Friday, May 31, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4, Episodes 10-12

(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 10 - "Queen B."
Starring Character: Lucille

I'll say off the bat that Jessica Walter's performance as Lucille Bluth has been phenomenal from the moment she uttered "I don't care for Gob." in the pilot of Arrested Development and continues to be phenomenal straight through to season 4. All you have to do is look at her staring contest with Tobias in his theralist's office in this episode, where, without moving a muscle or seemingly doing much of anything, she's somehow being hysterically funny. It's a brilliant character and a brilliant performance.

But, all that said, I didn't like "Queen B." as much as I liked the last three episodes, and I have to wonder if part of that is because Lucille just isn't a character designed to be the protagonist. Her supreme vainness and heartlessness and awful mothering makes for an always-awesome supporting character in a sitcom, but as the lead for even one episode it feels a little like eating a handful of spices – or, keeping things on-theme here, of mustard and parmesan cheese. It'd be like if Olenna Tyrell was the main character for a full hour of Game of Thrones. I mean, fantastic character and all, but this is not where the action is, you know?

I did enjoy the first act of the episode a lot, and the intro to the episode as the intro to an episode of Real Asian Prison Housewives of the Orange County White Collar Prison System was a hilarious and clever way to mix up the show's rhythms (the sudden and committed stylistic change felt almost Community-esque, and given Dan Harmon's cameo in "Borderline Personalities" I suppose that may not be entirely coincidental). All of the first fifteen minutes or so with Lucille at the prison was a lot of fun, especially the sequence's climax as the Jade Dragon Triad tries to shank Lucille with a sharpened noodle, which she neutralizes by throwing water on it.

Everything after that, while amusing here and there (I already mentioned the great Lucille/Tobias interaction), didn't feel as fun or high-energy or surprising as recent episodes. Unlike the way other episodes have shone new light onto scenes and stories by showing them from different points of view, Lucille joining Tobias' Fantastic Four musical largely just felt like seeing the same stuff over again, nor did her dynamics with George or Oscar feel super-fresh (though I did enjoy the coining of the term "treason-adjacent"). I'm not sure I liked the return of Gene Parmesan much either, as it demolished Gene's status as the greatest single-episode sitcom character of all time.

The Lucille 2 cliffhanger perked me up, though. One of the bigger plot-related surprises about this season as a whole – other than the broke and destitute Michael Bluth we come back in on, anyway – might be what a giant role Lucille 2 has played throughout the whole thing. I mean, she's been in almost every single episode from "Flight of the Phoenix" through "Queen B."! (Though given the last moment of "Queen B.", who knows if we'll see her in the last three?) Given that she was only in ten episodes of the first three seasons put together, with her last appearance being halfway through season 2, this is a pretty major turnaround. Not bad, just kinda unexpected.

(I'm not sure how to work this into my main review, but speaking of Lucille 2, one thing that was pretty awful about the episode was the way she was greenscreened into the crab shack trial scene. That was uncomfortable and not good, and does Liza Minnelli in 20-fucking-13 really have such a busy schedule that they couldn't truck her up to set for a day? Weird.)

Season 4, Episode 11 - "A New Attitude"
Starring Character: Gob

Like this season's first episodes for George Sr., Lindsay and Tobias, Gob's second episode sees him spending the bulk of the half-hour with guest stars. However, unlike in those cases, said guest stars – Tony Wonder and Ann Veal – are actually established Arrested Development characters rather than new faces, so I found it considerably less of an issue. Indeed, while I wouldn't say this episode is as briskly-paced or comedically-propulsive as "Colony Collapse" (still, if anyone cares or is keeping track, my favorite episode of the season), the ending it reaches is such a madcap series of colliding, larger-than-life misunderstandings that it almost reminds of similar episode climaxes from the first three seasons.

There was other, non-Tony-or-Ann-related stuff too, including Gob using George Michael as his decoy boyfriend to get him into the Gothic Castle (and, show of hands, who ever thought going into this season that Gob and George Michael's first kiss would be one of the events contained therein?) and  making a pair of brief stints into the wall-building and Sudden Valley housing plots, the latter of which led into this episode's big Gob/Michael scene but the former of which felt so quick and throwaway I'm not sure it was necessary at all.

We also finally get to see the recent unpleasantness between Michael and Gob that was mentioned way back in the cold open of "Flight of the Phoenix" after Gob fills Sudden Valley with sex offenders. On the one hand, it's disappointing that the epic brawl of the Bluth brothers the imagination fills in after hearing about the unpleasantness turns out to be a harmless tussle in a children's ball pit. But at the same time, that's exactly the joke, and I get it. The Michael/Gob interaction here wasn't as great as in "Colony Collapse" (their kitchen scene in that episode remains the closest in this season to recreate the feel of S1-3 dialogue), but still pretty fun.

But the episode's piece de résistance and destined-to-be-best-remembered element is of course the initially feigned but nonetheless eventually consummated romance of Gob Bluth and Tony Wonder. Though I wouldn't put this – or any Arrested season 4 episode so far – nearly on par with "Sad Sack" or "Mr. F," it reminds just a little of those classic episodes in the way that the threads that will lead into its madcap finale are carefully seeded, from the John Beard's To Entrap a Local Predator: Supercreep cameras to the Tony Wonder mask (and Tony's womanly legs in the season premiere). And if tricking Gob and Tony Wonder into *bleep*ing is Ann's final act on Arrested Development, hey, what an exit, right?

One really important question, though, and by far this season's biggest missed opportunity: Why doesn't the narrator say "So Gob *bleep*ed Tony Wonder."? COME ON!

Season 4, Episode 12 - "Señoritis"
Starring Character: Maeby

"Señoritis" is easily one of the best episodes of Arrested Development's fourth season, which is kind of a surprise because for the last decade I've generally ranked Maeby in ninth place out of the nine main characters in terms of whose stories and running jokes I'm most into. While I certainly don't forget her whole fake studio exec thing – it's hard to forget any story in a show you've marathoned about twenty times – every time I rewatch the series over the years I always hit that story and have a moment of "Huh, oh yeah. This is a thing that happens in Arrested Development. Slipped my mind."

But "Señoritis" finds a pretty clever twist on Maeby's movie career by revisiting her when said career is over after a coup by high school graduate Kitty Sanchez. I was concerned when Lindsay found Maeby picking up her Opie back in "Red Hairing" that we were going to be coming back in on a highly successful and thus less funny Maeby (and it probably speaks to this show's wonderful, unyielding pessimism and the cynical place it puts me in that I was actually concerned by the fact that one of its characters might be successful and happy), but no, Maeby is an even bigger mess than ever, and ends the episode in a worse place than just about any other character has ended their season 4 arc thus far.

Maeby's story about becoming a perpetual high school senior was a lot of fun (and the zooms into Maeby's many high school yearbook photos, accompanied by the exact same music as the zooms into Steve Holt's yearbook photos back in season 2, is one of my favorite subtle callbacks of this season), and the series of mistaken perceptions and misunderstandings leading to her being arrested as a sex offender after deflowering 17-year-old Perfecto Telles was the best series of comedic misunderstandings since... well, Gob and Tony Wonder one episode ago. The reveal of Perfecto's anti-bullying badge especially made me laugh.

Like many episodes this season, "Señoritis" is very much a mess with almost no narrative focus whatsoever, spewing story threads as indiscriminately as Gob sleeps with women. Hell, there's two entirely separate George Michael stories in this one episode alone, in the first act as the show wraps up their romance arc from the end of season 3 and then a whole separate story with Fakeblock later on. But both those stories entertained, as did the aftermath of Maeby's movie career, her high school career and becoming her mother's pimp. The episode entertains right up through the return of "Hey, whatcha tryin' to say to me?" in its final seconds.

Oh, and Maeby being Lindsay's shaman? Totally didn't pick up on it. Kudos to the makeup departments of both Arrested Development and Gangie V.

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