Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Very Short Season: Arrested Development Comes To An Abrupt End With Season Three!

The Good: Entirely funny, Good performances, Decent DVD bonus features
The Bad: SHORT, Replays less well.
The Basics: Funny, well-acted and with a strong, serialized story, Arrested Development Season Three is a hilarious conclusion to the neglected television comedy.

Recently, a friend of mine said Arrested Development was recommended to her and when she started watching it, she just did not get it. This did not, actually, surprise me. Arrested Development is one of the rare examples of an American sitcom which possesses wit. The humor is dry, the deliveries are often understated and the show does not usually spell out all of the jokes, so if one goes over your head, you're likely to be lost for some time. As well, Arrested Development is one of the rare serialized comedies, so the episodes build upon one another.

With the third season of Arrested Development, the series found itself in the odd situation of being renewed, yet getting very little support from the Fox network, where it aired. In fact, one of the ironies about the series, illustrated in this DVD set, is that the show had its aired series finale ("S.O.B.s") before the network burned off the final four episodes on a single night over a month later! I remember seeing "S.O.B.s," but I had not even heard about the other four episodes, so the real treat of Arrested Development - Season Three on DVD was being able to see the rest of the series! Because the show is serialized, this set picks up right where Arrested Development Season 2 (reviewed here!) left off, with only minimal recapping. As a result, new viewers are likely to be a bit lost from the outset.

In the third season, Michael Bluth realizes that his father, George, is not in prison when the man he visits at the prison says "family comes first" and Michael realizes George's twin brother, Oscar, is serving George's term. While Michael tries to straighten that mess out, he tries to be a better father to George-Michael, who is avoiding his cousin, Maeby after they kissed in the prior season. When Michael finds George, he learns that all of the family's legal problems may be a setup as the British may have hired George to build homes in Iraq. With George under house arrest, Michael works to find the evidence to exonerate his father and his family.

In the process, Michael falls for Rita, a British woman who has a secret of her own. As the Bluth Company rebounds from its years of bad press, Gob deals with discovering he is a father and Lindsay and Tobias move closer to a divorce. To that end, Lindsay tries to seduce her new divorce lawyer, Bob Loblaw (say it fast and you'll get the joke) with mixed results. With Lucille wearing George out with her daily needs, George starts working on escape attempts as Buster works to avoid re-enlisting in the Army.

Arrested Development, truly, is one of those shows where describing the program seldom prepares viewers for the actual experience of watching the show. Instead, this is a comedy which is filmed as if it were a documentary - including voice-over narrations from Ron Howard - and the humor is quick, dry and not accompanied by an intrusive laugh track. So, for example, in the finale, as Michael plans the celebration of the stock moving up again, he puts Tobias in charge and Tobias realizes that because the party is happening on a boat, he might need to make some changes with the Hot Cops act that he hired. He says, ". . . something a little more nautical, Hot Sailors. Or better yet, Hot Sea. . ." at which point, Michael cuts him off with letting him know Hot Sailors is fine. Because the jokes are often language-oriented and fast without any acknowledgment of the fact that a joke has been delivered, frequently those not used to watching engaging television will be lost.

And Arrested Development is laugh-out-loud funny in its final season. The episode "S.O.B.s" pokes fun at both Fox for canceling Arrested Development and shameless pandering to test markets. As Michael tries to keep the family "relatable and likable," in advance of their "Save Our Bluths" fundraiser, the episode trots on a slew of guest stars, plays off the idea that one of the characters will die and even features the final few seconds "live" (it was live at the time, but not, obviously, on the DVD). The progression of cheap gimmicks is actually hilarious and it works because the show satirizes the establishments which were killing it.

As well, the show's humor works because it is so risque. George-Michael and Maeby are teenage cousins who are sharing a room and working to resist their growing attraction for one another, which is certainly not a common conceit in television comedies (all grossness with this long-running plotline is finally eliminated by the end of this season). Gob reveals that it is his habit to seduce the third place winners in beauty pageants because of their low self-esteem and when Ann - George-Michael's ex-girlfriend - comes in third in the "Inner Beauty" Pageant at the Church And State Fair, Gob sticks to his prior pattern. At the same fair, George gives a "startled straight" speech to the wrong tent of youth and basically graphically describes his prison experiences to a bunch of young homosexuals. The result is hilarious, but it is intended for adults. One of the funniest jokes is a simple cutaway to Tobias's new businesscard. When Tobias realizes has been both an analyst and a therapist, he tries to synergize the two and name he chooses is quite unfortunate ("It's pronounced 'ah-nall-rup-ist'"). And while the whole British spy parody plotline that occupies the early part of the season might not work for some, it is hard to argue with the humor of the Japanese disaster movie parody in "Mr. F."

Unfortunately, Arrested Development Season Three has only thirteen episodes, so many viewers are likely to feel cheated by the lack of content, especially compared to the prior two seasons which tend to be priced the same! On DVD, there are three episodes which feature decent commentary tracks and virtually every episode has deleted or extended scenes. There is also a blooper reel and a featurette about the last day of shooting the series (which insinuates the forthcoming film!).

To better understand the weird story of Arrested Development, it helps to know who the principle characters are. The Bluth family consists of:

Michael - The effective manager of the Bluth Company, he is the middle son of George and Lucille, left in charge when George was arrested. He has since been working to keep the family together. After selflessly working to hold together the various members of the family, he tries to prioritize George-Michael while still developing his own life. In this season, he falls in love with Rita, who may be a spy and he works to discover who Nellie Bluth - a heretofore unknown Bluth whose accounts seem to be holding most of George's embezzled money - is,

Gob - The eldest son, he discovers that he is Steve Holt's father. He also runs away from that both literally and through the use of his stash of roofies. He continues his slimy ways, though he makes far fewer attempts to work as an illusionist, including hitting on anyone he can as a form of revenge against Michael,

Buster - The youngest son, he is missing a hand as a result of an encounter with a seal. Tricked into re-enlisting, he becomes an unlikely hero when Gob is captured in Iraq,

Lindsay - Michael's twin sister, she is flirtatious and vain. When Barry Zuckercorn is fired as the family's lawyer, she begins to hit on the new lawyer, Bob Loblaw, and use him to try to get a free divorce and then set her up for a life without having to work. She is looking to be with virtually anyone but Tobias and one of the season's big secrets centers around her,

Tobias - Lindsay's husband, an out of work actor and therapist who is so deep in the closet only he seems to not know he is gay. He gets hair plugs, with disastrous results, which nearly cost him his life. He and Lindsay try to reconcile, but discover their mutual attraction for other men to be a stumbling block,

Maeby - Lindsay and Tobias's daughter, as proven by troublingly graphic photographs, she is a fifteen year-old who has swindled her way into working at a major studio as a script doctor, producer and director. After sharing a kiss with George-Michael, she freaks out and works to avoid him as best she can. In order to prove how the progressive beauty pageants still pander to traditional notions of beauty, she enters the Inner Beauty Pageant as her wheelchair-bound alter ego, Shirley,

George-Michael - The nervous son of Michael, he is attracted to Maeby and works to resist his attraction. Disappointed by Michael's lack of attention, he works to become a good worker and student, while slowly developing a backbone,

Lucille - The matriarch of the family, she is essentially a drunk who cares only for herself. With George under house arrest, she finally gets some with some regularity and neglects Buster as a result. She schemes constantly to keep the family fortune,

Oscar - George's twin brother, he is imprisoned in George's place, but is largely absent for the season,

and George - Under house arrest as the charges against him are investigated, he tires quickly of his wife's many advances and he makes regular escape attempts. He is a corrupt adulterer who has a strong survival instinct, which is engaged usually at the peril of his family.

Arrested Development's characters work so well because the cast is exceptional and they play off each other wonderfully. Jason Bateman holds the show together with his dry presentation of Michael Bluth. Bateman and Michael Cera (George-Michael) play off the absurdities of Tony Hale (Buster), Will Arnett (Gob) and David Cross (Tobias) to make the season hilarious. While Cross and Hale are used for physical comedy, Portia de Rossi does a ton of the show's sarcastic and more subtle humor. The ensemble plays to their strengths and by this season, they all have their parts down pat.

Arrested Development works out wonderfully on DVD, but because the season is so short, it does not replay as well as some of the others. As well, it holds up less well on its own because it is essentially the final act in a serialized story. Ideally, one should pick up all three seasons and under those circumstances, the third season is indispensable.

For other works with Jason Bateman, please check out my reviews of:
Couples Retreat
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Arrested Development - Season 1


For other television reviews, please click here to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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