Erik Adams: Noel, at the end of our conversation about “Flight Of The Phoenix” and “Borderline Personalities,” you mentioned that you were eager to see if this fourth season of Arrested Development would “do anything meaningful with its commentary on the intersections of business, government, and religion.” Well, here come “Indian Takers” and “The B. Team” to provide you with as much of an answer as we can get this early into a 15-episode run: Maybe?
At this point in the season, the show is still doling out threads that will, with any luck, end up intersecting down the line—hints that there’s payoff out there for the series’ most fruitful thematic fodder. In “Indian Takers,” Lindsay sets off to rid herself of all material possessions—but ends up coming back with more than she packed. “The B. Team,” meanwhile, finds Michael trying to redefine the nature of the Bluth family business. Like the two chapters that precede them, these are two partial stories stretched to episode length—with the drag I felt from both being disappointingly reminiscent of “Borderline Personalities.”
As the Bluth most likely to get swept up in spiritual mumbo jumbo, Lindsay makes the ideal candidate to symbolically take up the search for enlightenment that her adoptive father and uncle are selling in the desert for $15,000 a glass. Also, as the Bluth with the widest gap between her self image and what shows up onscreen, it works out that “Indian Takers” is all about deceptive appearances. The fake merchandise she buys on India’s “Mall Mountain,” the mini-mansion she and Tobias purchase with a flimsy NINJA loan, the wooden chompers sported by her latest activist fling—Lindsay’s deeply embedded in a world of fakin’ it. With all of the illusions piling up around her, it’s almost as if she, rather than Michael, should be the Bluth working in the Hollywood fantasy world introduced in “The B. Team.”
Illusions are building up to be a big part of the fourth season’s first act, even though we’ve barely seen G.O.B. Lindsay puts it out there right at the top of “Indian Takers,” asking Rizwan Manji’s merchant—initially set up as a guru—“What is real?” It’s the first of multiple head fakes in that episode, one that makes a game of setting up a scenario (like the Fünkes preparing to testify at Lucille’s trial by attending a clinic on “method acting”) before lifting the veil for the big laugh (Tobias has mistakenly brought them to a methadone clinic). This is all in line with the the classic farces in Arrested Development’s DNA and the cluelessness of its characters, but at a certain point, it’s hard not to feel set adrift in these episodes.
Or maybe it’s just that we’re still so mired in setup and exposition that the season hasn’t had the chance to lay out the stakes for the larger story it’s telling. Michael’s heading toward some sort of downfall, but there’s no sense yet of how his self-centered decision-making as a wannabe movie producer will be felt in the far-flung reaches of the Bluth family. There’s a delayed-reaction domino effect at play, but it’ll be several episodes (and possibly several weeks, depending on the pace at which you’re watching the fourth season) before the effects are felt—a characteristic of the fourth season that’s fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Sure, it’d be embarrassing for Michael to be caught snogging Ron Howard’s daughter, but there just aren’t enough characters around to let that embarrassment sink in.
The sensation that I got from “Indian Takers” and “The B. Team” is one of emptiness, with an unintentional echo in Michael’s callback to “The One Where They Build A House”: “I come from the business community, where sometimes you have to show it to ’em already built.” This week’s episodes aren’t entirely analogous to the frame of a house with nothing inside—for instance, I quite enjoyed the sequence of Lindsay and Tobias yelling at one another from opposite corners of their own oversized home—but they just don’t connect with me. I think a lot of that has to do with concessions to the “unreal” that had to be made because of the show’s complicated production schedule. Lindsay and Tobias’ cross-house conversation is a fun way of poking at these constraints, and we mentioned last week that Arrested Development has always been a show that found itself once it headed for the editing bay—still, I can’t help but feel a lack of tactile charms from these two episodes, of funny, satisfying material that arose in the moment, in the writers’ room or on-set. (Or at least tactile charms that aren’t grounded in callbacks like the Bob Loblaw law bomb or an appearance by Rocky Ricther.) Noel, am I alone in feeling like there’s a lot of filler in “Indian Takers” and “The B. Team”? Did they do enough to start reeling in those themes you’re looking forward to? Is it possible that, against the advice of Ron Howard, I’m putting the cart before the horse? Have we made a huge mistake in choosing to watch the fourth season like this?
Noel Murray: I do have to concede that some of our commenters last week may have been correct that reviewing these episodes without knowing where they’re going is pure folly. Then again, we do this all the time with regularly airing television series. And it’s not like we can’t say, “Ohhhh, now I get it!” weeks from now when we, y’know, finally get it. Besides, I’m less interested in whether these episodes “work” per se than I am in what they’re exploring, and how. Do I think “Indian Takers” and “The B. Team” feel padded? Actually, no. To me they feel more like they’re taking two episodes’ worth of Lindsay material and two episodes’ worth of Michael material and condensing it all. For that reason, they’re a little exhausting, I agree. There’s a lot here to process.
But my goodness, so much of it is hilarious, and brilliant in its way. Quite a few sitcoms that followed in Arrested Development’s wake were able to ape its pace and absurdity, and some were even able to develop a distinctive voice within that style. (Three of the best: 30 Rock, Better Off Ted, and Happy Endings.) But there’s something beautifully Arrested Development-like about the concept of C.W. Swappigans, a barter-based theme restaurant that springs up after the global recession hits. The idea of a restaurant that lets a person trade a shoe for a few mozzarella sticks is funny in and of itself; the addition of a judge in the background of the entire scene, approving quantities, sauces, and pizza toppings, is indicative of Arrested Development’s crazy genius.
See also: the idea that the Carl Weathers-produced docu-series Scandalmakers would get in trouble for not gathering the proper permissions for its Bluth family episode, and would then do a Scandalmakers episode about that scandal, entitled “Weathers’ Permit-ing.” Besides being a silly little joke, it fits the “miniaturization” motif that’s always been one of my favorite pieces of Arrested Development schtick: the proliferation of cheap copies and things-nesting-within-other-
Is any of this meaningful? I think so. Not all. Some of it’s just funny. And some of it is just meant to reveal more of the Bluth character. I’ve read some people saying that Michael comes off as too mean and stupid in season four, which I haven’t really found to be the case, in part because I always found Michael to be just as awful as any Bluth, and in part because I still find him sympathetic (just as I do the rest of his family). In all my blather about the roommate vote last week, I failed to point out that in addition to being hilarious, it’s also heartbreaking. I feel the same way about the scene in “The B. Team” where Ron Howard tells Michael that they need to cast someone as his late wife, because even though she was dead before the events depicted in the Bluth movie script, “I think it’s a lot more fun if we see her die.”
There’s something sad and sweet too about the way Lindsay so badly wants to be a spiritual, world-bettering person, and yet can’t help asking her Indian cab driver if his home country has “normal toilets.” (For his part, the driver talks about prayer and oneness and then yells, “Stay in your lane, anus-tard!” at the car in front of him. So Lindsay’s hardly the only hypocrite.) Lindsay is so much better at improv games than Tobias, who in “Indian Takers” tries so hard to play along with what he thinks is an improv before finally admitting, “I don’t know who my guy is. I don’t have a guy.” Lindsay, on the other hand, is all about “yes and.” She takes the kind of person she believes herself to be, and adds to it whatever and whomever crosses her field of vision, be it a phony guru or an ostrich-farmer with “face blindness.” It’s no wonder she’s so susceptible to the real estate agent James Carr (played by Ed Helms) who keeps adding amenities to the modest house that Lindsay and Tobias meant to buy, because “that way you have it.”
Erik, you’ve already mentioned the cleverness of Lindsay and Tobias’ giant house, but I want to go back to that, because if you ask whether I feel the satirical elements of season four are stinging yet, I think first of this cavernous home, so big and empty that even the Roomba runs out of juice before it can complete a cycle. Arrested Development was already critiquing the excess of the ’00s well before the crash came, but in the spirit of the show’s persistent search for l’image juste, I can’t imagine any better symbol of what happened to the American dream over the past decade than this impossible house, that keeps people apart and makes them feel very, very tired. (Heck, they can’t even keep their eye-lines aligned.)
I also can’t imagine a funnier way to capture the situation in a single line than James Carr weighing Lindsay and Tobias’ credit situation and shrugging, “I’m in the real estate business, it’s 2006… that’s good enough for me.”
Or maybe that joke’s too easy. I just know that it made me laugh pretty uproariously. What did you think of it, Erik? And what method of payment would you like to use today at C.W. Swappigans?
EA: How much crow can I get in exchange for the paragraphs above? Because I think what I’m really losing sight of here is that Arrested Development, for all of its incisiveness and intricate design, is first and foremost a comedy. And if it’s making me laugh, it’s making me laugh—something that “Indian Takers” and “The B. Team” managed to do a lot. Much of the grousing up top is just an extension of that exhaustion you cite, Noel.
I’m glad you bring up the Fünke’s reunion with real estate agent James “I Don’t Sell” Carr(s), because while I found the “It’s 2006” joke a bit on the nose (if knowingly so), the show’s deeper dive into the Great Recession was the one facet of this week’s episodes that truly sunk in for me. Both editions of Arrested Development were fortunate—if “fortunate” can be applied in these circumstances—to have played out in the aftermath of two major financial scandals that were partially caused by people in the Bluths’ tax bracket. That makes the show uniquely suited to make jokes about How We Wasted Our Money in the last decade—I’m surprised we’ve made it four episodes of this fourth season without a single “too big to fail” riff.
And so Lindsay and Tobias “buy” a house they’ve never made a payment on—and probably couldn’t afford even when they were “super rich”—and Ron Howard makes veiled references to his Imagine Entertainment partner (and “The B. Team” co-star Brian Grazer) being tipped off about the crash of ’07 “when it was three months away from happening.” Amid all the weird, self-parodying paces Mitch Hurwitz runs his executive producer and narrator, the “secret cabals of the rich and famous” material proves to be the most effective. Circling back to Noel’s mentions of 30 Rock and Better Off Ted, these punchlines feels very much like the master coming back before the students and saying, “Sure, Sheinhardt Wig Company and Veridian Dynamics are cute, but we’re going to have Richie Cunningham say things that would make Alex Jones shit his in-case-the-Bilderberg-Group-
There’s still so much from these two episodes that we’ve yet to unpack—Isla Fisher and Maria Bamford’s easy slotting into the ranks of the Arrested Development regulars, the Bluth-Sitwell-esque rivalry between Imagine Entertainment and Jerry Bruckheimer Films, the fact that Tobias (and possibly Maeby, with a fake beard and a lot of makeup?) followed Lindsay to India. Yet those are all developments still in progress, puzzle pieces that feel like filler now but could prove to be essential building blocks in the coming weeks.
There is some fun to be had by not hunkering down and slamming through all 15 episodes of the fourth season just because they’re there: We’re keeping some of the mystery of the new episodes alive for the time being, giving ourselves the chance to mull over (and maybe—no, surely—overthink) some happenings that might blow by in a binge. Because if there’s an advantage to Hurwitz and company’s “that way you have it” method of constructing season four, it’s that they built plenty into these episodes to pick apart and analyze. The sifting just might make you feel like the Fünke’s poor, spent Roomba, though.
“Indian Takers”: B
“The B. Team”: C
We’re obviously going to miss some jokes by not knowing where everything is going. The question we’ll have to answer in the coming weeks is whether that’s our problem or the show’s problem. Is a gag funny if it takes hours to complete? (I’m honestly asking. That’s something we’ll find out as we go.) I will say that having read some whole-season reviews, I’ve learned some things that added to my enjoyment of “Indian Takers” in particular. I don’t know yet whether Maeby was in disguise as Lindsay’s “guru”—I suspect she was—and I don’t know if we’ll ever find out why there were a bunch of cowboys being followed by a film crew at the airport in India. But I do know who was kicking Lindsay’s seat, which made that scene a little bit funnier. (Here’s a hint: When Lindsay uses her cell phone on the runway, we hear a phone ringing right behind her.) [NM]
A few decades after pledging himself to Lucille on the cover of the Balboa Bay Window, Buster takes the plunge on the front of the magazine, in the guise of a protest against couplings his mother somehow deems more unnatural than their Oedipal connection. I assume Buster won the gorilla suit for sand racing—the “New Normal” T-shirt was likely dug out of an NBC dumpster. [EA]
You left out the headline to that BBW cover story: “Proposition Ape!” If there’s one aspect of original flavor Arrested Development that will seem more unintentionally dated as the years go by, I’m betting—or, heck, hoping—it’ll be the gay jokes, which I’ve never found offensive, but which have skirted up to the edge of meanness more than once, even if their target’s only Tobias, not gay folks in general. That said, I can’t pretend I didn’t laugh at Tobias responding to Lindsay saying “fallacy” by singing, “Oh, is that a gal I see? No, it’s just a phallus-seeeee!” [NM]
I couldn’t stop laughing throughout that entire sequence in Tobias and Lindsay’s big, empty, metaphorical mansion, but the most concentrated fit of giggles arrived during the passage where Tobias can keep neither a comically large pipe in his mouth or a pool cue in his hands. (Sounds like a personal problem.) And I’m not sure I’ve heard a funnier example of Arrested Development blasphemy than that passage’s exclamation of “Jesus C. Penney!” [EA]
Oh, Tobias, you still have so much to learn about your craft: “Then, like a lot of actors, the teeth go.” [EA]
Continuing that joke, later when Marky Bark kisses Lindsay, he comments approvingly, “I can’t believe how little give your teeth had.” [NM]
By the way, the love scenes between Lindsay and Marky are awfully lyrical. Another example of how the improved digital cameras are coming into play on this show. [NM]
Nice timing: Kitty mentions she’s an executive just as the co-executive producer names start popping up during “The B. Team.” [EA]
Check out the lintels above the doors to Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s offices: The former’s a baseball cap, the latter’s patterned after Grazer’s wild shock of hair. [EA]
As I mentioned last week, the train of thought required to reach an Arrested Development joke is amazing to me at times. Michael can’t work at Imagine and do the business he needs to do in Orange County, so Ron Howard sets him up at the Orange County Imagine office, which the locals confuse with Orange County Imaging, a medical service. That’s the extra touch of weird that so many other shows lack. [NM]
Continuing in the tradition of the Dan Harmon and Workaholics cameos, this week’s episodes nod to the comedies that followed in Arrested Development’s footsteps with an appearance by The Office’s John Krasinski and… half the cast of Outsourced? Surely that’s a cooooooooooooooooooo-
Andy Richter is another one of those comic actors who fits the Arrested Development style well. He’s almost Michael Bluth-like in his sarcasm level, especially in his reply to Michael’s mention of the chicken-and-ham-water dinner they shared so many years ago: “They’re finally gettin’ around to makin’ a movie of that, huh?” [NM]
Also on-point as always: James Lipton, who tries to use his iPad to write Michael’s script and ends up turning off the device by accident and inadvertently deleting his pitch (complete with the telltale “recycle” sound). [NM]
And now I really want to know what episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life were written by Warden Gentles. Probably the episode that contains this scene, for starters. [EA]
You can call that sheep-in-the-photobooth callback cheap fan service, but the joke does some leg work: The sheep’s onstage with Rebel’s band—obscuring her name with bleating that sounds not unlike the band’s music—before it wanders by to recreate Buster’s fateful trip to Catalina. [EA]
There are quite a few clever callbacks to the running gags of earlier seasons in these two episodes. There’s Kitty’s topless Imagine ID badge photo, and the way that Michael asks, “Them?” when Ron Howard says that he wants the movie to be about the whole Bluth family. And then there’s frugal Carl Weathers, who meets with Michael at Imagine and asks, “Do you think anybody would be upset if one of these Grinch dolls took a walk?” [NM]
Returning to the “cheap copies” motif, Netflix’s captions inform me that Michael actually has a box of “Crinch” dolls in his office. (Though those subtitles could be off—they’re not the most reliable, even as they illuminate some of Eddie Pepitone’s lines during the Swappigan’s scene.) It’s almost as if this season wants us to remember Ron Howard once directed a terrible live-action adaptation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas! [EA]
These two eps also sport their share of callbacks to running gags from this season, such as Michael failing to tip the African-American delivery guys at the Imagine offices, and Marky Bark adopting his personal philosophy (“Live truthfully and skate through life!”) from Halliburton Teen, and Michael driving the Google Street View car, dubbed “The Ostrich.” My favorite callback though is John Beard in the background of one scene referring to something as “sullied as Newport Bay on the Fifth of May.” [NM]
Speaking of John Beard, he gives a great, halting newscaster spin to his line about selling his mega-mansion: “Good luck getting that [bleep]ing raccoon smell out of the gate house, because I… never could.” [NM]
And speaking of Google Street View, there’s quite a dig at that privacy-invading service when The Narrator concedes that although they won’t let the show use their name or logo, “In fairness to them, it is their property.” [NM]
A discussion topic for those in-between-episodes days: Handsome, comedically capable, a tendency to take roles on sitcoms that are late in their runs: Is Chris Diamantopoulos the Ted McGinley of the 21st century? [EA]
Don’t get too excited about that Andy Griffith Show movie yet. According to Ron Howard, it’s “not a done deal yet.” (Perhaps Netflix can help.) [NM]
In Mexico, you can read the magazine Tetas Gigantes, and go see the movie Angeles & Diablos (“con Peter Scolari!”).[NM]
The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Barry Zuckerkorn at Lucille’s crab-shack trial, saying, “The defense calls to the oyster bar thing where they sit…”