So far, we’ve published a recap with the best visual gags, collection of guest stars, and GIF tribute, but one aspect of Arrested Development season four we haven’t covered yet is: the characters themselves. Or at least not with any substantial depth, outside of appreciating Tobias’s The Thing costume. So, today, I pass along a Bluth/Funke Power Rankings, listing the nine main characters from worst to best, as pertains to their scenes and episodes in season four. Just because one of them is low doesn’t mean they weren’t great; it just means Gob was better.
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.
It’s impossible to talk about Lindsay Bluth and not mention Portia’s face, so: I’m mentioning Portia’s glossy face. Moving on, the initial Lindsay episode, “Indian Takers,” was at an immediate disadvantage because so much of it was spent setting up jokes for Tobias’s “A New Start” and the second Lindsay episode, “Red Hairing.” The intentionally misleading India trip, the visit to James Carr, the C.W. Swappigan’s dinner, these were all moments that either grew funnier later on in the season or were so ensemble-based that giving all the credit to Lindsay would be unfair. “Red Hairing” was a much stronger Lindsay showcase, with her inability to throw away money and “Rich, pretty, thin, Sally Sitwell’s not even that hot” as personal favorite moments. Portia de Rossi was given more to do as Lindsay here than in the original run, and she was up to the task; unfortunately, she mainly interacted with two of the more boring new characters, Marky Bark and Herbert Love, which knocks her down a few spots.
If you were to ask 100 Arrested Development fans who their favorite character is, I’d wager that the split would go: 40 Tobias, 30 Gob, 30 etc. Think how many of your favorite AD lines were uttered by everyone’s favorite analrapist and, see, even now, I can’t go a sentence without quoting the bluest of Blue Men. One of the things that made Tobias “Onyango” Funke so memorable was that the writers never overused him — he was a supporting character who got many of the choice lines, and the reason why his sexuality jokes never got old, outside of the fact that they were consistently hilarious, was that they were strung out over a course of three seasons. It feels weird saying this, but two Tobias episodes was one too many. Tobias’s trip to India? Great. Pedophilia? Awesome. Mystery Science Theater 3000? Beautiful. But the Tobias material slightly suffered because: 1) the acknowledgement that his poorly worded phrases are a family in-joke slightly ruined tarnished the gag (as Tobias might put it), and 2) I felt bad for the poor guy. Tobias’s desire to become an actor was one of the key driving elements in seasons one-three, but after he turns down a six-figure job at Austerity, to continue his life’s goal, I was honestly upset. I wasn’t rooting for Tobias to succeed anymore; I was mad at him for not literally cashing in. Still, that was minor quibble to all the other goodness around him, from the visual gags, like Tobias’s inability to sit in a chair like a normal person, to the longer payoffs, such as wondering why Tobias was half-dressed as the Thing at the beginning of “A New Start,” and most everything in-between (“ANUSTART,” David Cross’s fantastic rapport with Maria Bamford, Ambiguously Gay Duo references, that poor duck). More than any other character, I was most worried coming into season four that the writers might blow it when it comes to Tobias, but for the most part, they don’t have a mess on their hands.
Outside of Jeremy Piven’s nightclub “And,” the lasting image of season four of Arrested Development was George-Michael, at once the formerly and current George Maharis, punching Michael in the face. Michael may not have felt a thing, but it was a monumental moment in the show’s history, the obedient son lashing out at his disruptive father in a way Michael always wishes he could have with his dad. In a short amount of time, George-Michael went from passive to passive aggressive to all-out aggressive, and it suits the character perfectly. He’s in over his head with FaceBlock, partially because of his own braggadocio and partially because of Maeby’s word-of-mouth, and at a certain point, it dawns on him that the fervor has reached such a pitch that he has no control over it. So he doubles down on something he does have control over — his relationship with his dad — and takes out his FaceBlock anger on him. The fact that they’re Eskimo Brothers probably has something to do with it, too, as does, as viewers know and he’ll eventually realize, how similar the Bluth boys are, right down to their passion for senoritas. Another reason George-Michael is so high: “Blockheads” contains one of my favorite jokes, when we find out the identity of the all-male Sudden Valley guests. That was so good that I can forgive season four’s lack of a conclusive ending.
Why is Maeby, as oft-forgotten as any main character on AD, so high? Well, it could be because I knew it was someone underneath all that shaman makeup but I didn’t know it was her, or because I wish the Gangie series was a real, or because all the voicemail messages left on the Fünke phone distracted from the one that really mattered (“Also, Tobias, you got a callback for something called The Big Bang Theory,” delivered by an unseen Keri Russell), or because she became her mom’s pimp, or because she’s still in high school and dating a boy named Perfecto, or because she catches herself before eating Parmesean cheese and mustard, but mostly, it’s because she yelled “c*nt punt” during her Obies acceptance speech. Guess this Internet thing is really catching on.
Hello Gob, my old friend, I’m so happy to see you again. Remember those hypothetical 30 people I mentioned earlier, the ones who picked Gob as their favorite character? I’m one of them, so I was ecstatic with how “Colony Collapse” and “A New Attitude” turned out (the latter was my favorite episode of the 15). They were as self-assured as Gob and likely season four’s strongest standalone episodes, especially “Attitude,” which made an outlandish premise — Tony and Gob f*ck wearing the other’s face — seem plausible. Will Arnett slips back into Gob mode with such ease that the sin of Up All Night has all but been erased from memory, without even needing the assistance of a Forget Me Now. Gob’s actively involved with so many of the stories, from driving the limo with Maria Bramford to dropping by George Sr.’s resort with a bee colony in the backseat to drinking some Mike’s Hard Lemonades with Michael, that, in some way, it feels like season four was more his story than anyone’s. The sound of Bluth family silence was disturbed by GET AWAY GET AWAY STAY AWAY STAY AWAY, and I couldn’t be happier.