Arrested Development Season 4

S4_Maeby_(02)

Phew! To be honest, that was bit of slog, but I’m glad I stuck it out.

After the first four or five episodes I was a bit worried about the episode pacing and lack of any kind of story closure or even stakes. Everyone kept telling me ‘it gets better, it gets better’ and it does, but not to the extent that it solves or rectifies all the issues I had with the first half of the season.

Most of these problems couldn’t be helped, such as the scheduling issues that kept most of the actors (and therefore characters) separate and unable to bounce off each other in the way that the best Arrested Development Prime episodes allowed for. This forced us to be invested in the stories of all nine characters, which really highlighted which characters work best as supporting characters and which characters can carry an episode.

The problem with a show like Arrested Development is that most of the characters, while retaining a semblance of humanity are other frightfully stupid or awfully obnoxious. But they become more palatable when placed alongside the more ‘normal’ characters of Michael, George Michael and Maeby. Michael himself is a less obnoxious character when existing alongside the crazed idiocy of GOB and Tobias. In his showcase episodes however, the flaws of his character become increasingly apparent and he becomes harder to root for. Or perhaps its just the story he finds himself in. I preferred Michael in the first episodes because at least there were emotional stakes to his arrogance and George Michael and Maeby were on hand to balance him out. Also it should be said that I don’t get much out of Michael’s romantic relationships – although I do enjoy the often-maligned MRF Rita storyline, purely because it functioned almost more as a Bondian spy mystery than a real relationship. The last relationship that had any real stakes was back in season 1 with Marta (both of them), but his subsequent flings are never given the space to feel at all plausible or romantic (again, I look at you Sitwell). I think its telling that I enjoyed the Isla Fischer character a lot more in her later scenes with George Michael, because they were actually allowed the time to sit and talk to each other.

As for my enjoyment of the other character’s journeys, here’s a quick rundown.

George Snr. – The more I think about it, the more I realise that despite Jeffrey Tambor’s committed performance as George and Oscar (especially this season where each character started blending into the other), I’ve never really enjoyed George-centred story lines. From all the time in prison, to the attic, (Ok I did enjoy his brief relationship with the dolls in the attic) to the house arrest. Honestly, I find him to be the least defined character of the main cast. The sweat-lodge storyline never took off and the wall storyline never really made sense to me. It all felt like padding and after a while I stopped caring.

Lindsay – Lindsay will never be the funniest character, but I appreciate the tragedy of her desire to be a better person and then her tumble back down to become what she has always fought against – her Mother. Her story really picked up steam at the end, but all the time in the dessert with Marky was a bit of a drag.

Tobias – Tobias is one of those classic, better-as-a-supporting-character parts. He is so delusional that after a while you really want to slap him. I enjoyed his rapport with Argyle Austero and I appreciate the time given to Maria Bamford’s character, but I never any really connection between them; he just lead her around until eventually leaving her in front of the dumpster at Cinco.

Lucille – I really enjoyed Lucille’s episode because it took Lucille’s wonderful malevolence as far as it could go and then it even offered moments of emotional catharsis which the original seasons barely allowed a hint of. Also Lucille is the most effortlessly hilarious character on the series, just above GOB IMO and Jessica Walters was fantastic throughout the season. Her time in ‘prison’ (both of them) was a highlight of the season for me.

GOB – Unlike Tobias, GOB is a delusional character whose delusion is really a narcissism trying to (barely) disguise his need for love and acceptance – from his father, brother, Tony Wonder. He has the capacity to do kind level-headed things, while also managing to convince himself to have gay sex with a straight rival magician. And unlike Tobias’s storyline where he was paired with a weak and unstable character in DeBrie, GOB has Ann at her most thoughtful and level-headed (well kinda, she still wanted to marry him).

Maeby – The one character most under-served by the original series and the one has possibly the smoothest, most enjoyable episode of the season. I always loved her stint as an executive and this season continued to promote that entrepreneurial spirit. She clearly has so much potential that is squandered by her futile desire to get the attention of the most self-involved parents in TV history. You genuinely want her to succeed and feel for her when she’s fired by George Michael.

Buster – Overall his was a fairly consistent episode and I felt the giant hand was a great addition to his physical freakishness, but Buster as a character sometimes crosses the line into ‘just too creepy’ territory for me. The Lucille doll building scene went on too long and made something amusingly in-character into something disturbing (I get that it was a Pyscho reference but still). Also his affair with Herbert Love’s wife was just another way to enforce (and unnecessarily hammer home) the creepy oedipal nature of his character.

George Michael – Potentially I enjoy the later episodes more because by this stage we have a fuller understanding of the overall narrative and everything has fallen into place, but I still feel the more grounded characters benefit most from this single-character-focused storytelling style. I was generally surprised by the fact that Fakeblock didn’t actually exist (I’m quite naive), but allusions to The Social Network gave his story a grander feel. At the end of the day the story became about a father, a son and a girl (as Ron Howard suggested, that father-son relationship is the core of the show) and I believe it was handled in a gracefully understated yet still affective way.

As I mentioned in my review of the first episode, I’m sure I will enjoy this season more on the second time through. I’ll watch the early episodes and go ‘Oh…..I get that now’. I’m not someone who is good at picking up the show’s tricks right away such as Erik Adams and Noel Murray over at the A.V. Club who immediately realised that the whole Fünke family made it to India in episode 3. Because of this, it makes those set-up jokes more effective down the line, while also making the first batch of episode rather trying to sit through.

Another problem which I mentioned in the first review was that of episode length. It is as though the series is trying to cram a whole season’s worth of story and character arc into one episode which makes the more repetitive storylines (George and Tobias) rather exhausting. However I will admit that the extra time gave the more linear plot lines (Maeby, GOB, George Michael) room to breathe; giving them a less episodic, more epic feel.

Overall the series didn’t end as tidily as one might have predicted. As we reach the end of the second George Michael episode, Blockheads, you can’t help but think, ‘did everything add up? Was everything resolved?’. But you can’t deny the impressiveness of the storytelling complexity and its sheer scope of the season and its ambitions. It didn’t always work, but it was damn successful for a season that had so many limitations and potential roadblocks, both based on technical challenges and fan expectation.

Mitch Hurwitz managed to create something quite amazing and probably a first; a season based on a TV show, that wasn’t made for TV. He has invented a new storytelling platform which may see many imitators in the future.

Likes I Likes: 

– The Faceblindedness jokes hit at a surprisingly high rate. It’s a classic AD narrative device designed for maximum wackiness.

– ‘FALLACY’. Got funnier the more we heard it. I also love that George Michael just knows that Tobias made it up.

– John Slattery can do no wrong. Proven fact.

– I do love how Lucille’s emotional breakthrough was stymied by Tobias’s absent mindedness.

– Maeby’s swearing is a great trait she carried over for AD Prime. And always good for a chuckle.

– Lucille’s spiteful nature forcing her to spar with Lucille 2 (her one witness who could save her) at her maritime trial.

– That damn ‘Getaway’ song is kinda catchy.

– Continued to enjoy the Richter Quintuplet characters.

– Michael’s dislike for George Michael’s roommate.

– I enjoyed Tony Wonder’s makeover to target the queer market.

– If I bothered to make notes, this section would be full of context-less quotes. Be thankful I didn’t.

Things I Don’t Likes:

– Every non-Slattery moment at the sweat lodge bored me stiff.

– Over-reliance on the narrator. Not always a bad thing but it means there are a lot of very  forced analogies and word plays used to try to connect the disparate story lines and it doesn’t always work.

– The Ron Howard-Bluth film storyline really didn’t add much except for a vague connective tissue to unite the stories. But it was good to see Kitty Sanchez (and Greer) again.

– I understand that the season should be seen as 1 giant storyline, but it’s hard to view episodic TV that way (if that’s what this is). I just think the first half didn’t give us enough to connect to that would allow us to forgive its part-one-of-two set up feel and lack of solid gags.

– Really should have taken notes. I’m sure there was more, but let’s leave it at that.

Favourite Episodes: Señoritis, Queen B., A New Attitude.

Overall Grade: 8 Real Asian Prison Housewives of The Orange County White Collar Prison System Rice-Knife fights.

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