“Development Arrested” (season three, episode 13; originally aired 2/10/06)
Last week Mitch Hurwitz and the cast of Arrested Development addressed the Television Critics Association about the nature of the upcoming Netflix season of the show, saying that it won’t be a TV season in the conventional sense, but rather a series of interlocking character sketches, focusing on one member of the Bluth family at a time, while telling a story that won’t come together fully until the final episode. At ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an interesting column about the news, suggesting that if this series coalesces the way Hurwitz describes, it could be as revolutionary as cable has been for the art of television, given that Netflix is planning to make the entire run of episodes available all at once, thus allowing viewers to watch them in whatever order they choose. It’s a way of treating a chunk of episodes as a unit, while defying conventional serialization. I once described a typical Arrested Development episode as having “hypertext,” linking to other episodes, frequently and even frivolously. This seems like… something else. I wouldn’t presume to give it a name until I see it, but like Rosenberg, I’m intrigued.
And I’d say that watching the third season finale made me even more intrigued to see what’s in store for Arrested Development fans come May. Back when I started this third season, I wrote the following:
As we begin our journey through the abbreviated third season of Arrested Development, we’re going to have to deal early and often with the big question surrounding season three: Does it represent a major decline in quality from the first two seasons of the show? My hypothesis, going in, is that the answer is “no.” Granted, I’ve only watched these episodes once prior to this re-watch, and my memory of my first time through is that they were decidedly weaker—to the extent that I wasn’t as upset by Fox’s cancellation of Arrested Development as I might’ve been had it come at the end of season two. But I also remember finding much of this season funny and clever, and I wasn’t even as bothered by the Charlize Theron guest-arc as some. Again, that’s what I remember. Now let’s compare memory to reality.
So how did season three turn out, on second pass? Even better than I’d expected, I have to say. Season two remains my favorite of the first three Arrested Development seasons, followed by season one; and as I wrote about extensively, I’m still mixed on how well the “Mr. F” storyline lands, as much as I admire the gutsiness of it. But I’d forgotten how many essential bits of Arrested Development mythology are in the third season, and there’s not a single episode that I didn’t think was funny and accomplished. If anything, the third season episodes are a little too slick, since the cast and the writers had clearly gotten used to how to put this show together by this run, and could generate sidesplitting gags seemingly effortlessly.
That is, until “Development Arrested.”
I don’t want to disparage “Development Arrested” too much, because it’s an Emmy-nominated episode of television, produced under difficult circumstances, as Hurwitz and company scrambled to create something that could serve as an ending. And it is funny, with some moments that are classic Arrested Development (and thus leaps and bounds beyond the average sitcom). But it’s also an episode that lives down to some of the most pointed criticism leveled at the show: that it’s often so busy connecting dots and making callbacks that it never gets to anyplace new or surprising.
The plot, by design, is a rehash of the pilot episode. The first Arrested Development had the family gathering for a party on a boat, and getting raided by SEC; and the last one does as well, as Lucille plans a shindig to celebrate The Bluth Company being upgraded to a “Risky” by Mad Money and Michael finally being named the official CEO. (They even re-use banner: “Mount Up Pard’ners.”) And just as the Arrested Development pilot had Michael scrambling to keep the family together, “Development Arrested” has him going to each family member and trying to appease them so that they won’t sell their Bluth Company shares. He allows Tobias to plan the big party (even though Tobias wants to hire the Hot Cops and hold the party aboard the Queen Mary), he corners GOB aboard his new yacht The C-Word, he tries to keep his dad from fleeing to Cabo, and he begs Lindsay not to sell to Stan Sitwell—which becomes more difficult once Lindsay learns that she was adopted by the Bluths nearly 40 years ago, in an effort to spite Sitwell, who wanted her first. (No wonder they’ve neglected Lindsay all these years: The Bluths never want what they actually have.) Finally, as the SEC converges and Michael decides to take George-Michael and leave the family at last—to a beach-house in Cabo that looks a lot like The Model Home—we learn the secret menace to the Bluth family all these years has been Annyong, who’s been seeking revenge on behalf of a family member who had the first banana stand on the boardwalk, until Lucille pressured George Sr. to squeeze him out. (Lucille, we also learn, has been the real brains of the family all along.)
As I said, “Development Arrested” is dotted with great Arrested Development gags. For example: When The Narrator explains that George-Michael had gotten to second base with Maeby and had gone in “head-first, like Pete Rose,” there’s a brief flash of Rose in mid-slide, helmet flying. Then that same picture flashes later in the episode, when GOB says he’s been fooling around a little bit with his long-rumored Christian girlfriend, who turns out to be Ann. (Cue everyone: “Her?”) And the revelation that Annyong is behind the family’s troubles includes the info that his real name is Hel-loh, which leads to a classic circular “Hello”/“Annyong” routine.
But the episode is also sodden with self-reference. Some of it is just a winking acknowledgment that the show repeats itself, as when George-Michael says to his dad that he feels like the Bluth family keeps coming “out of the woods” and then ending up right back in them; some of it is old running gags, like GOB saying, “Why go for the best when you can go for the rest?” (continuing his long history of running himself down while trying to win a woman away from Michael); and some of it is smaller-scale attempts at coming full-circle, as when George-Michael says that family is the most important thing and his dad shrugs, “I was gonna say ‘breakfast.’”
And in rushing to the finish, some storylines either fizzle out or take strange turns. The George-Michael/Maeby romance goes nowhere. Maeby gets her job back at the studio under the condition that she get her family to sign over the rights to their life stories, but that doesn’t lead to much comedy. Buster spends the whole episode worrying that being near the water will bring him back in contact with his killer seal nemesis—which it does. (Cue Buster: “Oh, c’mon!”) And in the most questionable development in “Development Arrested,” Lindsay decides that not being a blood Bluth means that she can marry Michael. I know this show has pushed the incest theme before, and as with the Annyong reveal and the Lucille-is-boss reveal, the Lindsay-and-Michael-are-attracted-to-each-other idea has been teased out throughout the series (though usually more on the Michael-is-into-Lindsay side). But it still doesn’t really play well in this finale. It’s just kind of creepy, not funny.
It would’ve been better if “Development Arrested” had featured more of the show’s well-conceived, thematically relevant throwaway gags, such as The Bluth Company employees throwing a “Risky Business” party and one of them getting injured doing the Tom Cruise “Old Time Rock And Roll” slide. That’s this show in a nutshell: Short-sighted people making hilariously dumb decisions. Well, that and casual cruelty, as when Lucille insists of Lindsay, “We loved her just as much as any of you normal kids. More than GOB!” Or when GOB snickers at Michael’s tears during his speech on the ship, and says, “It looks like George-Michael got his mom back today, huh?”
Again, I’m not really that down on “Development Arrested.” I’m mainly nitpicking it because it doesn’t live up to the rest of a season that had been surprisingly great, given my measured expectations. Also, because now that I know that this isn’t really the end of the Arrested Development, I can start looking forward to how Hurwitz is going to regroup and forge ahead with these Bluths. To quote the show, this finale was “a freebie.”
- Another great capper to the “Pete Rose” joke. Tobias shows George Michael photos of Maeby’s birth, including one of her “coming out of your mother’s third base.”
- The family celebrates being upgraded to “Risky” by eating $1,200 worth of eggs from Skip Church’s. (It’s so much food it makes the table creak. Now there’s a great Arrested Development bit: the family’s short-sightedness in a single sound effect. Plus eggs.)
- At that brunch, Buster accidentally cuts part of his artificial hand off with a knife while cheering the family’s success. Michael tries to make him feel better: “You would’ve lost that hand anyway.”
- The original Korean banana stand promised “Cold Banana In Delicious Brown Taste.”
- Now we know why Lindsay made fun of the big nose on “Nellie” last week. That was her, pre-nose job.
- Tobias suggests that since they’re having the party on the Queen Mary, the Hot Cops should dress as Hot Sailors. Or Hot Seame— (Michael, abruptly: “I like Hot Sailors!” Tobias: “Mmmm. Me too.”)
- Speaking of those Hot Sailors, there’s a great shot of Tobias and Lindsay separated by about a half-dozen of ’em. A perfect visual distillation of their relationship.
- Also, Lucille asks the Hot Sailors if they know how to “shovel coal,” to get the Queen Mary moving and away from the SEC. But the Hot Sailors thought she meant something else.
- Michael tries to convince GOB to hold onto his Bluth Company shares by spinning a fishing metaphor, but GOB says he doesn’t want The C-Word to smell like fish.
- When Michael asks George-Michael how long he’d been crushing on Maeby, his son says, “53 weeks?” Want to take a guess at how many Arrested Development episodes there had been up to that point?
- Did You Remember? There are multiple references in this episode to Skating With Celebrities, which was a Fox show that took Arrested Development’s old timeslot.
- Did you know that fossils are just something the Jews buried in 1924?
- I think one of the main reasons I was annoyed by the abrupt “Lindsay tries to seduce Michael” subplot is that I came to realize while watching these three seasons how under-utilized Lindsay was past season one. There’s a funny bit in “Development Arrested” that recalls the glory days of the Lindsay character, when the comedy derived more from her tortured relationship with Lucille than her pathetic attempts to land a new man. (In a flashback, we see Lucille devastate a self-conscious pre-teen Lindsay by calling pork chops, “Lindsay chops.” The Narrator explains that no bully would ever be as clever as Lindsay’s mother.) Otherwise, she’s ill-served yet again. Anyway, I’d encourage any Arrested Development fan who’s never watched Better Off Ted to check it out, to see Portia De Rossi more at full strength.
- To those who’ve been asking: No, we don’t know yet how we’re going to be handling the Netflix season. At the moment, the plan seems to be to write one review of the whole season up front, followed by weekly reviews, covering two episodes at a time, TV Club Classic-style. But we’ll have that info—including whom the writers will be—closer to the release. If in fact this ends up being the last time I write about Arrested Development, thanks again for your eyeballs and your participation. It’s been a pleasure.
- The best “epilogue” in these two episodes: Ron Howard hears Maeby’s pitch, but says he doesn’t see Arrested Development as a series. Maybe a movie…