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Arrested Development Season 4 Episode 2 Review: Borderline Weak
Arrested Development was always a show which was good at exposition. The viewer always knew where they were at in the story. They would be dropped into a scenario, the uncredited narrator Ron Howard with provide a couple of sentences describing what was going on, and the antics would kick off immediately. They would never look back- the story always pushed forwards. In Arrested Development Season 4, however, the producers have gone for a different narrative structure. A structure which begins with a flashforward moment, then tells the story leading up to this point. Usually by the end we are caught up.
In Season 4’s second episode, just like in its first episode, this structure collapses almost flat on its face in terms of comedy. (Almost. There are a couple of clever moments in there.) And that’s not all which is wrong with the episode.
George Bluth is the object here. Based on George Sr.’s eccentricities in the show’s original run, this should only be a good thing. Indeed, we are subjected to what is honestly a pretty funny opening situation. George is in a money-making scam where he brings investors down to the Mexican border and plays a health-guru role in a hothouse to make them buy into the land.
For one thing, if the show had just dropped us in here and kept going, that would have been great. Instead, it flashes back to tell George Sr’s story of how he got to this point. Which is frankly pretty forgettable, including a not-that-funny lunch with his twin brother Oscar and the introduction of a characters, a hack-health-doctor played by Mad Men’s John Slattery and his Chinese wife. If the episode had started here- started with the flashback- and run forward into the present storyline… Everything would have been fine. Well, maybe not fine. But better.
Rather, they cook up this imbalanced and poorly-judged bit of exposition, with fragments of hilarity sprinkled very liberally on top.
The characters are all fairly true to their original selves, but all pacing and narrative quality is out the window. It’s hard to see the point in what’s going on. Some jokes, like George misreading Sitwell’s design for a swimming pull with flora on either side for a 50-foot George Bush statue, are given way too much screentime.
The worst gag in the whole thing is George’s assistant. She is played by 24’s Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and is very enjoyable enjoyable for her first two seconds of screentime. After these two seconds, we witness one of the most poorly-thought-out jokes in TV history.
Her character apparently communicates by thought. Transmitted onscreen, for the viewer, by words floating in front of her chest. Here are some problems with this:
A.) It’s not clear what the point is. Old Arrested Development would give a quick, witty flashback to show why she can’t speak, or how she can speak with thoughts. New Arrested Development doesn’t appear to be playful like that. We are given no explanation as to why this happens. It’s not immediately funny and doesn’t get very funny.
B.) Forcing the viewer to break away from what’s happening in a scene at large to read a small piece of text floating in front of the character isn’t just mildly confusing. It break the scene’s pace as a whole. She perhaps says two things which elicit a chuckle, but everything else requires an awkward speed-read and instead elicits a significant “oh, no” glance between individuals in the room as the joke doesn’t fit the scene.
Her first line is asking George if he has paid her FICA yet. Her significant glance works, we laughed at that. But the instant her text-line appeared, we stopped. And were confused. And had a significant glance ourselves. A significant glance featuring a slight shake of the head.
Thankfully, the episode picks up a little. Seth Rogen seems like a problematic piece of casting but he actually does an admirable job of being an overweight and gruff younger George Sr. Kristen Wiig as young Lucille continues to be unbelievably spot-on.
But it gets even better: a communal hallucinogen-ingesting scene between George and Oscar is pretty comical, and leads to the joint-best line of the episode: ‘I don’t know what you saw, but I got an ostrich and no boner.’
Again, however, the joke is undermined because the ostrich is obviously a reference to another plotline in the show’s overall narrative. Which we won’t understand until possibly many episodes ahead.
I don’t understand why they have structured the thing like this. Each individual character’s plotlines were never incredibly compelling on their own. It was the fact that we swapped between all the characters and got the best bits of their stories that carried the show and kept the pace up. But in Borderline Personalities there are obviously at least several jokes that won’t be completed, that won’t even get punchlines until later in the series. On the one hand it’s kind of clever, tying together in ways between episodes. But every episode’s actual narrative is weak.
Jason Bateman said that hat season four will be “extremely complicated for the viewers” because of the show’s unusual structure. All fifteen episodes happen simultaneously, essentially. So we’re seeing stuff which isn’t finished. So by definition, the show’s narrative has been undermined.
Let’s see how it develops- I can tell you now that Episode 3 is a big improvement.
Best Line of the episode (needs context):
“Would you like to watch us make love?”