For a TV season that seemed to demand multiple viewings, I only just recently gave Arrested Development’s fourth season another watch. And, as predicted, it got better (or, “It Gets Better”). For one, this time I was going into it with more reasonable expectations, rather than the mixture of glee and uncertainty I carried into the series’ revival in the first place. This is definitely a fanboy thing to say, but it could be that I was just so worried that it would be a disaster that I couldn’t fully enjoy it. Secondly, this time the plot density and odd structure of the episodes weren’t a surprise, so I knew what I was getting into from the very beginning. Having seen it before, the plot was also obviously easier to follow this time; now I could actually tell you, for example, what the hell was going on with George Sr.’s wall construction storyline, or the exact machinations that led to GOB and Tony Wonder somehow sleeping with each other.
Some of the observations and comments about the fourth season, after two viewings and two years of hindsight…
* I still have to fault the episode order, and the placement of all the VERY plot-heavy eps right up front. Buster’s episode, for instance, ended up being only tangentially related to the rest of the season’s storyline and was more or less a stand-alone. With a few tweaks, it could’ve been placed fourth or fifth in the season (rather than 14th) if for no other reason than to break up the plot onslaught of the opening six episodes. Getting a big dose of Tony Hale (who’s barely in the season outside of his episode) would’ve added some variety to the cast early on, as it’s basically nothing but Michael, George, Lindsay and Tobias in the opening six, with a decent amount of Lucille and some George-Michael in the first ep. Also, making Buster’s episode fourth in the running order would’ve allowed for a “Fore-Hand” joke and…..y’know what, I’ll leave the silly jokes to the experts. Never mind.
* Buster’s episode featured several of Tony Hale’s then-current and future Veep co-stars — Diedrich Bader, Lennon Parham, Phil Reeves, Andy Buckley, even Zach Woods showed up. Holy crap, Zach Woods’ character was great on that show, they need to find a way to get him back for an episode in between ‘Silicon Valley’ breaks. His scene verbally destroying Jonah was incredible; the sight of Zach Woods decimating what was essentially a Zach Woods character already was mind-blowing.
* The opening credits featured different little musical cues for each character. You didn’t really notice them the first time since they often didn’t make sense until you actually saw the episode, i.e. a woodblock for George Michael’s episode.
* Also, while we’re talking about picking up references before they’re actually made, the show is (as you’d expect) absolutely full of them. Michael and Lucille 2 are humming the “Getaway” song before the GOB episode that actually introduces it, for instance.
* Continuing the ostrich theme that runs through the season, Maeby’s high school’s team mascot is the Ostriches.
* The final episode doesn’t end on the usual “on the next…” teaser (it’s saved for later) but rather it immediately cuts to the closing credits and, in an unusual move for the show, there’s a song playing. I didn’t notice it the first time since I may have still been laughing and/or shocked over George-Michael punching Michael in the face. Anyway, the song is called “Boomerang” by Lucy Schwartz and it’s awesomely catchy.
* Joke I didn’t notice the first time #1: a character uses the preface “get this…” every time they reference Beverly Hills. As in, “the gala took place at a hotel in, get this, Beverly Hills.” I have to believe this is Mitch Hurwitz making an in-joke about an actual unknown person, yet if only we knew the context!
* There’s very little Kitty in the season, which is unfortunate since I’m president of the Judy Greer fan club.
* It’s a sign of how good Steve Holt’s makeup, wig and physical difference was that, even watching a second time, I still totally didn’t realize it was Steve Holt (!) until the show revealed it.
* Didn’t realize this until going some reading online, but the weird mustard-and-parmesan cheese snack various characters are eating at the model home is a specific joke. Martin Mull plays both Gene Parmesan on AD and he played Colonel Mustard in the old “Clue” movie. All I say to that is GOOD LORD, who thinks this stuff up?
* All of the Fantastic Four stuff seemed especially timely given the recent disaster of a movie, and I think I can safely say that even Tobias might’ve done a better job with the Four than Josh Trank. Though, get this, Josh Trank was actually in an episode! He has a cameo as one of the many process servers who give Tobias a cease-and-desist notice for his use of the Fantastic Four’s trademarks. In hindsight, that was probably the highlight of Trank’s whole F4 experience.
* The character Lucille is playing in the F4 musical is an actual obscure villain from the comic books. I guess they had to use one of the few female villains in order to get Lucille roped in, though I was wondering why a more well-known villain wasn’t used. Then again, you had Tobias as a doctor who was always bringing doom to himself and others….he was both an FBI mole and dressed as a mole in the “Mr. F” episode of S3…and the word “analrapist” sounds a wee bit like “Annihilus”….holy crap, was Tobias supposed to be Dr. Doom, Mole Man and Annihilus wrapped into one? Now I kind of want to rewatch again to see if Tobias is wearing Doom’s traditional green-and-gray colours the whole time.
* Joke I didn’t notice the first time #2: the “coincidence” musical cue popping up at many times, akin to the old “Mr. F” jingle.
* Speaking of hidden crap, check this one out for being a particular hidden gem. Lindsey repurposes the old “You’re Killing Me, Buster” banner as a campaign sign for Lucille 2, which ties into the running joke about the family using that same damn banner over and over again. Anyway, Buster is standing on that very same banner when he momentarily (?) sees Lucille 2’s body sprawled on the staircar’s steps. A hint towards Buster being accused of “killing” Lucille 2, and a hint towards that murder mystery (presuming she’s really dead) being the main thrust of Season 5.
* Let me complain about the season structure again, and I’ll also wonder what the opposite of ‘jarring’ is. If something is jarring, it’s generally suddenly off-putting, whereas in S4, the general realization that you haven’t seen a character in several episodes is….not ‘jarring’ since it isn’t sudden but it’s also like, “hey, we basically haven’t seen George in four episodes.” I’m pretty sure Michael is the only character in every single episode, though it at least *seems* like Lucille is around a lot; she seems to have significant roles in every episode. For the others, GOB basically doesn’t show up until midseason, Buster (as mentioned) is essentially not even in the season at all aside from his solo episode, George-Michael essentially vanishes through episodes 2-10 until becoming the star of the last five, Tobias/Lindsay/George all vanish in the last five episodes, and Maeby is also basically not there until that last stretch as well, though her being a peripheral figure is kind of a part of her storyline.
* And finally, we have a Blendin sighting! As we all know, “Blendin” is the fake company name the FBI uses for their undercover operations spying on the Bluth family. Spotting the various Blendin businesses is one of the highlights of the first three seasons (since they’re everywhere, from very early in the series) but I didn’t think there were any in S4 until boom, right there, guy who’s cleaning the floor in the condo’s hallway, it’s Blendin Maintenance.