Tag Archives: Arrested Development

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2014 Edition: The Outcasts

14 Jan

Breaking Bad

It’s time for an annual beginning-of-the-year tradition over here at Drug of the Nation, the ranking of the shows I’ve watched during the previous year. This is my fourth annual ranking, and I’ll repeat the caveat I placed atop last year’s ranking introduction:

Because the TV season is no longer the fall-to-spring trajectory that it used to be, I arbitrarily rank things on a calendar basis, and that leads to strange situations where I’m occasionally ranking the end of one season and the beginning of the next season in the same ranking. It’s strange, and not ideal, but I have to pick some point in the year to do the rankings, so I’ll roll with the punches and mention within the article if there was a significant change in quality one way or the other between the end and beginning of seasons covered in the same year.

I’m only ranking shows I watched all of or just about all of the episodes that aired last year; if I’m just two or three behind I’ll rank it, but if I’ve only seen two or three, I won’t. I’m ranking three episode mini-British seasons but not shows with one-off specials (Black Mirror’s Christmas special is the most notable example this year) . These rules are arbitrary, admittedly, but any rules would be. No daily variety programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are eligible either.

The rankings this year were incredibly difficult, and a generally weak fall slate of TV shows had me forgetting just what an utterly strong year on the whole 2014 had been for television. I was forced to put shows I liked a lot towards the bottom of these rankings, and unlike previous years, there are just about no shows on this list that I’m one bad episode away from stopping, or that I’m just stringing out due to past loyalty until they finish. It’s absolutely brutal, and although I was forced to make tough choices, that doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely enjoy just about every show on this list. TV is that good, folks.

We start, as last year, with the shows that made last year’s list but didn’t make this year’s for one reason of another. This year these are almost entirely because they ended or didn’t air in the calendar year, so I’ll just run through them quickly, with some additional notes about the few that didn’t fall off due to simply not airing last year. This year I’m going to additionally throw in where a show ranked last year for context.

Here’s a quick link to last year’s final ranking as well. Now, on to the outcasts…

Breaking Bad – 2013: 1

Treme – 2013: 4

Eagleheart – Last year: 6

30 Rock – Last year: 10

Venture Bros. – 2013: 12

Top of the Lake – 2013: 15

Arrested Development – 2013: 17

Childrens Hospital – 2013: 21

Broadchurch – 2013: 23

Happy Endings – 2013: 24

NTSF: SD: SUV – 2013: 31

Black Mirror – 2013: 36

Family Tree  2013: 37

Siberia – 2013: 38

Luther – 2013: 45

The Office – 2013: 46

Dexter – 2013: 48

Enlightened – 2013: 6.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Ben and Kate – 2013: 23.5 (Initially, an embarrassingly mistaken omission)

Take a deep breath. All of these shows did not air in 2014, so that’s the simple explanation why they’re not on the list. Many of these shows ended, Top of the Lake was a miniseries, several have extended offseasons and will be back in 2015 or later, and a couple are in extended hiatus, waiting to see whether they will return or not (looking at you, NTSF: SD: SUV). Easy enough.

Homeland – 2013: 41

Homeland

After a season and a half of utter frustration with the show’s inconsistency at best, and downright lousy and lazy writing at worst, I cut the cord, deciding not to watch the fourth season after a third season that really was not a very good season of television. People have told me the fourth season is better, and if a critical consensus emerges I’ll consider coming back, but I’m not that close to it. I got so sick of the show and Carrie and Brody in particular; if I had cut out earlier, I might have been more easily convinced to come back. It’ll always have an absolutely all-time first season, and is worthy fo remembering just for that, reminiscent of an athlete like Mark Fidrych who blows away the league in his first season only to never do anywhere close to the same again.

Under the Dome – 2013: 47

 

Under the Dome

Oof. Under the Dome’s first season makes the third season of Homeland look like the fourth season of Breaking Bad. It’s still stunning to me that I made it almost to the end of the first season (I never actually watched the season finale; either with only one left, I couldn’t bring myself to). The plot was incredibly stupid, the acting was generally pretty bad, and the characters were horrible. It’s hard to imagine a time when it could have been decent, but alas, a sneakily bad show is bound to end up getting watched sometimes when you watch so many shows.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 20-17

27 Jan

It seems like we’ve just started but we’re more than halfway there. Two hour longs, and then two half hour comedies in this edition, 20-17.

20. Orphan Black

Orphan Black

There’s a lot to like about Orphan Black, but there’s really one thing first and foremost. That’s actress Tatiana Maslany, who owns the show in a way few other lead actors and actresses can own the television shows they star in, largely because she plays not just the main character, but several other characters, ranging from major characters to fairly small roles. She is fantastically wonderful and makes the show work in a way that very few actors or actresses could. She’s so expert at her portrayal of different people that when watching, I, just for a moment, questioned whether it really was the same actress, so different were the looks, voices, and expressions, of each character. So beyond that, Orphan Black is a sci-fi show about a crazy conspiracy involving secret clones; it’s the kind of storyline that makes a little less sense the more you think about it, but in this case, just don’t, and you’re bound to enjoy the roller coaster ride – unlike say, a Lost, Orphan Black doesn’t feel bloated with the weight of its own pretension. It’s just fun.

19. Orange is the New Black

Orange;New Black

The secret is out by now: While House of Cards initially draw attention to Netflix original series, and not without reason, Orange is the New Black is sneakily the better show.  No show features more pathos for people typically overlooked in television. In most of the TV and movies we’ve watched, the people in jail are the bad guys, or they’re actually innocent and there unjustly; Orange is the New Black attempts to demonstrate that they may be there for a reason, but that doesn’t make them the bad guys (well, girls, but bad girls conjures up a whole set of images) at all. The backbome of the success of Orange is the New Black is the perfect combination of humor and drama; without the humor, the drama would feel overbearing and occasionally too on the nose, while the drama contextualizes the humor and adds heft making Orange is the New Black more than just a wacky prison show. Orange is the New Black loves its characters (well, except the guards, one of my few major complaints) and it comes through in a big way, making us love its characters as well.

18. Archer

Archer

It’s a strong time for animated half hour programs, and Archer is one of the strongest. The members of a freelance secret agency Isis, Archer, the best secret agent they have, is a giant asshole, and son of the agency head who is a drunken asshole herself, who also happens to be occasionally cavorting with the head of the KGB. Of course, everyone in this show is an asshole, and half of the characters are idiots, and while that would probably not be a successful formula for a particularly enjoyable drama, it makes for great comedy. Layered within Archer by last year’s fourth season are a dense array of repeated inside jokes – so much so that every Archer fan has a particular favorite, mine is probably Archer’s yelling of “phrasing” every time someone says something that could be interpreted in a more awkward and innuendo-filled way. All said, this wasn’t its strongest season, and was weaker than the genius season three, which is why its dropped a little bit lower than last year. Archer sometimes runs the risk of going over the same schtick too many times, and while it hasn’t gone over it so many times it’s tired, it did last season just enough to make it a little bit inferior to the season before. Still, it’s one of the best comedies on TV and last year featured strong episodes as well; the condemnation is merely relative.

17. Arrested Development

The Bluths and co.

Insane hype and eager anticipation for the long-awaited Arrested Development reunion quickly turned to polarization as many of the uber-fans of the original came away disappointed with the new product. I may have been in that camp to start, but by the time I finished, I was firmly a champion of the fourth season. Those expecting a repeat of the first three seasons are bound to be disappointed, and I understand why; that was great, and this isn’t that. What this is though, is something no comedy, and really no television show has managed to do before, something literally unprecedented which is incredibly rare in TV even with all the great shows on now. The season is 15 episodes meant to be taken as a whole; rather than simply serial they’re overlapping, returning to the same events over and over again through different characters, with later renditions of similar events adding layers of humorous meaning. It’s for this reason precisely that I beg viewers of the fourth season not to grow discouraged in the first couple of episodes, the meanings deepen, and jokes come back again three and four times in new ways, meaning the last few episodes are funnier than the first few, but the groundwork laid early was essential for the show to work late. It’s not perfect by any means, but that’s sometimes the price of great ambition. There’s something to be said for dreaming lower and reaching that ceiling, but there are few shows that dreamed as big as Arrested Development’s fourth season, and for getting astonishing close to reaching that ambition even if it fell short, it should be applauded.

Power Rankings: Arrested Development Characters, Part 2

21 Jun

The gang, again

In our continued coverage of all things Arrested Development in the wake of the long-awaited new season, we’ve been ranking the characters.  Part 1 can be found here.  This is part 2, five through one.  Moving on.

5. Tobias – Though everyone gets their share, Tobias and Buster are the physical comedy 1 and 1A of Arrested Development.  Many of Tobias’s funniest moments revolve around bits that sound stupid or infantile when explained, and it’s vastly to David Cross’s credit that he makes them hilarious when viewed.  A top two character in my early viewing of the show, some of Tobias’s bits don’t stand up as well on repeated viewings, particularly the continued poor choices of language he uses and the constant Tobias-is-gay harping.  It’s funny for a while, but sometimes it seems as if Arrested Development doesn’t know when to pull back on a joke and go in another direction.  Still, he sits here because plenty of the bits do work, like his simple awkward getting up on the stage when he’s directing a high school play, and because the writing is so clever that even though you wish they would pull back, they still manage to make his inappropriate language frequently hilarious.  His performance as Mrs. Featherbottom is a highlight. It maximized Tobias’s awkward potential and played on his obliviousness without necessarily smacking you in the face with “Tobias is gay.”   The Arresetd Development line that comes up most often for me in day to day situations is the tail end of Tobias’s ” “No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but… but it might work for us.”  But for funniest in the moment, it falls just behind the line below.

Best Line:  “You know, first of all, we are doing this for her, because neither one of us wants to get divorced. And second-of-ly, I know you’re the big marriage expert – oh, I’m sorry, I forgot, your wife is dead! ” – Season 2, Episode 3 “Amigos”

4. Lucille – Lucille bumped up into the top four for me after rewatching the first three seasons.  I had her ranked lower in my memory from years ago but after watching all of the episodes again I have absolutely no idea why that could be.  Her acidic put downs of her family members are consistently hilarious and her haughty sense of entitlement is clearly where Lindsay gets hers from, but Lucille’s is funnier.  She’s frequently in top form and gets to rip all of the characters apart. It’s easy enough to insult a Bluth, but no one gets the freedom to say things like Lucille does.  My favorite recurring Lucille bit may be her constant referral to her not caring for G.O.B.  The new episodes show off her personality perfectly when she has the attitude and ability to lead her little prison gang, but soon gets on the nerves of all of the other gang members so much with her constant sniping that they want her out desperately.  She’s far and away the meanest Bluth, which is some shows might be a detriment, but here gives her the freedom to speak her mind.  Her surprise at seeing Gene Parmesan provides a wonderful rare gleeful Lucille moment.   For her line, I’m actually going to cheat and use a snippet that has a Michael response in between, because most of her best quotes involve her responses to other people.

Best line:  Lucille: “I’ll be in the hospital bar.”

Michael: “Uh, you know there isn’t a hospital bar, Mother.”

Lucille: “Well, this is why people hate hospitals.” – Season 1, Episode 4 – “Key Decisions”

3. Michael – In the first three seasons, Michael acted largely as the straight man, but he was far more hilarious than comedic straight men often are.  The elements that turn him away from straight man in the fourth season to just another unsuccessful, troubled Bluth were present the whole time.  The self-absorption and inability to listen to what anyone else says or thinks may not have largely affected his position at the Bluth Company in the first couple seasons but is largely responsible for his downfall in season four.  His frequent retort “I’m leaving this family” turns into self-parody in an oft-repeated scene in the fourth season, as it turns out no one cares except Micheal.  He’s no longer keeping the family together.  This allows Michael even further to show off his comic chops.  I don’t blame him that he got stuck with the difficult job of anchoring the exposition-heavy first episode of the new season. Rather, I credit the fact that he was the most logical character to start off any story of Arrested Development with and make the most out of it.  His series of jokes at not being able to recognize George Michael’s girlfriend Ann is my favorite running bit.  Hilarious moments in the new season include his constant retelling of the four person elimination vote and his extremely extended lie about traffic to his son.

Best line: “Jessie… No, I was just saying your name as you walked away. I didn’t… I have no follow-up.” – Season 1, Episode 11 – Public Relations

2. George Michael – One of the only changes that occurred after viewing the fourth season was that I swapped Michael and George Michael.  They’re still incredibly close, but the first George Michael episode may have been my favorite of the season, and both of his episodes came towards the end which may have skewed my thought process.  I know awkward comedy doesn’t work for everyone, but George Michael’s awkwardness is incredible and consistently leads to laughs.  George Michael was the last character in the new season to realize that he couldn’t break out of being who he was.  We’re led to believe he’s become a successful internet start up founder but learn later that it’s the same George Michael who is only marginally more successful than the other Bluths. The lie about Faceblock grows and grows as George Michael, like his father, tries to continually lie his way out of it rather than tell the truth, putting himself in situations in which the truth is harder and harder to reveal.  His moments with his father are often strong, and their position next to each other on this list is no coincidence. There was surely something unsubtle about the pointing out by narrator Ron Howard of how long it took him to respond to people in the new season, but it was still funny, and his “solve for x” attempt to hit on Maeby was amazing.

Best Line: “Say what you want about America – thirteen bucks can still get you a hell of a lot of mice!” – Season 1, Episode 21 – “Not Without My Daughter”

GOB and Franklin

1. G.O.B. – George Michael and Michael are both high on this list largely because of their relatively subtle humor.  G.O.B. isn’t.  His lines are often over the top.  He’s much more nuts they either of them, and willing to go a lot farther in pursuit of anything (see: pretending to be in a gay relationship with his nephew).  Arnett is so good at this character that he’s portrayed it in other shows, but it’s best here.  He’s constantly insecure and wants to be both liked by Michael and be better than Michael at the same time.  He’s the most easily manipulated Bluth, and perhaps the most incompetent.  He gets many of the best lines, and he turns them into classics with his delivery.  Some of his stupid lines that really have absolutely no reason to be funny are still hilarious.  For example, I keep finding myself repeating or thinking of how he sings to Michael, in the new season, “It’s so easy to forget” when trying to give Michael a forget-me-now, and then calls him out as “Stupid forgetful Michael.”  Honestly, almost all of his bits are hilarious, including nearly everything associated with his magic career as well as his puppet Franklin.  His description of trying to pick up women at a pageant is phenomenal, when he explains that the “First place chick is hot, but has an attitude, doesn’t date magicians. Second place is someone weird usually, like a Chinese girl or a geologist. But third place, although a little bit plain, has super low self-esteem.”  I’m picking one line because I have to, but there’s so many others that spring to mind that are equally hilarious.  I could do a top 10 of G.O.B. without thinking too deeply before I could name two equally funny Lindsay quotes.

Best line:  “Michael if I make this comeback I’ll buy you one hundred George Michael’s you can teach to drive.” – Season 2, Episode 15 – “Sword of Destiny”

Power Rankings: Arrested Development Characters, Part 1

19 Jun

The gang's all here

I promised more Arrested Development posts, and I meant to deliver.  Here’s my power rankings of the nine main characters in the show, in order from least favorite to favorite.  This covers the course of all four seasons, so spoiler alert is in effect if you haven’t finished yet. My opinions have largely remained the same since I watched the first three seasons years ago, but with some slight tweaks due to both rewatching the old episodes recently and watching the new ones.  I’d like to add the important caveat that they’re all great.  There are no bad characters, but, like ranking Beatles albums or Sopranos seasons, something has to be last.  In addition, just for your special edification, every character will be accompanied by a favorite quote of mine. The rankings became slightly unwieldy as I was writing them so I broke them up into two – this is part one.  Now, on to the rankings.

9. Lindsay – Sorry, someone has to be last.  I know I pointed it this out just a couple sentences ago, but I think it’s important to say again.  There are no bad characters.  All nine are great and I love all of them! So think of this less as an insult and more as well, the ninth best compliment. Lindsay is the vainest and the most entitled Bluth (which says a lot for a family with G.O.B.. in it).  Lindsay doesn’t get as many chances to be as funny as a lot of the other characters, but she has her best moments playing on both her vanity and her sense of entitlement.  She also draws from her constant inner conflict between her idealistic dreams of activism and the fact that she’s uninterested in giving up any of the entitlements required to pursue activism, or in learning about what she’s advocating for or against.  Her highlights from the new season involved exactly these contrasts, including her interactions at the Four Seasons Mumbai. In her interaction with the shaman there, which she turns to to speak for spiritual advice, she assumes he is hitting on her.  She tries hard and partly falls for mega activist Marky Bark, but eventually instead succumbs to the glamour of Herman Cain-like conservative candidate Herbert Love who showers her with gifts.

Best Quote:  “He was the house shaman at the Four Seasons Mumbai, so you figure he’s got to be pretty good. Oh, and he turned into an ostrich at the end, so … they’re not gonna have that at the Embassy Suites.” – Season 4, Episode 3, “Indian Takers”

8. George Sr. –   George Sr. doesn’t get quite as many great laugh lines as some of the other characters (a trait the characters that sit at the bottom of these rankings share), and his plots and personality seem to vary the most among the characters, as he gets into some of the weirdest situations.  He goes from a white collar criminal surprisingly loving his time in jail to a sham prophet hawking a series of DVDs to a stir crazy prison refugee hiding out in the model home attic.  His level of competence seems to bounce back and forth more than any other character, and he alternates brilliant prison escapes with believing that he and his wife can’t be convicted of the same crime (to be fair, he had the worst lawyers). Probably my favorite of these phases is his attic hide out, which leads to his wonderful tea parties with the dolls left up there and his wearing of Michael’s dead wife’s maternity clothes.  Tambor’s more impressive acting job may actually be as George’s hippie twin brother Oscar, who gets a pretty juicy part in the fourth season.

Best Line:  ” If you play me, you got to play me like a man and not like some mincing little Polly or Nellie! I get those names confused. Apology. (to dolls) Apologies all around.” – Season 2, Episode 13, “Motherboy XXX”

7  Maeby – Maeby gets the shortest shrift throughout the show, even moreso than Lindsay and George Sr..  She can be very funny when she gets a chance to shine, but she generally gets slightly less of a chance than everyone else.  She’s one of only three characters not to get two starring episodes in the most recent season. While reading over many of her lines, a surprisingly small amount stand out for a show so quotable.  My favorite Maeby plot, which is pretty much what gets her above George and Lindsay to begin with, is her time as a movie executive which began in the second season.  This plotline both gave her a chance to put her superior bullshitting skills to good use and gave her a chance to venture outside of her original gimmick of liking Steve Holt and desperately wanting her parents to notice her. The new season made the most of Maeby’s talents in her episode.  Her continued lying and her ability think on her feat continued to get her far, but also brought her down.  My favorite recurring quote of hers in the series is “Marry Me!” interspersed with the occasional “Babysit Me” but since that works at least in part because of its repeated nature, I’ve chosen a quote I enjoyed from the new season below.

Best Line:  “So you can all go (bleep) yourselves! What? Sure. Please welcome the talented voices of Phineas and Ferb. Go (bleep) yourself!” – Season 4, Episode 12: “Señoritis”

I'm a Monster!

6.  Buster – Buster’s a great introductory character character, particularly because his humor is often loud. A lot of his best moments involve physical humor, particularly once he has a hook for a hand as well as his giant hand in the new season.  His devotion to his mother veers well into creepy territory, and he’s probably the most disturbing of any of the main characters, which in this show is saying a lot.  This is particularly on display in the new season, when he puts on a Psycho routine, constructing his own Lucille while she’s away in jail, and making her cocktails.  Many of the characters in Arrested Development are horrible people but Buster is the only one where I occasionally worry if there’s actually something wrong with him.  Of course there are plenty more lighter moments, where Buster’s just being a clueless idiot.  The early introduction of Buster in the first episode seems to indicate that, due to his continuous graduate studies, he’s book smart, but has no common sense. As the show goes on though, it’s hard to imagine him being even book smart.  He gets a little bit short-changed in the new episodes, largely I think because he was busy filming Veep, but he has some good moments with his new giant hand, even if it’s no hook.  His refrain of “I’m a monster”  after he acquires the hook is his best repeated catch phrase.

Best Line: “These are my awards, Mother. From Army. The seal is for marksmanship, and the gorilla is for sand racing. Now if you’ll excuse me, they’re putting me in something called Hero Squad.” – Season 2, Episode 6, “Afternoon Delight”

5 through 1 on Part 2, coming soon.

End of Season Report – Arrested Development, Season 4

12 Jun

There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

This is a general overview/review of the new season; I’ll probably do at least one or two more AD posts, but we’ll see. I would recommend against reading this unless you’ve completed Season 4.  If you haven’t, get to it, and come back when you have.

I made a decision not to make any serious judgments about the fourth season of Arrested Development before I had watched most, if not all, of it, and I implore you to do the same.  I made this decision because this is an unprecedented television event in several ways.  First, I can’t think of another example of a live action show brought back over a half a decade after it was originally cancelled. Animated programs like Futurama and Family Guy have returned from the dead, but voice work is a lot less arduous and animated programs are cheaper to make.  To reassemble the actors, a particularly large cast for a comedy, along with the writing staff, and the money and distribution outlet to get it done is a truly remarkable achievement. Secondly, it’s being distributed not by a traditional television network, but by Netflix,and  instead of once a week, all at once.  The season is uniquely designed to benefit from such a release, being more one giant 8 or 9 hour episode of Arrested Development than an unrelated series of shorter episodes.  The episodes do make sense by themselves, but not nearly as much sense as they make as part of a whole.  No comedy is as serial or plot-heavy as Arrested Development (Venture Bros. is the only other contender I can think of).  This is more than serial though.  Since each episode focuses on a single character, and the episodes all tread over the same time period through the point of view of different characters, events we saw in the earlier episodes are entirely turned on their heads by what we learn in later episodes.  Even in serial dramas which benefit from multiple viewings, rarely are events in earlier episodes as transformed by knowledge gained several episodes later. The earlier seasons were intricately plotted, but they have nothing on this fourth season, in which each of the nine main characters gets his or her own plots, but run into different members of the family at various points throughout the seven year period over which the season takes place, culminating in a series of events on fictional new Arrested Development holiday Cinco de Cuatro.

The season builds. The first Michael episode is so heavy with exposition that weighs it down at times, as it struggles to reconstruct seven years of plot.  However, it turns out this is going over territory that’s going to be touched on in just about every episode, so it’s worth going through this much narration once.  The episode sometimes feels off and rusty, especially burdened with all the expectations of seven years of anticipation wrapped up in it,  but I think (I haven’t done this yet) I’ll enjoy it a bit more on a second viewing with the knowledge of what’s to come.  Even this initially sub-par episode has moments.  I greatly enjoyed the constant machinations by Michael to construe a four-person vote that would eliminate P-hound, and the frequent references to the votes throughout the episode, including by the guys from Workaholics at the airport.

The reveals that come throughout the season alter our perspective of earlier events in ways that would have been hard to do without this level of freedom and fan dedication; this is Arrested Development writ large.  Most shows rely on the early episodes to keep viewers coming for later episodes.  Arrested Development could count on almost anyone who watched the first episode of the season watching them all.  Because of the Netflix model as well, the barometer of success is not necessarily how many people watch every episode, anyway. The best of these reveals is probably the discovery that George Michael’s much hyped internet company Fake Block is not based on privacy software at all, but is rather a simulated wood block.  For well over half the season it seems as if George Michael is the one successful Bluth whooing girls and capital with his software company, but it turns out this entire image is based on a series of lies.  George Sr.’s sweat lodge in the second episode turns out to be where G.O.B. planned his disappearing act from his wedding.  Herman Cain lookalike Herbert Love believed Lindsay was a prostitute because, unbeknownst to her, Maeby was acting as her pimp.

Repeated moments offered some great laughs as well.  My personal favorite was the constant hearkening back to Michael and his father making a deal outside of Michael’s office.  As the series progresses, we keep returning to flashbacks of them asking one another continually to do something else for each other.  Also great was the repeated viewings of the scene in Lucille’s apartment, where Michael, in the first episode, tells his family that he’s done with them.  In each character’s storyline we get a new look at that scene, slowly panning out to reveal more and more people there. What initially looks like a huge dramatic moment for Michael begins to feel more like yet another moment when utterly self obsessed Michael, thinking only of himself, ignores everyone else.  It’s fantastic when it turns out it’s George Michael’s graduation and Michael makes him tear up the check.  Another noteworthy repeated joke was when Michael telling his son that he can’t meet because he’s stuck in traffic turns into a two-way lie fest where both George Michael and Michael each stay on the phone for fifteen minutes doing their best to convince the other that the traffic is real.

It’s ultimately wonderful that the characters stay true to themselves.  It’s hard to watch Michael, the family’s one really successful member in the earlier seasons, just break down in the first episode, but it makes total sense, as what brings him down are all the traits that he displays earlier, his self-absorption and inability to listen to others.  George Michael , although it appears to the viewers initially that he has, can’t escape his awkwardness.  His solve for x scene was hilarious, and his episode was one of the best.  The others’ flaws are more obvious, but each of them break out with positive moments in their lives earlier in their episodes only to fall back into the mire as their plots move forward.

Arrested Development made a conscious effort to be relevant to the time over which the years took place.  There are repeated mentions of the housing crisis, particularly relevant, as the family works in real estate.  Tobias and Lindsay both read Eat, Pray, Love.  George W. Bush is dragged back up with what George Sr. thinks is a monument to the ex-President, but instead turns out to be a wall to keep immigrants out.  Herbert Love is a veritable Herman Cain ripoff.  These real life allusions actually work surprisingly well in shepherding a show which has the unenviable task of taking place over a seven year period through history.  George’s mistaken reading of the wall plans are vintage Arrested, as is the scene in which real estate agent Ed Helms, a callback to a one episode character in an earlier season, sells Tobias and Lindsay a house for no money with an endless variety of unnecessary features, just so, as they repeat so many times, they’ll have it.

This season was extra-heavy on the guest stars.  An incredibly high proportion of recurring or memorable one-time characters from earlier shows reappeared somewhere or other in the fourth season, which admittedly sometimes felt like fan service, but generally in a non-prolematic way.  They were joined by a generous proportion of new characters, who got more screen time in the new season because many of the single character episodes were light on Blush family interaction.  More Bluth family interaction would certainly be preferred, but the new characters largely held up their end for the limited roles asked of them.

I was hesitant to declare the fourth season of Arrested Development a huge success right after watching, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve enjoyed it.  It wasn’t perfect by any means.  The narration can be a littly hammy, and while to some extent the abject unsubtlety of the narration is much more artfully done than the awful narration on say How I Met Your Mother, a little more subtlely is called for sometimes.  As mentioned above, I’d love even more interaction between the Bluths, who sometimes get entirely lost in their own episodes and only run into their family members once or twice.  There are sparse moments and jokes that don’t quite work.  All told, the ambition level was so high that Arrested Development doesn’t always reach it.  Still, overall I’d vastly prefer setting ambitions this high and largely meeting them to meeting a moderate goal one hundred percent.  So many shows on television on happy to have very reasonable ambitions and pat themselves on the back for reaching them.  We’d do well for more shows that shoot for the sun and offer a lot to be enjoyed even when they don’t quite reach it.

Re-watch: Arrested Development, Season 2

24 May

Season 2

I’m rewatching, like many in America and throughout the world (but mostly in America, surely), Arrested Development, straight through, to get in the spirit for the new episodes appearing this weekend.  I talked about season 1 here; a bunch of scattershot notes about season 2 now.

A few words on Buster’s hand being eaten by a seal.  Cutting off a character’s hand is one of the most insane character changes to ever happen in a comedy (people occasionally die on the more serious comedies (M*A*S*H) but I’d argue this is more insane in a way), and while I think it’s super awesome, my first reaction (and I doubt I’m the only one) was what the fuck.  This reaction was doubly so since his hand came off not in the main episode, but in a “on the next Arrested Development” section at the end, which makes it easy to not pay attention to, since only about half of events in that section actually come true.  What makes it even better is both the foreshadowing of Buster losing his hand which occurs multiple times in the second season before it happens, which I certainly didn’t notice, because a character having his hand bit off by a seal is not a possibility you think to look out for. I also enjoy that the show offers an easy potential return to the status quo by mentioning that if the hand was found, it could be reattached, but then that’s a fake out and the hook stays. Just a brilliant and ballsy move all around.

A quick note on the “On the next Arrested Development” segment: it’s a brilliant idea, having a fake next on, making fun of the ludicrous three suspenseful promises made on these segments across television, and I’m surprised no one did it before (or maybe they did and I don’t know about it which is very possible).  What’s partly brilliant is that while the events shown are never on the actual next Arrested Development, sometimes they’re actually canonical events which impact the next episode, like Buster losing his hand, and sometimes they have nothing to do with anything and are inconsequential.

I love that they can use the “next on” device in multiple ways.  They can use it for a cheap joke, a non-sequitur vaguely related to the current episode that there was no room for, or as a way to quickly and succinctly wrap up a plotline from the previous episode in a line or two without having to waste any actual episode time on it.

The second season definitely starts getting a little bit more out there than the first, a process that will go even further in the third.  One example of this is Maeby’s plotline, working as a movie studio executive, a position she conned her way in to.  The plot is incredibly ludicrous, and it would bother me a lot more if it wasn’t also my favorite recurring Maeby bit in the series.  It gives her a chance to also use my favorite recurring Maeby line, “Marry Me!”

One of the second season bits veering off into ridiculousness is the introduction of Gob’s puppet Franklin.  I love Franklin, but it’s definitely kind of insane, especially the way it seems to have a mind of its own, which takes over Buster when he’s using Franklin as well.  Also, the introduction of Mrs. Doubtfire/Mary Poppins clone, Mrs. Featherbottom, the faux British nanny Tobias dresses up as to be closer to his kids when he’s kicked out of the model house by Lindsay.  Did I mention one of the characters has his hand eaten by a seal with a taste for mammals?

After a season in which George Michael is solely focused on his cousin, Season 2 is the season of Ann, which leads to some of my favorite jokes of the season, and severs for a platform for banter between my two possibly favorite characters from the season, Michael and George Michael.  From the debut of the absolutely disgusting mayonegg, to Ann-hog, to simply many repeated, “hers?” and “I don’t like Ann,” it never really gets old.  George Michael gets a chance to show off some genius physical comedy in episode Good Grief, when, after Ann breaks up with him, he returns to the model house with his head down and crumbles into a mess on the floor.

Gob has some serious winners as well.  “Michael, if I make this comeback, I’ll buy you a hundred George Michaels that you can teach to drive,” as a response to Michael when Michael says he needs to help out his son rather than do something for Gob.  After he tells Michael he runs a pretty tight ship as President of the Bluth company, Michael notes he put in a pool table.  “It’s a gaming ship,” Gob replies pithily.

Favorite episodes.  Good Grief, The Immaculate Election, and Afternoon Delight stand out quickly as serious contenders.  Good Grief has the aforementioned George Michael fetal position scene, as well as some solid Ice the bounty hunter.  The Immaculate Election and Afternoon Delight both feature some excellent Gob work.  The Immaculate Election has Gob’s wonderful election tape for George Michael “the girls like him just fine, young and old – it doesn’t matter in the dark,” while Afternoon Delight has the recurring, “Come on” as Gob continues to increase the value of his suit to demonstrate how much he doesn’t care about his employees.

I thought I’d be more certain of whether I liked this season or the first better, and I’m still not sure.    If I could make a season out of the second half of the first season and the first half of the second, that would probably be the winner, but it’s all pretty good.  Good show.  Looking forward to season 3.

Re-watch: Arrested Development, Season 1

20 May

The San Francisco Chronicle loves it!

So I’ve started the moderately ambitious project that I’m sure many more around the country have as well, rewatching every episode of Arrested Development to prepare for the new episodes coming out next week.  I’ll be discussing some general thoughts on the first season and the experience of rewatching it here.

I’ve seen some of these first season episodes probably ten times but most of them (I’ve caught a couple of episodes here and there on IFC) not in at least three and probably more like five years.  However, after just a couple of minutes, most of these first season episodes come right back, even though it’s been a while.  It’s like quoting a bicycle.  The most surprising moments are when I see the occasional joke or scene that I have totally forgotten about.

I was ever so slightly concerned that the appeal of Arrested Development would have dimmed over the years, and that years of hype, some of it propagated by myself, would have built up the show in my mind to a level that the show couldn’t possibly actually meet (this was aided by a couple of friends who watched the show much later on and described it as good, but not great).   Fortunately, it turned out I had nothing to worry about.  Almost from the get go, Arrested Development again proved itself one of the best comedies of all time, and not just because all the jokes came streaming back into my mind (though it’s hard to watch a show like this with truly fresh eyes, I’m sure I was at least influenced somewhat by my memory).

The pilot episode is solid enough, but it, like many comedy pilots, is a bit weighed down by needing to focus extra on premise and exposition.  It’s the second episode, Top Banana, where the show’s genius really becomes to come together.  Top Banana’s key plotline, as the title suggests, involves the Bluth frozen banana stand, and particularly, its burning down.  The miscommunication that makes up many of the show’s best jokes is in play, as the line, which George Sr. tells Michael, that, “There’s always money in the banana stand” is tragically misinterpreted.  Michael believes he simply means the banana stand turns a profit, while, we and Michael learn later on that there is quite literally hundreds of thousands of dollars lining the walls of the stand.

An unlikely show I think Arrested Development has a lot in common with is The Venture Bros.  Both shows pick up on offhand moments and mentions from earlier episodes and flush them out later on, making it appear as it was always the plan to incorporate these references.  Of course, sometimes it probably was always the plan, and Arrested Development’s incredible foreshadowing is like no other comedy on TV.  What’s more remarkable is that Arrested Development was doing this in 2003, making serial comedy in a way where ordered viewing was important and re-watching was valuable, at a time just before DV-r and Netflix and internet viewing really came to the fore.  I’ve often wondered if Arrested Development was always doomed to be cancelled, or whether, if it had come out a couple of years later, the cult popularity would have been enough to keep it going longer.

The elements that make the show so good are all here pretty much from the beginning.  Many of the show’s great recurring bits and lines start debuting in various first season episodes episodes, including Gob’s “I’ve made a huge mistake,” the prison’s “No Touching” policy, the cornballer, and the chicken dance.   Memorable recurring and single-episode characters start appearing too, such as Tobias’s muse Carl Weathers, Steve Holt, Lucille Austero, and George Sr.’s twin brother Oscar. The chemistry between family members in palpable immediately, and the one on one interactions between different family members, often speaking on different levels to one another are an important part of the show from the beginning.

The Pier Pressure/Public Relations back-to-back about halfway through the season may be my favorite two consecutive episodes of the season.  Pier Pressure contains classic one episode character J. Walter Weatherman, a one-armed man who worked for George Sr. and was tasked with teaching the children lessons by terrifying them during their youth (his popularity resulted in another appearance a couple seasons later).  It also contains Gob’s wonderful enthusiastic pitch to George Michael, “All right, kid…let’s deal some drugs!”  Public Relations, in which Michael hires a cute public relations woman to help reshape the Bluth family image, has many fine moments, but my favorite may be the simple scene where crazy PR woman Jessie walks away from Michael, and as she’s leaving the house, Michael just says, “Jessie.”  When she turns around and attempts to figure out what Michael wanted, Michael awkwardly replies, “No, I was just saying your name as you walked away…I didn’t…I have no follow up.”  It doesn’t necessarily seem like it should be a funny line but Jason Bateman exclaims it with the perfect level of “Why did I just say that?” emphasis, a frequent occurrence for Michael.

The biggest change in my impressions from re-watching the season in order was in my personal character ranking.  As I want to leave open a possible character ranking post, I won’t go into too much detail about my overall standings, but, during this re-watch Lucille shot up, while Tobias fell down a bit.  Tobias’s he’s gay but doesn’t realize it gimmick is a bit much and gets a little old; there’s only so many ways to keep harping on it, and not all of them work.  It’s a credit to David Cross that he wrings as much out of sometimes obvious or too over the top material than he does, as well as the physical humor, which is all Cross.  Lucille on the other hand was a revelation.  I’ve always liked every major character, but I’m not sure why I didn’t like her more before.  Her recurring hatred of Gob always makes my day, and her cruel  one-liners to her family are constantly a joy.  Michael and George Michael also remain very high in my rankings, particularly due to both of their levels of compelling awkwardness, but I’ll have more to say on that when I talk about season 2.

I think it’s interesting to note that at least half the cast seems to be pretty much playing the role they played in Arrested Development in their work after the show was cancelled.  Tony Hale (Buster) on Veep, Will Arnett (Gob) in 30 Rock, Michael Cera (George Michael) in Superbad, and Jessica Walter (Lucille) in Archer all seem to be playing very similar characters in the listed movies and TV shows as well as others which have come out since.

I’d like to end with one of my favorite non sequitur Arrested Development quotes of all time, from the episode Not Without My Daughter, when George Michael says to Gob, “You know, say what you will about America. 13 bucks still gets you a hell of a lot of mice.”  Truer words have never been spoken.