I got a text message at 2 p.m. Sunday from my sister asking if I had finished watching the new season of Arrested Development yet. That should give you some idea of my level of fandom — my sister thought it was entirely possible that I could have watched 8 hours in television in the 12 hours since the show had been released, even though 4 of those hours had occurred before the sun came up. And at a different point in my life, I very well might have. The Maggie of 2006 whose RAZR flashed the phrase “LOOK AT BANNER, MICHAEL” upon start-up probably would have been into her slo-mo rewatch by then. 2013 Maggie, however, was only halfway through the first Lindsey episode. I wasn’t enjoying it very much. But then again, I hadn’t enjoyed the pilot when it first aired, either (I hated GOB, oddly enough), and I picked up pretty quickly that these new episodes were going to be structured like a puzzle that folded back around on itself. I was impressed by the ambition of that undertaking. I have enough trust in Mitch Hurwitz to figure it would all work out and the second half would be better than the first. That was true, although some plotlines paid off better than others. The various cliffhangers definitely make me eager to see the supposed movie they have planned.
I think this series of episodes was clearly flawed, especially compared to the original three. My understanding is that Hurwitz was still in post-production until almost the last minute, which is sort of mind blowing and also shows…and I’m not talking about the occasionally off-putting green screen effects. These episodes, even the best ones, needed editing. Being a half-hour show on a broadcast network necessitates trimming each episode down to 22 minutes maximum. Removing that particular impediment had disastrous results in a couple of the early installments of the fourth season. I’ve rewatched the first two episodes now and looked for ways to cut the things down to under 30 minutes, preferably 25 minutes, and it would be relatively easy to do.
In the premiere, there are jokes with Michael that seem to go on and on for no real good reason. The scene where he rambles on trying to figure out how to manipulate the roommate vote was interminable on first watch. On second watch, I realized it wasn’t really all that bad, but it suffered from coming after the shower/post-shower walk-and-talk/uncomfortable dorm room scene/outdoor walk-and-talk — all of which could have been compressed into one scene and easily gotten Michael’s desperation across. The shower scene should have been removed entirely. It was too cringeworthy, even for this show, and really out of character. I understand that they wanted to illustrate that Michael has hit rock bottom, and there’s a lot of precedent for Michael being oblivious to George Michael’s feelings, but as far as I can remember he’s always had a pretty clear understanding of BOUNDARIES, especially compared to his other family members. And really, it just wasn’t funny enough to make it worthwhile.
The other episode I’ve rewatched is the first George Sr. episode, which continues to be among my least favorite, and just generally needs small cuts across the board to give scenes more zip and make the few punchlines there actually are land better. The real problem with the first two episodes in particular, and the first half of the season in general, is that it just isn’t that funny. And I understand that is a structural necessity to a certain point — the first half is set-up and the second half is punchlines. But there is no need for the early episodes to be so bloated when there are so few laughs in there. Run through the exposition, set up those pins, and then linger while knocking them down if you really feel the need to luxuriate in that unlimited runtime.
The Lindsey and Tobias episodes are better than the Michael/George Sr. episodes, although they suffer more from the mildly convoluted timeline, and the second Tobias episode would also benefit from some serious editing. I strongly disliked the Marky Bark character. Apparently the same actor also played the boom mic guy on the Office, so he’s ahead in the running for Least Valuable Player of the 2012-13 TV season. DeBree got a lot of leeway from me because I love Maria Bamford and know she’s extremely talented, but in the end she just didn’t seem like a character that would organically occur in this universe. It’s really not until the first GOB episode that the thing really turns a corner, and even in that, the first half needed major edits; all the Ann stuff dragged. I appreciated seeing Bruce McCulloch, because BRUCE MCCULLOCH, but really, what was the point of having him there?
That went for pretty much all the cameos. You had people who were way too famous for the role they were playing (‘sup, Krasinski), people who were pure fan-service for comedy nerds (Bruce, a split-second of Dan Harmon), and people who I wasn’t sure whether they counted as cameos or were just character actors who needed the work (Diedrich Bader, the guy who plays John Ralphio on Parks and Rec). Terry Crews acquitted himself well as Herman Cain, and Garcelle Beauvais was fine as his wife. (I snickered at her name, “Ophelia Love” — say it out loud and it’s mildly amusing.) Isla Fisher did not convince me she was even mildly attracted to either of her Bluth love interests. Especially George Michael. I’m actually kind of grossed out by Michael Cera at this point. He had a moment back in ’08 or so where it looked like he might grow up kinda cute, but my God, he did NOT. There was way, way, way too much George Michael funsexytimes in this season, between the animation of how bad a kisser he was to half-open silk kimonos…although his punchline to the woman he slept with in Spain was a killer.
My skeevy reaction to Michael Cera definitely colored my take on his two episodes in the second half, which I found the weakest, especially considering the company they were in. Buster, Maeby, and GOB were the three episodes in the second half I would say were the same caliber as the original series. The Buster episode in particular had me chortling loud ugly donkey laughs on multiple occasions. Sorry, I’m apparently a sucker for humor related to a giant rubber hand. But while I was definitely interested in some of the cliffhangers (the Anonymous guys, villainous bald Sally Sitwell, Maeby in jail, and of course the missing Lucille…although I doubt they’ll have the nerve to follow through on the darkest implications there), I really did not care about the plotline that got the parting shot. The season actually made me hate Michael. And I think that was the intention, but unfortunately it’s not the kind of hate where I either want to see him redeem himself or else really loathe him and want to watch him be punished. I kind of don’t give a shit about the ostensible protagonist of the show anymore. It seems to be pretty universally accepted that the episodes about the more peripheral characters were more enjoyable than the episodes about the fathers-and-sons dynamic that powered so much of the original series and seems to be the intended emotional through-line of this season. I think that making the beginning so Michael/George Sr. centric and the tail end so Michael/George Michael centric shows that we’re supposed to be oriented around that grandfather-father-son pole while all the other characters sort of spin wildly around the periphery. And I don’t know if that bodes particularly well for the movie, in the end. Still, I am impressed by Hurtwitz’s chutzpah in structuring this thing the way he did, and I’m always glad to watch more Bluth madness. I can’t wait to see what these episodes look like when he tries to cut them down for syndication.