May 29, 2013

THE SKED NETFLIX REVIEW: “Arrested Development” (Episodes 4-7)


See also:  THE SKED NETFLIX REVIEW:  “Arrested Development” (Episodes 1-3)

A second helping of Netflix’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT includes 4 episodes that give a better feel for the scope and ingeniousness of this new season, 15 interlocking episodes that, for the most part, become increasingly complex and ambitious as they unspool.  Meanwhile, although Netflix doesn’t release viewing information, the fragmentary numbers out there from internet measurement firms suggest that taking on Arrested Development was the sure-thing that it sounded like as soon as Netflix announced it, with apparently triple the number of users watching Arrested episodes on the day they were released as watched House of Cards on its “opening day.”  (Those numbers, of course, may still be tiny by network television standards, but for a subscription service like Netflix they’re hugely important.)

Episode 4, written by series creator Mitchell Hurwitz and Executive Producer Jim Vallely (all the episodes thus far are directed by Hurwitz and Troy Miller), broadens the canvas of the season by expanding on the Season 3 finale’s notion of selling the story of the Bluth family as a movie to none other than Ron Howard, who of course in real life is both narrator and Executive Producer of the show through his Imagine Entertainment.  Imagine itself comes in for some terrific ribbing in the episode, with perhaps the best being the competing billboards on top of the (fictional) Imagine and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions skyscrapers in Beverly Hills–the second best in-joke being a Bruckheimer development executive (John Krasinski) passing on a project with “You’re not charring my tree.”  Michael (Jason Bateman) successfully sells his family’s story to “Ron Howard” on condition that he get the proper rights for a father-son story–difficult because in a flashback, we saw young George Sr (Seth Rogen) advised by young attorney Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler’s real-life son Max, who in his own real life is a director of, among other things, New Girl episodes) that he should have no signature–while the episode takes shots at Being John Malkovich (Michael’s new office as a producer is on a floor squeezed downward so Howard and Brian Grazer could have more space), Apollo 13 (the Apollo 11 landing, we’re told, was staged on the set of Gentle Ben), Angels and Demons (a poster in Michael’s Orange County Imagine office, not to be confused with Orange County Imaging, promises a sequel with “Mas!  Mas!  Mas!”).  Apart from the return of Judy Greer’s Kitty Sanchez, James Lipton’s Warden Gentles and Carl Weathers’ s Carl Weathers, and appearances by Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter, the half-hour also introducex Rebel Alley (Isla Fisher), the most important new character so far, a potential love interest for Michael as well as being “Ron Howard’s” illegitimate daughter.

Episode 5, by Vallely and Co-Executive Producer Dean Lorey, is a showcase for David Cross’s Tobias Funke, ex-doctor turned very bad actor.  It’s also the best example so far of how episodes will mesh with each other, as we learned that Tobias was in India at the same time as his estranged wife Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) in Episode 3–in fact, he was the guy in the seat behind her whose knees she bashed with her airplane seat, and who took her suitcase.  This story gives us more of the “Methad-One” clinic that isn’t an acting school, as well as Tobias’s priceless new license plate, “ANUSTART” (ahem, a new start).  We also get much more of Tobias’s new drug addict friend DeBrie Bardeaux (Maria Bamford), who once played Invisible Girl in a low-budget Imagine Entertainment version of The Fantastic Four and who joins with Tobias as celebrity impersonators of two of the the four–until trademark lawyers (who look like The Blues Brothers) shut them down, forcing them into a more generic interpretation.  DeBrie’s previous credits also include several installments of “Straightbait,” softcore threesome porn that Tobias–who finally finds out that all the Bluths think he’s gay–has been known to enjoy.

Episode 6, written by Lorey and Executive Producer Richard Rosenstsock, brings us back to the more-or-less continuing story of George Sr’s (Jeffrey Tambor) plot to make a fortune by owning the land on which the US government will want to erect a US/Mexico wall–except it turns out the land is actually in Mexico, which is what happens when you trust a map drawn by Buster (Tony Hale).  It all involves George Sr’s  twin brother Oscar, crooked politician Herbert Love (Terry Crews) and George Sr’s alarming loss of testosterone, down to what returning guest star John Slattery’s Dr. Norman refers to as “baby levels.”  This episode has a lot of pipe to lay–and not the kind that Oscar was laying with Lucille (Jessica Walter), hey now–and isn’t the funniest of the season, but it does have a wonderful recap of Rebel Alley’s film career, including clips from her work with Terence Malick and Woody Allen.

Episode 7, written by Hurwitz and Vallely, may be the show’s most self-contained so far, possibly because Will Arnett’s schedule didn’t allow for a lot of interaction with other characters.  So this episode is almost all Gob.  The first section concerns his not-quite marriage with Ann (Mae Whitman), who as you’ll recall he didn’t quite bed on her 18th birthday in the Season 3 finale.  He did, it turns out, do the deed shortly thereafter, and finds himself engaged when he tries out a Maeby-type sardonic “Marry me” afterward, bringing on one of repeated references to Dustin Hoffman’s look on the bus at the end of The Graduate and “The Sound of Silence.”  But before Gob can join Ann’s family (which includes dad Alan Tudyk), he decides to pull a magic trick at the ceremony–sorry, an illusion–to remember, reenacting Christ’s resurrection for the church crowd.  Unfortunately, Gob is not arisen thanks to an illusion saboteur (and his arch-enemy, Ben Stiller’s Tony Wonder, is there).  It all leads to the episode’s second section, a parody of Entourage, including a bar called “and Jeremy Piven” that Stefon would surely have visited if he were based in LA.  Gob’s particular entourage includes Mark Cherry (the teen singer, not the Desperate Housewives showrunner), and not enough of Ben Schwartz’s near-Jean Ralphio’s John Beard, Jr.  There’s a ton of inspired stuff here–special nod to Tobias’s previously-unknown work on The Miracle Network, including “A Jew Comes To Dinner,” in which Tobias’s work as “Jew” was deemed “pitiful,” perhaps in a good way–but this was a 36 minute episode, which would be close to an hour with network commercials, and it felt much like hour-long episodes of half-hour series often do, a bit overextended.  Perhaps the near-wedding and Entourage bits should have been separate episodes.

Approaching the midway point on Arrested Development‘s 4th season, there are many mysteries left to be solved in the remaining 8 episodes, including the prevalence of ostriches and redheads thus far.  (As to the latter, the feminized George Sr donned one before Episode 6 was over, and Herbert Love confessed his fondness for them.)  And we presumably have episodes for Lucille, Buster and Maeby to come.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."