Arrested Development: 4.05 “A New Start”
Posted by therebelprince on June 4, 2013
We continue our Arrested Development fourth season marathon with an analysis of what everyone’s favourite analrapist has been up to during the wilderness years.
“I assure you, there’s nothing ambiguous about me.” — Tobias Fünke
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the series.
As usual, we’ll take a look at the episode and the season, followed by some musings and callbacks, and our growing list of suspects in the Who [bleeped] [bleep] mystery.
4.05 A New Start
written by Dean Lorey & Jim Vallely
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
A New Start is rivaled only by Off the Hook as the most utterly ridiculous installment of the season. But then, what else could we expect from Tobias? He’s a character who should have worn out his welcome years ago, and I have a feeling that David Cross – who seems quite outspoken about how tiring he finds much mainstream comedy – would have been one of the first to grow tired of his Arrested Development role had the series become a Seinfeld-style hit, but the writers have found the right way to treat his cluelessness and misguided ambition in season 4.
Picking up at the same point as Indian Takers, Tobias books passage for India (narrating for himself as he does so) and engaging in a game of near-misses with Lindsay during the journey. This was one of the most evident gags from Indian Takers, so doesn’t generate a lot of laughs, but Tobias dressing to fly still gets some good mileage out of his “mini sarong” and the cut-offs underneath. David Cross’ misadventures in India are also not as mindblowing as perhaps they should be, leading me to suspect the main purpose of his trip to India was one of the first things the writers conceived of when they hit upon the idea to have characters meet across episodes. Of course, it does bring back two of the series’ most enjoyable, twisted jokes: Tobias has a run of medical emergencies, and he’s treated by none other than Dr. “Wordsmith” Fishman (Ian Roberts), now teaching in India, of course. If there’s one callback I could’ve used more of, it would be Dr. Fishman, but “he broke his skull in two places” makes up for his overall absence from the season.
Still, once Tobias returns to the USA, things take off in earnest. I wasn’t that fussed by the character’s paltry improv attempts in Indian Takers, but the script here – credited to Lorey and Vallely but probably the result of many contributors, as most seasons of TV these days are – manages to intertwine the various sides of the character in perfect unison. As DeBrie Bardeaux, the failed actress at the Garden Grove Methadone Clinic, Maria Bamford is simply brilliant. The character is so zoned out the entire time, yet somehow there’s a meaning and an earnestness to everything she does. (The story of how Ron Howard made Fantastic Four in six days, told entirely via Polaroid, is hysterical.) DeBrie never gets recognised for her role as the Invisible Girl (“you can always tell a Milford man”) but thankfully she has her Straightbait day(s?) to fall back on. Parodying low-budget porn probably isn’t very challenging but still, respect to the series for making everything about it so awkward. (“I’ll show you how not gay I am.”) Perhaps Cross’ more experimental comedy background allows the writers to employ more of a comic vignette quality to A New Start where they felt compelled to create more of a narrative structure for Jason Bateman or Portia de Rossi. Or perhaps it’s the fact that, unlike Lindsay and George Sr, Tobias is slightly less connected to the season’s climax, so they’re free to tell the twisted tale of Tobias and DeBrie. Either way, any episode that features a “butter face” and John Beard catching a predator is A-okay in my book.
It’s no surprise that Tobias was supposed to be a recurring character back in season one. His original conception is relatively one-note – would-be actor who sounds pretty gay – and the perils of writing for such an individual figure might surely have taxed the show’s writers on a weekly basis. Instead, Cross brought out something vulnerable in Tobias, developing the irony of the psychiatrist in denial and becoming a tiny comic foil to Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, and Will Arnett (not to mention Portia de Rossi). Yet moreso than any of the Bluths, Tobias had – before the series started – finished law school and actually achieved things in his chosen field. His development was arrested far later than any of the others, and the tragedy of Tobias is that he could have achieved so much if he’d just accept a few simple facts. Michael returned to Phoenix. George decided to build the Wall. Tobias is the third character to turn against his better instincts, rejecting a $120,000 a year job offer from Lucille Austero to pursue his dream. (“Maybe I should get a regular job, I do have a law degree”, protests DeBrie. Tobias responds, “I know, I know, and I’m a doctor, but let’s not settle”.) So perhaps I’m wrong to write off his India trip as a failed conceit. When a medical student tells him he has the same gifts as those folk on that new show, Laugh-In, that’s all the motivation Tobias needs to stay on the path less traveled.
The sweeter moments between Lindsay and Tobias (most recently the Thanksgiving duck miracle) show the way in which this little man could truly be a romantic figure in someone’s life, and DeBrie – a figure so close to pathos – fits that mold. There’s a cruel irony in Tobias finally being the one to leave Lindsay, rather than the other way around. She can’t even keep her potentially homosexual husband (well, we’ll look at that little mystery when we get to Smashed!) – although we’ll learn in Señoritis that both parts of the marriage decided to break it off almost simultaneously. Perhaps the most apt line in the entire season is Tobias’ “can I just improv my way out of a marriage?” It encapsulates everything about his character in one line. Everything about Tobias’ self-deception is heartbreaking, particularly as we see him just about successfully analysing DeBrie’s psychological state (even if it also involves him detailing his knowledge of the Straightbait series). They’re almost a cute couple.
So, while Lindsay is off gallivanting in the wilderness with Marky Bark, Tobias attempts to capitalise on DeBrie’s five minutes of fame. Somehow it seems perfectly natural to find Tobias dressed as if he’s out of the 1920s, channeling a boardwalk huckster to sell “the original Sue Storm”. (Bamford’s “erotic Sue Storm” pose is to die for.) This should be the ultimate rejection, the thing that pushes Tobias toward self-realisation. Instead, it just convinces him that he’s like any Hollywood actor – destined to spend weeks, if not months, if not years, on the street before things work out. There is perhaps nothing more upsetting and simultaneously hilarious as Tobias getting busted by John Beard (having quit the news after the housing market crash, he now has a series called To Entrap a Predator) as a sex offender. The scene is divine, and I knew it would be as soon as we found out one of the tertiary police officers’ name is Officer Three. John Beard hides in the cupboard to put on a little girl voice while Tobias drinks lemonade (what else?) and shouts out absurd lines like “Daddy needs to get his rocks off”. Perhaps they should’ve guessed the truth from seeing a guy in a Thing costume with cut-offs, but Tobias’ unique way of speaking – combined with his lack of knowledge of Maeby’s age – is all it takes to bring him down. (“I like to think of her as fifteen”.)
A New Start is a very broad episode that sets Tobias free in the world and takes its humour from wherever it can be found. His second episode, Smashed, is one of my three favourite episodes of the season, and gains a lot of its strength from its more isolated setting. Still, after four episodes of plot set-up and preparation (which play much better on rewatch), A New Start gives the season a much-needed injection of energy. It feels as if the first part of the season was setting up these characters for contentment, from George Michael’s internet start-up to Michael’s luck with women. Now, Michael’s in the shit, Oscar has just found out enough to ruin George, and Tobias is behind bars. I’d be interested to track whether fan enjoyment of individual episodes has any correlation to Bluth success (or lack thereof). Given how most critics have cited the second half of the season as more enjoyable, I’d have to say there’s something in that.
Thoughts and musings:
- So I guess there was no point at which all nine cast members are in the one shot? While Buster and George Michael don’t really engage with the family outside of the early meeting, all nine of them do appear at various points in that scene. (When we finally see George Michael’s role in It Gets Better, Buster is mysteriously absent from the room – making me think that that it’s another little joke referencing the production circumstances.)
- Tobias’ instrument is the only one that doesn’t – for me – specifically invoke the character, being a saxophone.
- ANUSTART. Heh.
- For the first time, all nine cast members appear in the episode, although Michael Cera is only heard, not seen.
- Lindsay’s “I don’t think all the leading men in Hollywood are gay” joke doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, although it reminds me of the series’ self-referential joke about Simpsons writers.
- For 2000 rupees, Tobias would go down on Matthew McConaughey. (That’s $36, Ron Howard informs us.)
- That image of Tobias and Lindsay in their respective beds, hers a Venus shell and his a Hollywood sign, might just haunt me forever.
- While the death of Ed Helms’ real estate is bleakly funny – “ruined and despondent” after the housing crash – I’m not sure I get Tobias’ joke about making sure he lived a pointless life. That doesn’t seem to much like a clueless double entendre as just… a nothing.
- The hospital sequence in The B Team seemed out of place within the structure of this episode, suggesting it was a scene filmed for some other point, and then set adrift. Here, we realise what that scene was foreshadowing. We now see the first time Tobias rushed DeBrie to hospital, leading to one of my favourite sequences with David Cross screaming “be careful of her face, she’s an actress!” and Nelson Franklin’s doctor responding matter-of-factly, “Oh my god, that’s butter face”.
- Undercover cop and his undercover kid: “We’re not gonna kill him, we’re just gonna hurt them”. (Perhaps it’s Take Your Kid to Work Day?)
- There’s some very slick writing here, such as DeBrie offhandedly discussing her knowledge of the three-strike law.
- I want a spin-off featuring the hospital staff, who seem to delight in Tobias’ frequent appearances.
- Lucille 2 was saved from her ostrich experience by her “second layer of makeup”. HA!
- People not at Lucille’s trial this week: Michael, George Michael, George Sr, Lindsay, Tobias. (I’m sensing a pattern here.)
- Homeless Dad is an in-flight movie choice.
- The Fünkes have dinner at a China Garden after their failed Thanksgiving attempt. Who knew it would be the last happy moment they shared as a family?
- The constant threats of lawsuit over the Fantastic Four copyright recall the band Arrested Development and their in-series counterpart Motherboy.
- Tobias and Lindsay having matching luggage is another example of a joke that seems to be just one of the usual “Tobias dresses like a woman” jokes but actually has major relevance to the season’s climax when Tobias and Mark plant the wrong suitcase bomb.
- Tobias eats at Klimpy’s and wears a Shémale, and later sings his song “from nothing” as he enters the Sudden Valley house.
- The law firm of Feinberg, Feinberg, Feinberg & Feinberg will ultimately represent P-Hound (who can apparently afford them?) in the FakeBlock scandal.
- Lucille 2 sings Getaway just before she’s attacked by an out-of-left-field ostrich.
- Having to be legally at least five hundred feet from the entrance to Disneyland is neat foreshadowing of the sex offender database.
- DeBrie sells her body, the latest in a series of prostitution jokes that will culminate in Lindsay. DeBrie’s wandering night on the town will intersect her with GOB and Mark Cherry (the baby-faced singer, not the baby-faced showrunner).
- Tobias doing the Charlie Brown walk in his Thing costume is just amazing on so many levels.
- There’s a hobo scoping out Imagine.
Who killed Lucille 2?
Still nothing concrete on this, but some (admittedly unlikely) names to add to the list below:
#1. Michael Bluth – owed Lucille 2 $700,000. Despite his implication that he [bleeped] his way out of it, that doesn’t really seem to fit with the timeline. So what exactly did Michael do to sort out the problem?
#2. Stan Sitwell – sold his shares to Lucille 2 and has a lot at stake against both the Wall, and the Austero-Bluth company.
#3. Lucille Bluth – leading proponent of the wall Lucille 2 is fighting against.
#4. George Bluth, Sr. – puppet of #3.
#5. Heartfire – potential puppet of #4.
#6. Oscar Bluth – had an affair with Lucille and clearly wanted to keep it quiet.
#7. China Garden – slept with Oscar, and seems like the possessive type.
#8. Tobias Fünke – he turned down a great job and then ended up on the street; might he have tried to get it again, and failed?
#9. DeBrie Bardeaux – a meth addict who we know will end up at Cinco de Cuatro, and whose boyfriend was financially involved with the victim.
#10. Cindy the Ostrich – well, clearly there’s a rivalry between these two old birds.
On the next Arrested Development: George Sr. puts his grand plan into action.