Previously on Arrested Development
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[Previously on Arrested Development Power Rankings: Seasons 1-3 were rendered perfect through the mists of time, every character was a flawless fount of hilarity in every episode, your mother never complained about your career choices, young men always held the door for old ladies, and babies never cried on airplanes. So let’s just say all of the characters were tied for first and call it a wash, because that’s how you remember 2005.]
In the television industry, there is a technique known as “time tailoring,” whereby content is imperceptibly sped up to fit a finished television show into its designated programming time. It’s usually used on a show that’s within a minute of its locked time — i.e., 44 minutes of content are squeezed into a 43-minute programming block — or on commercials or promos where every frame counts. But I would like to propose an idea as risky and weird as the fourth season of Arrested Development: I want to time-tailor all of Season 4 into a 22-minute network-mandated episode, while keeping all of its current content intact. I don’t want to lose anything; I just want to speed it up so much that it turns into one of the old episodes, where the characters interact with each other, plots and stories intersect seamlessly, and you don’t have to wait seven episodes to find out why a scene was funny in an unfunny (and then, later, slightly funnier) Episode 1. Basically, I want to watch Season 4 on whatever planet rotates at the speed that crunches the nearly eight hours of Season 4 into a single half-hour. Venus?
But because of the weirdly structured nature of the character-based episodes, the strength of certain characters really clarified itself this time around. Here’s who came out on top (and bottom) in Season 4.
In 2013, it is nearly impossible to make a Real Housewives of [Anything] joke sound fresh or funny (see: Maeby’s episode “Senoritis” for an unfunny line about how the Housewives wear a lot of makeup). But the hilarious Cold Open of “Queen B.,” in which Lucille (Jessica Walter) joins a Chinese prison gang, ranks among the new season’s finest moments. And it reinforces Lucille’s ability to spin every situation to her advantage, as she finds herself in full control of the other inmates, the prison guards, and the reality television crew (“This will be even more exciting if you jump cut it!”). And that ain’t just blowing smoke.
Sure, all she really wants is her children’s love, and no one in the family shows up to her trial. But it doesn’t really matter: she has Buster’s love until she chooses to eschew it, she kinda hates Gob, and Michael has become such a simpering drama queen that, well, who would want to hang out with him anyway? And when it comes to Lindsay, Lucille gets her quality time when she’s bribing her daughter to perjure herself as a character witness. And I don’t know about you, but spending time with the older generations even as they make you feel terrible about yourself reminds me a lot of spending time with my own Gangie.
And seriously, girlfriend can tap-dance.
Old George Maharis didn’t need an actual internet company to become an actual internet superstar, especially if such imaginary power allows you to bang Isla Fisher. Once the last remaining innocent of the Bluths’ dysfunction, George Michael’s power in Season 4 comes from his ability to tap into what made the Bluths successful to begin with: lying, scheming, general obfuscation (the game of “lie tag” he plays with his father in the extended riff about the plane landing on the highway is vintage AD). True, Fake Block isn’t actually real. And the joke about him becoming the twink of Sudden Valley is funny, but in reality Michael Cera doesn’t look sixteen anymore. Though when he punched his powerless father in the face in the season’s final shot, his power jumped up about five slots.
It’s appropriate that, in the years since we last checked in with the Bluths, Gob (Will Arnett) has evolved less than any other character on the show. Sure, Season 4 saw him convert to Christianity, join an Entourage-like, um, entourage, and fall in love with former nemesis and current man, Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller). But those developments are par for the course for his character, an illusionist so good at his disappearing act that it inspires a boy band to write a song about it. Maybe he really does possess the magical powers Oscar says he does. Same!
Marooned naked and alone in Balboa Towers making martinis for a golem of his mother (for what we later learn was a grueling period of two whole days), Buster’s (Tony Hale) lows are admittedly pretty low. But Season 4 also proves that all that Army training was worth it, and he becomes a military hero as a drone pilot, a war America is actually winning (unlike the war to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a futile battle his powerless father fights all season long). And while Mitch Hurwitz might have miscalculated the comedy value of literalizing every expression in the English language (“blue in the face” is funny; “give him a big hand” is less so), it’s nice to see that such a weird character can hold his own for an entire episode. And at least for a while, his hook is seriously blinged out. ‘Nuff said.
Maeby’s (Alia Shawkat) lifetime achievement award at the Opies may have sealed her fate as powerless in Hollywood, but she is big in India. As the in-house shaman at the Four Seasons Mumbai, she finally speaks to Mother in a way that Lindsay can hear her. Then she becomes her mom’s pimp, sets in motion the hype machine that turns Fake Block into an internet sensation (it never would have become a Jim Cramer Imaginary Buy without her), and procures a new bait house for John Beard’s show. The ultimate con artist, Maeby personifies the amoral spirit of the Bluth family. Too bad she’s secretly just not that smart.
Never my favorite during the show’s initial run, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) gets a ton of screen time in Season 4, including two full episodes dedicated to her character’s journeys from India to a SoCal McMansion to the hotel room of a Republican congressman. Sure, she’s his whore, but she doesn’t know that. And even if she keeps denying (or simply forgetting) that she has a daughter, she’s willing to act as a mother figure to Marky Bark’s (Chris Diamantopoulos) ostrich. In fact, shacked up in Lucille’s townhouse, the three of them form as functional a family as Lindsay has ever known. Now stop talking about her new face, you shallow sexist monsters.
Ol’ Anus Tart (David Cross) seems at first blush to have come out of the season a loser: he split with his wife at the CW Swappigans, broke his skull in at least four places, got busted by the police at least three times, registered as a sex offender, and did stints at a methadone clinic and in rehab. But on the plus side, he went to India, got himself a new girlfriend who actually understands him, bought a new house (with a double gate house!), avoided the gay storyline, and produced a play with a better chance of mainstream acceptance than “Hit List.” Or, as Tobias himself would probably put it: “Number seven? Well, I guess that would make me something of a power bottom!”
It’s a common complaint that Season 4 is awash in unsubtle, overly-expository narration, but give Ron Howard’s narrator some credit: there’s a lot of heavy lifting to do when you’re responsible for the connective tissue when each episode is basically “The One-Man Arrested Development.” And by Episode 12, the writing staff seemed to have become aware of the fact that the VO was taking over, allowing the narrator to embark on a 41-second soliloquy while Michael, George Michael, and Maeby stood around in awkward silence. To be sure, the narrator of Seasons 1-3 would judge this season’s narrator, just as he once judged the intrusive narration of an episode of Scandal Makers, but it’s not really his fault. There was a lot to catch up on, and not enough people in the scenes to explain it all.
Once the moral center of the Bluth universe, Michael (Jason Bateman) has been rendered obsolete in a universe with no center. Season 4 doesn’t require a voice of reason, and with no one for him to play off of, Michael comes across as sad and alone, proof that acting reasonably gets you nowhere. And that scene in the dorm room in Episode 1. Man, that shit is painful. Probably his character’s most successful moment of the entire season is when he successfully diagnoses a hernia in a “next on.” I mean, he can’t even kick the shit out of a tumbleweed. But for a minute at least it was funny to watch him try.
Talk about losing your mojo. Over the 15 episodes of Season 4, no one personifies “loss of power” more than the patriarch of the Bluth family (Jeffrey Tambor). He becomes literally emasculated. I mean, the man develops breasts. Once he was powerful enough to continue running his business from prison. And later from his attic. And later from house arrest. Now he’s nothing more than a bumbling old man who stumbles into what he thinks is an MRI center, carrying only a plastic bag of Mexican porn. As this season’s new voice of reason, Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), puts it, “You’re acting like a little girl lately. And not in a good way.”
- Young Lucille
- DeBrie Bardeaux
- “hot mess”
- Halliburton Teen
- “Dr. Norman, Disgraced Anesthesiologist”
- James Lipton, “writer of multiple episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life“
- casual racism
- the estate of Mildred and Patty Hill
- …and Jeremy Piven