Jun 12, 2013

Arrested Development: “The B. Team”/“A New Start”

By Paul Krueger

Michael’s second time in the spotlight, “The B. Team,” brings with it one of the worst decisions of the new season, and one of the best.  The misfire is Ron Howard, personifying this show’s tendency to lean on the fourth wall and taking it just a little bit too far.  The Hail Mary is Isla Fisher as bad girl actress Rebel Alley, who makes an immediate positive impression and never drops the ball.

That’s not to say it’s all bad; while Howard himself is disappointing, his casual references to forbidden producer knowledge recall the kinds of things you’d hear coming out of Jack Donaghy’s mouth.  His rivalry with Jerry Bruckheimer also pays dividends; it’s humorously established early on, and leads to the wonderfully absurd scene where Michael and company are stuck between floors in an elevator.  And of course, visiting his offices allows a returning Kitty to cross our path.  Judy Greer probably plays unhinged better than anyone in the biz right now, and she gets plenty of opportunities to flex those particular muscles in just a few short appearances.

Like Michael’s last episode, this one brings the heavy fanservice.  We get Kitty, Barry, Bob Loblaw, Carl Weathers, the Richter quintuplets, and Warden Gentiles, and in exchange we get less than half the Bluth family.  Once again, it’s a weakness, but a less pronounced one than last time.  In particular, the assembly of Michael’s team works nicely to show the character burying his head in the sand.  Not only does it display his tendency to put up a wall of denial rather than face his difficulties, but it also subtly furthers this season’s ostrich theme.

Episode five of this season, “A New Start,” heralds the welcome return of Tobias Fünke to center stage, and with it a clearer picture of how the disparate threads of this season will knit themselves together.  Incidents that seemed nonsequitur and contributed to the listlessness of “Indian Takers” are now hilarious in hindsight.  And it’s remarkable how the same scene, played out with the same dialogue, can come across so differently when it’s been given just a slightly altered context and new Ron Howard narration.

The effect of “A New Start” on my viewing experience was a remarkable one.  If last week’s installments were where my faith wavered most, this was where it came back stronger than ever.  I’d known going into it that season four was going to be a different animal artistically, but “A New Start” showed me exactly how different.  By thinking of each installment as less of an episode unto itself and more as a piece in a giant Rube Golderberg machine of a meta-plot, I was able to instantly gain a deeper appreciation for what I was watching.

Another touch I liked: just as this one and “Indian Takers” slot together perfectly, so too does the action show that despite their differences, Lindsay and Tobias are truly meant for each other.  They choose the exact same moment to abandon their marriage for something shiny and new, and both cling too hard to their perceptions of what’s going on to see the situation at hand for what it truly is.

Tobias’ new companion is the inestimable Maria Bamford, whose years of surreal stand-up allow her to effortlessly slip into the role of a recovering junkie.  And her presence certainly muddles the question of Tobias’ sexuality, a topic I’m glad the show’s finally decided to stop mincing around.  Part of me wonders how well the gay jokes will age once society as a whole becomes more accepting, but I hope the show will sidestep that issue since it keeps most of the humor firmly rooted in Tobias’ sheer obliviousness.

And not just when it comes to his orientation, either.  That final scene with John Beard is a masterclass in wordplay, where none of the elements feel as if they were contrived just to open an avenue for punning.  It’s a scene full of excellent comic escalation, which we were led to by another great escalating sequence: the chain of cease-and-desists Tobias keeps getting.  And crazily enough, that gives it thematic resonance with Michael’s signature-hunting subplot, even if the show goes about it sideways.

In addition to the plot elements, which have finally begun coagulating after three episodes of bleeding freely, the season’s themes have begun to emerge more fully as well.  By now almost every member of the Bluth family has had some sort of encounter with an ostrich, an animal that’s as willfully ignorant of the world as they are.  And more importantly, it’s seeking to address a much larger issue: one that’s been put front and center at the top of every episode since the very beginning.

But more on that next week.

“The B. Team”: B
“A New Start”: A

  • Name one time in the last year when Tobias has said anything mis-
  • A freeze frame reveals that Carl Weathers is stealing “Crinch” dolls--another small elaboration on the theme of cheap knockoffs that’s been present in Arrested’s DNA since the beginning.
  • I adore Conan, but the look on his face after getting owned by Rocky Richter makes me wish the real Andy Richter would verbally bitchslap him every now and then.
  • Tobias’ description of himself as “the Human Flamer” both furthers his gay theme and works as a callback to the show’s second episode, “Top Banana.”
  • I also loved his over-excited reaction upon being informed there was a raccoon outside.  There’s a bizarre strain of logic running through Arrested’s universe, but it’s one upon which everyone seems to operate.
  • The story of the awful Fantastic Four movie is based on an actual bad Fantastic Four movie created for licensing reasons.
  • -leading.

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