In re-watching old episodes of Arrested Development before season four, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the show’s then-topical jokes still worked. There’s, of course, all the Saddam Hussein material, particularly in season three, but it’s the throwaway gags that I was happiest to realize hadn’t horribly dated, something like William Hung’s Hung Jury, which was so knowingly ridiculous that it’s somehow even funnier in 2013 than 2006. The beginning of “Queen B,” however, in which we’re introduced to and filled in on Lucille’s story with The Real Asian Prison Housewives of the Orange County White Collar Prison System was bad now and it’s going to be even worse in a year. That one misdeed alone drops Lucille to last place, even if I loved her pun-making delight and AHHHHHHHH GENE YOU DID IT AGAIN. A note to Netflix: Lucille (great legs, btw) might shoot all the way up to #1 if deleted scenes of her verbal fight with Lucille #2 are ever released.
#8. George, Sr.
I had a mini-problem with Jeffrey Tambor seemingly deciding to play George Sr. the exact same way as Oscar (which is part of the joke, yes, but I missed Oscar’s sanded-away eccentricities), but my main criticism of the eldest Bluth’s episodes, “Borderline Personalities” and “Double Crossers,” was that they suffered from an overload of exposition. There was so much plot involving walls and drugs and shady deals and George W. Bush and $15,000 glasses of lemonade and low-high tax plans and CGI bees (BEADS?!?) that the writers had little room to include, y’know, actual jokes. And the ones that landed were often delivered by the supporting characters, played by John Slattery and Mary Lynn Rajskub. It’s tough to compete against Roger Sterling. Just ask Burt Peterson.
If any Bluth got the short end of the straw, it was Buster. He rarely appeared in other character’s episodes, which actually made sense from a plot development standpoint. One of season four’s biggest arcs was how the Bluth family dealt with Lucille going to prison, and naturally, it’s Buster who’s the most lost, in that he didn’t know what to do with his life anymore and he was literally absent for much of the 15 episodes. Nearly all his screen time was in “Off the Hook,” which was stellar, though not enough to vault him into the top-three. But he did have two of season four’s finest sight gags: catching Lucille’s smoke in his mouth and the montage at beginning of “Hook,” where he compensates for his mother’s absence by, among other activities, making martinis (“Mother’s breakfast”) for no one. For a brief time, it seemed like the “Buster loves mom” joke was going too far (not in a “oh no they didn’t” sense, but rather, they hung around for too long a time), but that worry was undercut when Buster admitted that if he went any further, he might be institutionalized. (Also, that “it looked a little like that Vince Vaughn movie, Psycho” narration was a stoke of genius.) There were other moments of brilliance in there, too (Blind Side Monster, working as a drone pilot next to “Gabe,” his security camera dance), but the biggest takeaway was that Buster’s not a Motherboy anymore — he’s a Motherman, one who’s sick and tired of being pushed around. He’s got a giant hand and he knows how to use it, as Herbert Love knows all too well. Now: LET’S. GET. JUICED.
Having the first episode dedicated to Michael Bluth did him no favors. There was no time to adjust to the new storytelling structure — the show jumped right into it, and if you didn’t follow, oh well. I’m looking forward to rewatching “Flight of the Phoenix” because I’m sure it plays better the second time around, once you know what the hell is going on, because on an initial viewing, it’s fairly unspectacular. The episode literally begins with the Narrator clearing his throat, signaling that some time is going to be spent dusting off the scrapbooks, and Michael is mainly used as a conduit to get the characters to interact with one another (think his going from family member to member, to get their signatures). Still, Michael had one of season four’s biggest character developments, one that I thought worked beautifully: the writers embraced his misery. By that, I mean, he was both miserably desperate (you’d have to be, to kiss Lucille 2) and miserably, well, miserable. He’s a crappy father who can’t take a hint, he sells out his wife’s death so he can sleep with a woman, he drones on for hours at a time about the best ways to establish a fair voting system. Jason Bateman plays the new Michael with aplomb, and he’s not just the straight man anymore, but the Michael sections involved three of my biggest criticisms of the new episodes: occasional over reliance on guest stars (the Ron Howard material dragged), scenes that went on for way too long (the aforementioned voting discussion in the dorm never hit “Rake Gag” territory, where something happens for such a long time that it goes from funny to unfunny to funny again; it was just unfunny), and abundance of plot, with few jokes sprinkled in. Plus, that shower scene. Ew.