Thursday, May 30, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4, Episodes 7-9

(I'm going to be watching and reviewing three episodes at a time of Arrested Development. I've gone out of my way to avoid reading reviews of the new season or discussing it on blogs or forums, so these reviews are untainted by outside opinion. Also, fair warning, these aren't recaps or plot synopses. I'm assuming everyone reading has seen the episodes in question and will be launching right into analysis of each.)

Season 4, Episode 7 - "Colony Collapse"
Starring Character: Gob

This is the first night of my three-at-a-time Arrested Development season 4 marathon that has satisfied both comedically and narratively top-to-bottom, and that was kicked off in strong fashion by "Colony Collapse," the best episode of the fourth season so far and the first to really start firing on every comedic cylinder from the word go. Everything that Will Arnett has done since Arrested Development – namely Running Wilde and especially Up All Night – has just cemented the fact that Gob Bluth was the character he was put on this earth to play, and in this episode he picks right up where he left off with Gob's cockiness and swagger and obliviousness and sudden swings of wild, extreme emotion like there was never seven years away.

Like the first George Sr. and Lindsay and Tobias episodes, "Colony Collapse" is pretty all over the place as it rushes and perhaps even stumbles forward in its hurry to tell Gob's story. But unlike those episodes I don't think it ever trips over its own feet, and maintains if not a narrative clarity at the very least a kind of emotional and character clarity.

A lot of that probably has to do with the grounding presence Ann Veal has on the episode's first twenty or so minutes ("Way to plant, Ann!"). I've become a pretty hardcore fan of Ann's actress Mae Whitman in recent years thanks to Parenthood (though Scott Pilgrim didn't hurt either), and it's awesome after how dynamic she is on Parenthood to see her slip effortlessly back into Ann's "plain" emotion set. Her nearly-a-minute-long "Ann" facial expression (I really can't think of how else to describe it) when Gob does his "Should-he-should-should-should-should, should-the-guy, should-the-guy, should-he-should-he-should-he, in the $32..." is easily one of Ann's best moments of the entire series, and kudos to Whitman for not breaking, because that couldn't have been easy.

Then we're off to the wedding trick illusion, which, like many a great Gob magic act, is ludicrously outsized and larger-than-life and a phenomenally crappy magic act (awards to Alan Tudyk for his delivery of "Well, I guess... we'll wait two weeks... and see if he's in there?"). And, maybe because it's transitioned into through a Steve Holt bit, I ended up not minding the episodes Lindsay-and-Marky Bark/Tobias-and-DeBrie-esque transition into a final act with Gob interacting largely with new characters. The roofie circle and whole limo-full-of-bees thing probably helped a lot too.

In terms of running jokes, the episode gave us a lot of what any Arrested fan could ask for: Michael not noticing Ann, Ann being given sudden, random nicknames ("Egg" and "Plant" return, and "Blank" is added to the mix), "STEVE HOLT!", "The Final Countdown," Gob boasting about the price of his clothes and even a little Tony Wonder cameo (where it's revealed what his headline on the cover of British gay magazine Attitude in "Flight of the Phoenix" was about, as he's since come out of the closet). It also puts in some work at building new running jokes, most notably in Gob's continued staring into the distance as the lyric "Hello darkness my old friend..."" from "The Sound of Silence" plays, which is immediately hilarious the very first time they do it and stays hilarious the entire episode.

Also, for reasons that I'm likely too dumb to articulate, the Gob/Michael model home scene in this episode felt less like a special crossover event than other multi-Bluth scenes this season and recaptured some of the looser and more playful vibe of what I hope for from family interactions in this series. Jason Bateman and Will Arnett always had some of the best comedic chemistry of anyone in this cast, and their interplay and wordplay is sharp and fun and witty ("My bees are dropping like flies and I need them to fly like bees."). The quick Gob/George Michael scene at the beginning of the episode was a lot of fun too, especially Michael Cera's first delivery of "...No." when Gob asks if they're good.

Really, except for the continued presence of the "SHOWSTEALER PRO TRIAL VERSION" joke, which I continue to find super-annoying, this episode really delivered. Turns out Gob makes a great leading man, which is a touch ironic because when I discussed Running Wilde (where Will Arnett basically played a poor man's Gob Bluth) a couple years ago, I said that it turns out Gob alone doesn't make for much of a series. Well, maybe not much of a series, but in this case definitely a hell of an episode.

Season 4, Episode 8 - "Red Hairing"
Starring Character: Lindsay

I started "Red Hairing" with more than a little trepidation towards both its 37-minute runtime and the incredible fear that we were going to spend a huge bulk of that runtime with Lindsay at Marky Bark's ostrich farm. But it turns out, no, we got the hell off that ostrich farm very, very quickly (in fact, the couple of minutes we spent there considerably enhanced my appreciation of "Borderline Personalities" as it was revealed that George Sr.'s "vision" of the Native shaman – previously my least-favorite bit of that episode – was no vision but Marky Bark all along) and then we're straight off to the plot races.

"Red Hairing" is the episode where it really feels like the optical illusion that is season 4 is becoming clear and we're finally zooming far enough out to see the tapestry rather than the threads, which is especially great because Lindsay's last episode "Indian Takers" felt exactly the opposite. It's wonderfully dense with story in a way that's just so, well, Arrested Development. It's got A plots and B plots and C plots and D plots and E plots and F plots.

In simultaneously encompassing and pushing forward the stories of the Herbert Love/Lucille Austero campaigns, the wall, Michael's Bluth movie and the events of Cinco de Cuatro, this episode pulls off the herculean task of actually making its 37 minutes feel pretty brisk. (I'd argue they still could've and maybe should've shaved a few minutes off, but unlike the first Lindsay and Tobias and George Sr. episodes this doesn't feel like it could have been 22 minutes long and told the same story.)

I especially enjoyed the scene where Michael and Lindsay meet at the restaurant and the movie producing and political campaigning storylines collide as Herbert Love and Rebel Alley meet ("Looks like the special tonight is red snapper!") and clash ("Now that is one redhead I do not wanna have sexual relations with!"). The inter-Bluth scenes in this episode felt strong all around, between Lindsay and Michael and Lindsay and Lucille and me realizing with sudden surprise how much I liked and missed Lindsay and Maeby's dynamic in their scene at the model home together.

The indirect way the Bluths touch each other's lives is also made clear as the victim of Gob's failed trapping of Tony Wonder in the last episode is revealed to be Marky Bark, which is simply brilliant in a stoner-y "Whoa... everything's connected..." kinda way.

As for the end of the episode, with Lindsay embracing her fate and true calling as a right-wing politician, it certainly seems a fitting ultimate fate for the ultimate phony liberal, no? It opens up a litany of possibilities moving forward.

Season 4, Episode 9 - "Smashed"
Starring Character: Tobias

Though less committed to the season's larger narrative flow, Tobias' second episode "Smashed" is much like Lindsay's "Red Hairing" in that it's much better than the episode it's a sequel to. Yes, like "A New Start," much of "Smashed" is dedicated to the demented love story of Tobias and failed Imagine Generic ("WATER DROP EFFECT") actress DeBrie Bardeaux, but instead of following them on a vague and unfocused adventure as that first episode did, this one triumphs thanks to its clear and direct narrative focus on the Fantastic Four musical. Now that's a clear-cut situation with the promise of comedy! Tell your friends.

This is the first time in all four seasons that we've seen Tobias act as a analrapist theralist at especially meaningful length, and it's a definite fun change of pace for the character. I love the way Mark Cherry's story flowed from "Colony Collapse" into this one (though this is one of many things that confirms Mitch Hurwitz's recent retraction of his early boasting that you can watch these episodes in any order). David Cross's delivery to Mark of "See, you keep writing this infantile, ridiculous melody over and over and over again, and I say that as your director; as your therapist I'm happy that you're expressing yourself, but as a director I don't have to like it, and I don't, but also good for you, therapist now speaking, but also, no." is a keeper.

The episode is also very smart in its use of Michael, easing Michael into Tobias' story with a great Michael/Tobias scene in the model home ("Perchance a double date is in our future, hey brother-in-law?" "Nah."). The dialogue between the two back in "The One Where Michael Leaves" where Michael discovers that Tobias just blue himself is probably one of my favorite scenes in television history, so I'm kinda predisposed to like any two-person scene between them.

But then the show merges and simultaneously pushes forward both Michael's movie producing and Rebel Alley stories and Tobias' Fantastic Four story as they go to visit Ron Howard together, which is laudable both for how tight and efficient it is but also, you know, because of the visual of Tobias choking beloved Hollywood icon Ron Howard in a fit of rage.

All in all, this might be, after "Colony Collapse," my favorite of the season so far. It's a vast improvement over Tobias' last episode and has a number of little moments that recaptured some of the sheer comedic joy of the original series. I'm an insanely easy lay with the James Bondian background-singing "Mr. F" jokes and have been ever since they were first introduced back in the middle of season 3, so I obviously exploded in bellowing, quaking laughter when they returned here. Very good call for the show to keep that bullet in the chamber for nine episodes.

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