not in our stars, but in ourselves
This isn’t movie-related, so try to forgive me. Like many of you, and many others beyond my narrow readership, I have been kvelling for the return of Arrested Development. I wasn’t quite hip enough to watch it from the moment it began airing on TV, but I discovered it shortly thereafter, when I was a starry-eyed college student. It boggled my mind that a show so funny, so clever, so flat-out brilliant could have been so horribly botched by its network (eff you, Fox, if you’re reading). It boggled my mind that the entire planet obsessed about something as trite and uninteresting as Friends, and something as glorious as AD was permitted to go off the air. Fortunately, the show’s popularity has skyrocketed since it was canceled, and so now we have new episodes – courtesy of Netflix, if you can believe it. (Others have written plenty about the changing nature of production and distribution models, and I don’t really know or care enough to offer my $0.02, but I’d say that the big studios and networks had better start battening down the hatches.*)
When we last left our Bluths, their lives were imploding in the usual spectacular fashion. It turned out that Lucille was the criminal mastermind; George, Sr., really was the patsy he’d claimed to be all along; Lindsay was adopted; Michael finally resolved to escape his family’s dysfunction with his son, George Michael; and Maeby, the second-youngest executive at a big movie studio, tries to pitch her family’s story to Ron Howard for a TV show – but he sees it more as a movie. Tease.
Now, seven years later, things seem to have gone even deeper into hell. The first episode – and thus far, the only one I’ve watched, because my computer is being a butt about downloading the rest – centers around Michael. In the credits to the original three seasons, Michael is cited as “the one son who had no choice but to keep [his family] together.” Now, in these credits, he’s just trying to keep himself together. And it ain’t easy.
Not much has made me laugh as much as AD. Whether it’s the chicken dances, the cut-offs, the Happy Days references, the mistaken identities within one family, or Gob’s program, I guffaw every time. Ask anyone. It’s very undignified.
But I found myself feeling genuine, heart-rending pity and sadness for Michael. There were still funny moments, but there were far more moments during which my mouth hit the floor. What is this feeling? Could it be love? “I know what an erection feels like, Michael. No, it’s like my heart is getting hard.” (See, that’s one of them – every time, I laugh at that line. Every damn time.) Michael had always been, indeed, the one who kept the family together. However, time has passed him by. He’s no longer the most capable one of the Bluths. At least, he probably isn’t; if it turns out that he is, the family is in real trouble. Where Michael was, in the first three seasons, forced to live in the model home and to try desperately to save the family business due to forces beyond his control, now he’s the one who’s made all the terrible decisions – and he has nowhere else to go but George Michael’s dorm room. He has no one to turn to except my second-favorite vertigo-sufferer, Lucille 2. And he doesn’t see that he’s fallen. Even Gob could see it when he was, yet again, the lowest man on the totem pole. Michael doesn’t, and can’t. It is really, really sad. Who knew?
I do hope that they bring some more funny in future episodes, because that’s why we’re all here, after all. The old cast is excellent, obviously: Jason Bateman as Michael, Jeffrey Tambor as George Senior, Will Arnett as Gob, Jessica Walter as Lucille, Liza Minnelli as Lucille 2, Alia Shawkat as Maeby, and even the chinless Michael Cera as George Michael. They clearly enjoy working together, on this Beatles’ roof concert of a season. There are some bonuses, too: in a flashback, we have Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as younger versions of Lucille and George, and the two comedians (Wiig especially) are note-perfect. I hope there’s more of that. I really do. As surprised and, in a way, delighted as I was to feel my heart getting hard for Michael’s sake, I don’t want this shining beacon of comedy gold to melt into a goopy mess of sentimentalism. We’re all sentimental about AD, but we’re all here to laugh.
*This review is already out of date, since the whole “season” is available all at once, and I’m writing as if there will be another episode to watch next week. Indulge me. I’m old-fashioned.