s cry of “My father is my uncle!” (by the way, my favorite Arrested moment ever) is accompanied by a shot of Joffrey Baratheon and the knowledge that the uncle who is his father also happens to be his mother’s brother, the increased ickiness comes with a reminder that Arrested Development is even weirder than it seems.
Emily Hummel, the creator of Arrested Westeros has, whether she realized it or not, hit on a fundamental truth about comedy here. While it is possible to spin a successful joke by pointing out the obvious, it’s extremely difficult. Everyone knows that airline food is terrible, that women go to the bathroom in groups, and that straight men can’t dance. Observational comedy is only funny when you’re pointing out something that the audience hasn’t thought about, like when Jim Gaffigan jokes that Christmas decorations resemble nothing so much as the behavior of a drunk man.
Arrested Westeros is funny for the same reason Gaffigan’s drunken Christmas joke is funny. They both take something that you thought you knew everything about — Arrested Development, Christmas trees — and make you look at it from a new angle. My roommate and I figured out that Arrested quotes were funnier when you put them in context, but we didn’t realize just how dark and twisted that context was. In showcasing that darkness, Arrested Westeros takes something impossibly funny and somehow makes it even funnier. I can’t wait to see what hilarious revelations Season 2 brings.
Alex Israel is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. In her limited free time, she writes about television on her blog, Pencils Down, Pass the Remote.