Jul 10, 2013

Arrested Development: “Señoritis”/“It Gets Better”

By Paul Krueger

The two youngest members of the Bluth family have often gotten the short shrift on material to play.  Because of his proximity to Michael, George Michael often figured into the main plots of episodes, but usually only as a motivational device to get Michael to do things.  Maeby had no such luck; while it was perfectly in-character for her parents to be so selfish and neglectful, that meant that Maeby was often relegated to brief (albeit amusing) C-stories in a given episode.

Season four’s seen the Bluths all laid low by their own weaknesses, while demonstrating that even when they attempt to go their separate ways they’ll all ultimately drag each other down.  While the results have just been funny for most of the cast, the youngest Bluths and Michael are the exception; while their exploits are still funny, it also hurts to see them brought to this point.  With Michael, it’s because he fundamentally means well, and for the longest time was the only one who did; with the younger two, it was because they were still relatively innocent of their family’s malfeasances.

Unlike George Sr., a character who couldn’t successfully carry an episode on his own (let alone two), both George Michael and Maeby manage to stand up to the scrutiny of individualized spotlights.  As a one-off, Maeby’s is a much more tightly told story, but George Michael’s time front and center allows for the character’s remarkably believable transformation from stammering, awkward boy to as consummate a manipulator as the rest of his family.  And both, as it happens, are a lot of fun to watch.

I wrote back in my review of the season premiere that the typical Bluth dynamic appeared to be wise children and idiotic adults.  So this pair of episodes left me pleased with how realistically both Maeby and George Michael crossed that particular rubicon.  Lindsay and Tobias’ every effort in their relationship only serves to underline how much they belong together, and fittingly enough Maeby’s story arc slots neatly inside theirs (vis-a-vis the India trip, at least).  But even more fitting: though her part is complementary, it’s also just that tiny degree of separated.  Even in storytelling metaphors, Maeby can’t get the closeness to her parents that she wants so badly.

On the other hand, while George Michael does take after his father, a surprising amount of GOB emerges once he’s away from Michael’s smothering influence.  Like GOB, he has some success with women (but not nearly enough to warrant his subsequent ego).  Lies drip from his mouth like water from a faucet.  And of course, there’s the peacock-like (hey, bird themes!) tendencies: GOB with his explosive magic tricks illusions, George Michael with his mustache and matador pants.

The parallels don’t end there, though.  For instance, note how both George Michael and Maeby take up with Latin lovers during their wilderness years.  For Maeby, it’s an unfortunate series of encounters with a high school senior that leads her down an unsettling similar path to the one on which she put her father.  For George Michael, it’s The League’s own Nadine Velazquez, left dangling before us as an enticement for a season five.  But this detail also reinforces them as pieces of season four, as its themes grow ever more incestuous: thanks to their various subplots, the kids, GOB, George Sr., Oscar, Lucille, and Lindsay now all have fairly compelling reasons to brush up on their Spanish (though of course, none of them ever will).

It’s unfortunate that Maeby’s story has to end after only one installment.  The cast is always praised as a whole and a few standouts (chiefly Will Arnett and Jessica Walter) get regular love, but Alia Shawkat gets to tackle more range in this one episode than she was probably ever asked to take on in the original run, and does far more than merely acquit herself.  Cera also does well playing newer, darker shades of the aw-shucks persona that made him a household name (between this and his appearances in This is the End, he seems to be attempting to leave that persona dead and buried).  But Shawkat is playing a character only the slightest bit short of a sociopath, and somehow ends up being one of the only main characters that has a visible soul.

“Señoritis: A-
“It Gets Better”: A-

  • If you get a chance, look up the real-life George Maharis.  Given the uncomfortable encounters George Michael’s had with GOB this season...thematically appropriate.
  • On my first viewing, I definitely didn’t mistake Nadine Velazquez for another Latina actress from a sitcom I don’t watch.  No, sir.  That would be racist.
  • New chicken dance!  George Michael’s is as awkward as its creator, and is apparently difficult to perform in matador pants.
  • I’m embarrassed to admit, I totally didn’t realize the first time around that Lindsay’s shaman was Alia Shawkat under all that makeup.  Good job, makeup team.
  • I wonder if the proto-Social Network parody elements of George Michael’s storyline are an attempt to address the widespread (and totally correct) notion that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg were separated at birth.
  • Quintuplets has long been off the air, but the idea of five identical Richter brothers continues to pay great dividends.  And Andy Richter, a funny comedian but not necessarily a gifted actor, does an excellent job of delineating them all.
  • Another small Bluth-ism: Maeby, latest in a long line of bad tippers, gives the movers stock in a company that isn’t publicly traded.

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