Emmy nominations are announced July 18. This year, we thought we’d highlight some of our favorite elements in categories that don’t get lots of attention in your typical TV reviews, in hopes of spurring the Academy to consider our favorites below the line and behind the scenes.
The last comedy to elbow its way into the nominees for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Series was Max Headroom more than 25 years ago (and that’s only a comedy if you really stretch the definition). Comedy is generally underappreciated when it comes to the technical side of production, as if all it takes to make a great sitcom is acting and writing. But sound appreciation seems like a particularly egregious oversight in the days of rapid-fire banter and fly-by music cues. Luckily, Emmy voters have a perfect chance to break the streak with Arrested Development’s submitted episode, the GOB-centric “Colony Collapse.”
Arrested Development has been mining jokes out of the combination of dialogue, music, and sound effects since the pilot introduced Tobias with a sudden Jewish-wedding riff, and magician GOB even comes with his own theme song (“The Final Countdown”) and sound effects (the premature sploosh). Now, the Emmy would go to sound supervisor Kevin W. Buchholz and his team of sound editors, music editors, and Foley artists, but naturally they work in tandem with writer and showrunner Mitchell Hurwitz and musician David Schwartz, not to mention the editors and everyone else who contributes to the accompanying visuals. Great sound editing is as much of a team effort as any great film performance.
That said, “Colony Collapse” is a treasure trove of hilarious sound cues. The episode sees selfish GOB alienate his biological family, the entourage he joins, and the family he’s marrying into (as well as their church and pretty much everyone watching its televised services). The visuals are all about isolation—in a prop boulder, in the front seat of a limo during a raucous party—but nothing finds the comedy in GOB’s tragedy quite so well as his recurring theme, Simon And Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence.”
There’s a lot going on in that theme. There’s the abruptness of his sadness, with the song playing seconds after GOB ends a manic conversation with his nephew and pushes his way between other family members. Then there’s the exaggeration: GOB sitting there in a rumpled tux, the camera slowly pushing on his mopey face, the blown-out lighting behind him as GOB thinks to himself, “Hello, darkness, my old friend.” All the while, Tobias and Lindsay are faintly heard discussing a song about a phallus. The sound editing literally interrupts his self-pity—which is monopolizing the camera—with the people who are right in front of him offscreen. Not to mention that the phallus song is one of the few points in this disconnected season that’s seen from several angles, so the sound design helps orient GOB in the puzzle. The mid-word cutaway (“I’ve come to talk with you ag—”) is the cherry on top.
What’s more, the sound editing is crucial to the escalating comedic and thematic punch of the recurring song. GOB feels loneliest at his most ostensibly connected, when he’s at the bottom of a celebratory dog pile, and later in the one season-four scene that unites the entire main cast. The second time, instead of Tobias’ “phallus” line, the sound editing squeezes GOB’s catchphrase “I’ve made a huge mistake” between the lines of the song. The last time, GOB snaps out of it almost immediately because of another recurring theme, the GOB-inspired pop song “Getaway.” The song even cuts out earlier and earlier, just like Rebel Alley’s recurring public service announcements, which culminate in a two-second “Binge-drinking: not cool” over a symphonic swell interrupted at its most bombastic.
The episode is a feat of overlapping dialogue, narration, and music, and it all fades in and out almost imperceptibly, like when a John Beard newscast is only audible when it’s relevant. Original song snippets surge perfectly, as when pop star Mark Cherry’s single “Practice Kisses” reaches the title lyric right after narrator Ron Howard cites it. The theme song to Christian talk show “And As It Is Such, So Also As Such Is It Unto You,” which naturally plays in two rounds, pops up again in the final moment of the episode to underscore GOB’s plans for revenge. Even the Foley effects enhance the comedy, as in the sopping squish of the dead dove on the counter. The zipper on Ann’s robe sounds even longer than it looks.
At the end, there’s a handy awards-ready show-off sequence: GOB is driving his entourage around with the partition up, blissfully unaware that a swarm of bees is attacking his passengers. The sound cuts back and forth between GOB and the attack, contrasting the buzzing horror with a variety of tones: a Driving Miss Daisy monologue, classical music, and “Getaway.” Not only do Buchholz and company flow through the script, heighten jokes, and find thematic resonance, but they even land the climax. Surely that’s enough to earn Arrested Development some consideration for a seat at the sound-editing table.