Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Case of the.... Arrested Development - Season 4

I was a little late to the Arrested Development party.  I never watched it during its initial run on Fox.  It wasn't until I got a new laptop a couple of years later, and the entire series (with brief commercials) came with one of the programs, that I began watching it.  And, quite simply, I fell in love immediately.  I loved all of the random running jokes -- honestly, I don't even know where to start listing them.  There's Mr. F, referring to various items as "things" (like, "he ate a thing of peanuts"), leaving out "the" when referring to various items (such as, "look at banner" or "I got this from Army"), the inexplicable chicken dances, and repeated one liners such as "well that was a freebie" and "I've made a huge mistake."  It was just such a clever, out there show....well worth all of the praise.  So it goes without saying that I was looking exceptionally forward to the show's return, even though I don't even have a Netflix membership.

Like many people, I was skeptical about the fact that each episode would revolve around a different character, limiting the interactions between all of the characters dramatically.  As others have noted, part of what made the show great were the scenes in which the characters were all together.

Now that I've seen every episode, honestly I didn't find this to be a huge problem.  For the most part, all of the central characters interacted with each other in some manner, and we even got certain pairings that I don't recall ever seeing in the original series (like Tobias and Lucille).  There were a lot of things that I liked, and a few things that I didn't like.  To end things on a positive note, let's start with the things I wasn't so wild about.

One common criticism was that many of the characters didn't seem to act like themselves.  For the most part, I disagreed with that assessment.  However, the one person I thought fit this description was Michael.  For whatever reason, they decided to make him almost completely unlikable as he displayed virtually no redeemable qualities.  The brilliance of Michael's character was that he always tried to do the right thing and that he always acted like he was so above the rest of his family.  And what made him so funny was that, on many occasions, he proved to be no better than any of them.  He would get competitive, he wouldn't listen to his son, he would go against the very instructions he had given his family.  He was incredibly flawed and lacked self awareness.  But he was still good.

The writers seem to have forgotten about that last part, however.  I'm thinking back, and I honestly can't think of a single thing he did that was even relatively moral or with selfless good intentions.  And his relationship with George Michael in that first episode was just plain creepy.  What was with them showering together.  I expect that sort of scene from Lucille and Buster -- but Michael and George Michael?  Definitely not.

I'm reluctant to refer to this as a criticism, but I do think they took the fun out of the dysfunction of the Funke family.  The humor in their problems was the fact that they stuck together despite their issues.  Not because of any sense of loyalty, but rather out of necessity, lack of options, or pure laziness.  This season, we had Tobias and Lindsay essentially leave Maeby for over a year without seemingly caring very much.

I also think they went a bit overboard with stunt casting.  Don't get me wrong, the show has always utilized big stars and put them in hilarious (or sometimes very insignificant) roles, but it felt a bit more blatant here.  Ed Helms, John Krasinski, Mary Lynn Rajskub, John Slattery, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, and even using Ron Howard in an actual role seemed a little unusual.  And while not a complaint, it did feel like they went somewhat overboard bringing back every single recurring character  that has ever appeared on the show.

And as a follow up to that, I was REALLY irked by the use of Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig in flashbacks as young George Sr. and Lucille.  For one, it especially came across as stunt casting.  Secondly, it was inconsistent with what they had done in the past.  We've seen George Sr. appear in many flashbacks, and he was always portrayed by Jeffrey Tambor wearing a wig.  Why, suddenly, is he Seth Rogen with a mustache?  And while Kristen Wiig at least TRIED to replicate Lucille's behavior and manner of speaking, Seth Rogen acted and sounded nothing like George Sr.  It was really distracting.

And finally, for a show that is so incredibly meta, I'm a little surprised they resisted the urge to bring attention to the fact that some of the characters had changed so significantly, despite certain scenes seemingly happening seconds after season three left off (like Michael's shortened hair, Lindsay's....everything, Tobias putting on some weight, and George Michael looking 20 years older).

Now, to the stuff I loved.  Like I said, I was skeptical about the format of the episodes and quite honestly, the first couple episodes are a little rough.  But once you get a few episodes in, you start to really appreciate what they're going for.  It was actually quite brilliant seeing the "punchline" to a joke, only to find out the setup several episodes later (like having a random ostrich in the penthouse, only to find out why it was there halfway through the season).  I actually really enjoyed getting filled in on certain things way later than I otherwise would have.  This was no more true than in the George Michael episode.  When he appears early on in the season, and during the Maeby episode, it seemed odd to me that they made no reference to him having a crush on her.  However, when we see the George Michael episode near the end of the season, we come to learn that everything he had been doing was to win her over.  And that, in reality, his brilliant and lucrative "Fake Block" idea was a complete fabrication.  There are other instances too -- like not finding out the identity of the mystery legs coming from Gob's bedroom until near the end of the season.

It was also great seeing the way each of the characters played a role in what happened to the other characters.  Like how Lindsay's boyfriend was the vision that George Sr. saw in the desert.  Or how Gob was responsible for Lindsay's boyfriend getting arrested.  There were loads of other times where this happened, but these were some of the first that came to mind.

And the brilliant idiocy of each character turned as well, like Gob questioning his sexuality because he develops a genuine friendship with another man -- a feeling he's never experienced before, which he therefore interprets as homosexual emotions.  And then the materialistic nature of everybody, particularly Tobias and Lindsay as they buy a new house, despite being broke, provided many hilarious moments as well.

And, of course, there were the return of the running gags like Mr. F!  And "well that was a freebie."  And hilarious new gags, like the repeated chorus of "Hello Darkness My Old Friend."  And nobody recognizing the poorly aged Steve Holt.  One thing that surprised me, however, was the inconclusive manner in which the season ended.

Overall, I ABSOLUTELY recommend viewing this season -- but do it in as short a time period as possible, as it'll help you truly appreciate some of these gags.  It's different than what you're used to, but it's still great.  Yes, there are some slow spots, but it's well worth overcoming those.  There are A LOT more good moments than bad.

1 comment:

Jennifer Aguiar said...

Arrested Development: Winner of the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy its first year out, Arrested Development is the kind of sitcom that gives you hope for television. It's one of those shows where you can watch over and over and still laugh at every joke.Arrested Development Seasons 1-3 dvd box set follows the fictitious Bluth family, a formerly wealthy and habitually dysfunctional family, and is presented in a continuous format, incorporating handheld camera work, narration, archival photos, and historical footage.