By the end of episode two I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d made a huge mistake.
Before the diehards and super fans jump on me, hear me out.
When I first heard that Arrested Development was coming back six years after being unceremoniously cancelled, I was hit with concern rather than excitement. Sure I thought the show was brilliant, beyond its time, hilarious, etc. but I also thought that part of the shows massive appeal was its “cult” status. The smart kids watched the show, the kids who weren’t going to be cool until well into their twenties (thanks mom), the ones who were above the laugh tracks and prat falls. There was something of a camaraderie between the show’s fans who knew of the injustice that was done to the show and could, and would, repeat memorized punch lines from the show years after it had ended.
“Steve Holt!” anyone?
Years later, the small crowd of intellectuals who liked the show has grown to a much bigger crowd—all of whom claim to have loved it since the beginning. (I’m here to let you know it’s okay if you just started watching two years ago. It doesn’t make you a poser it makes you eleven when the show first aired and that’s okay.) However, despite the larger audience and the support from every television critic I follow on Twitter, I was still dubious.
Was it good to tamper with something that had worked so well? Does lightning ever manage to strike twice?
Well after the first three episodes I don’t know if that’s a safe assumption.
Now many Arrested Development fans are scrambling to make excuses, all of which begin with “the first three episodes are awful sure, but it gets amazing after that” or “the first three episodes are much better the second time around,” to which I say:
1. Even if you’re a super fan you can admit the failings of your favorite show. It’s what creates the line between critical and blind.
2. How on earth have you managed to go through the first season twice already since Sunday?
Granted, I’ve just tediously finished the first three episodes so maybe it does become magically perfect by episode four, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the first three episodes, the ones which open the long awaited season four, aren’t good.
I laughed out loud twice—and this is coming from the girl who laughs loudly at The Nanny re-runs at one in the morning.
It looks like Arrested Development, it has the same cast as Arrested Development and the same gags as Arrested Development, but the opening three feel far away from Arrested Development.
That may largely be due to the decision to break the characters up into individually focused episodes due to scheduling conflicts.
The first centers on the central moving force of the show, Michael (Jason Bateman) who is now holed up with his son, George Michael (Michael Cera) at college after his plans to make money through his own housing development crashes. He’s sharing a bunk bed, still sharing showers, and overall being intrusive to George Michael’s learning experience (as well as the continuation of wooing his cousin Maeby). This is probably the funniest, as well as the most uncomfortably saddest, storyline of the opening three as George Michael spends the entirety of the episode devising a way to kick his father out of his dorm room, just as Michael spends his day devising a way to get rid of his son’s roommate but in such a fashion that it won’t look planned.
The obvious outcome is that Michael is booted and ends up at the airport where we’re given our Workaholics cameo.
However, the cameo to note (not just in the first episode) is Kristen Wiig as a young Lucille. She.Is.Perfect.
Let me say it more lovingly. Kristen Wiig perfectly captures Jessica Walter’s mannerisms, facial tics and way of speaking in a way that avoids the caricature mess and rather is an ode to such a fantastic character.
I think I love her.
She pops up a number of times throughout the three episodes, sometimes accompanied by Seth Rogen who does a serviceable job as George Sr. but is embarrassingly outshone by Wiig.
Seriously you guys, it’s uncanny.
Speaking of George Sr., he’s the one who brought my expectations from high to very, very low.
I’m biased because he’s always been my least favorite of the family dynamic and it’s even more pronounced here. His episode focuses on him and Lucille coming up with a get-rich-quick scheme that involves his brother, psychedelic visions and Lucille experiencing her first orgasm out of the bathtub in thirty years.
Walter’s delivery kills me.
Oscar is reintroduced in a sweat hut plan that will allow Lucille and George to be covert about their operations, the two feigning a divorce (and enjoying the adultery sensation) in order to sell the story. It’s a funny idea but one that gives me too much George and not enough Lucille and like the first episode it isn’t very cohesive. There’s a lot going on, a lot of jokes and a lot of nods to the original three seasons but it just doesn’t flow.
Luckily the third episode grants me my first loud laugh when Lindsay (always one of my favorites) takes center stage, a little more frazzled since the last time we saw her but just as vapid and self-obsessed but unwilling to fully let go of Tobias (a performance phoned in by David Cross who has a big case of the dead eyes so far this season.)
The laugh comes when the pair are with the realtors trying to buy a house that’s still up to their standards but is also away from their family, most notably Lucille who’s blackmailing Lindsay by promising her money in return for a positive testimony.
Lindsay was trying to flirt her way into a good deal by saying she doesn’t have a child right before an expertly timed cut to Maeby standing just out of sight.
Lindsay ends up running away with a mystery man while she and Tobias were just beginning to find themselves on the mend but instead of experiencing the romantic getaway to freedom that she’d wanted she instead ends up at an ostrich farm.
The ostrich that keeps popping up seems to have replaced the seal.
So where does this leave us? Nowhere, and that’s the problem.
I can look from a critical viewpoint and see that this is still a brilliantly scripted show. The characters are hilariously written with such odd idiosyncrasies that it works and the way in which a joke is delivered and the script trusts its audience as intelligent viewers rather than hand feeding them the laughs is still miles ahead of many contemporary comedies (although if the first three are the prime example I don’t think I could say it’s BETTER than today’s BEST). However, as a fan of Arrested Development there are many issues to undertake. There’s the fact that after three episodes we seem to have gotten nowhere. There’s been plenty of set up for something to happen, but we still have no clue what that something is.
We saw at the beginning of episode one Michael coming on to Lucille #2 (Liza Minnelli) with a jump cut to him later bruised and back in his model home. But before he can enjoy the comfort of silence he’s greeted by Gob (Will Arnett) who has a mysterious person running back into his bedroom. Michael is swiftly drugged by Gob so that he’ll forget everything he saw.
Quite the housewarming gift.
It’s a nice lead up that hasn’t managed to hint at a payoff.
There’s also, because I am who I am, a tiresome overabundance of casual racism used as comedy which sure, if being used for comedic purposes (I’m assuming we’re supposed to believe the characters are wrong) but it doesn’t make it any more annoying.
Personal grievances are the criminal lack of Gob and Buster who I can only hope will appear more in later episodes.
While I’m griping a lot there are still moments of promise in an otherwise bleak start. As I mentioned, Wiig and many other of the “stunt” castings are brilliantly done and add rather than detract from the story. Seeing Lucille Bluth on my screen again is always a thrill as I’m beginning to believe that Jessica Walter should be considered a national treasure. Sad Michael, as awkward as it is, is an interesting new development as it’s interesting to see what other members of the family think of him when he’s not around, especially now when he seems to be at his lowest point. And Arnett as always is an absolute comedic joy to watch come alive onscreen.
I want to love this season! I want it to knock my socks off and to prove all of my preconceptions completely and totally wrong! And I still believe it can, it just needs to find a focus rather than being a twenty to thirty minute comedy that throws everything at the wall and crosses their fingers that something sticks.
While I’m on the topic, it seems like the shorter episodes are the ones that will go over the best.
A lackluster start to a much anticipated season, but the show is a favorite for a reason and I’m certain (for now) that it can and will manage to impress me once I muddle through the beginning.
What did everyone else think of the start to the new season?