Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Christiansen, Paul. “‘And That’s Why You Always Leave a Note!’: Music as Comedic Element in the First Season of the Television Show Arrested Development.” Music and the Moving Image 11 (2018): 19-34.

The first season of Mitchell Hurwitz’s television sitcom Arrested Development, scored by David Schwartz, extensively uses musical humor that falls into six categories: rendering characters’ personalities, comic Othering, comic seriousness, snarky commentary, hidden cultural references, and diegetic ambiguity. Developing a taxonomy of musical humor reveals the complex role music plays in the show’s comedic tone and the subtlety of Schwartz’s musical comedy. Comedy in general and music comedy in particular are relatively unexplored by scholars. Arrested Development, which ran for three seasons in 2003-2006 before a 2013 revival, offers a case study of musical comedy rife with in-jokes, call-backs, and cultural references catalogued by a dedicated online fanbase. One way music is used for comedic effect is by establishing consistent themes for each character that prompt audiences for their typical style of joke. Another type of comedy the show uses is musical exoticism, often exaggerated or ironically commenting on the tropes of exoticism. For instance, a hodge-podge of “Latin” musics (such as mariachi and Spanish guitar) accompanies the Colombian character Marta, an ironic commentary on other characters’ ignorance about the differences between specific Central and South American cultures. A third comedic effect is juxtaposing serious music (classical, folk, or film noir) with the characters’ ineptitudes. A fourth is that pop songs are frequently used to punctuate situations with overtly literal interpretations of their lyrics. A fifth is the use of music to underscore in-jokes that run throughout the series. Finally, the show often blurs the line between diegetic and non-diegetic music, as in a gag in the pilot where a rimshot is played after a joke (as an apparent nondiegetic stinger) and a character on screen turns to look at the off-screen drummer (as though it were diegetic). The art of musical comedy relies on the clever subversion of expectations, and David Schwartz’s musical contribution to Arrested Development deserves acknowledgement for its artistry.

Works: David Schwartz: score to Arrested Development: Season One

Sources: Captain and Tennille: Love Will Keep Us Together (21, 27); Al Green: Free At Last (21, 27); Irving Berlin: I’m a Bad, Bad Man (21); Leroy: Gonna Get Together (21); Britney Spears: I’m Not That Innocent (21, 27); Europe: Final Countdown (21); Johann Sebastian Bach: Italian Concerto, BWV 971 (24); Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant (25); Burt Bacharach and Hal David: Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (27); Turner Overdrive: Taking Care of Business (28); Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg: Over the Rainbow (29)

Index Classifications: 2000s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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