Arrested Development: 4.04 “The B Team”
Posted by therebelprince on June 4, 2013
“No Health plan!” — Imagine receptionist
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.
4.04. The B Team
written by Mitch Hurwitz & Jim Vallely
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
Flight of the Phoenix charted Michael’s story from season 3’s finale to the moment, six months before Cinco de Cuatro, when he left for Phoenix. The B Team picks up with him there, where he’s contacted by Ron Howard, dragging him back to LA. Unsurprisingly, Michael realises the risks of studying and going it alone, and the chance of an easier buck lures him like it lures anyone to Hollywood. The way Jason Bateman plays their meeting in the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) shows how much Michael wants to be friends with Ron Howard, and by extension a celebrity. (Howard has a lot of fun mocking himself over the course of season 4, stating that he gets his movie ideas from photographs and that he names his daughters after the places they were conceived.)
Where the Wall plot is exceedingly complex – sometimes more complex than its relevance and impact on the viewer – the notion of Michael having to get his father’s signature has a much more immediate importance. Like Lindsay’s first episode, The B Team aims to show some of the loneliness that exists in Michael’s life when he’s estranged from the family. While it’s successful in this – and in introducing some new characters – the placement of this episode within the season worries me somewhat. We won’t get much more Michael until the climax of Blockheads at season’s end, so stranding him in a subplot about scraping the bottom of the Hollywood reject bin seems a little bit cold for the show’s former protagonist. The entire sequence at Imagine Entertainment seems slightly self-indulgent, playing around with the Ron Howard/Jerry Bruckheimer rivalry, and playing off the image of Michael sauntering into the building with Carl Weathers, Andy Richter, and Warden Gentles. It’s funny as a sideplot (and one assumes the pun in the title refers directly to how small-fry these characters are within the narrative) but, whether it’s deliberate or not, the marginalising of Michael Bluth has an unsettling effect on the season’s structure. (The gag of “Simply the Best” playing on the Warden’s iPad also feels tired in 2013, after Community and Happy Endings – not to mention Family Guy – exhausted that particular avenue of comedy.)
Yet perhaps I’m looking at things the wrong way around. Why does Michael need to be at the centre of everything? He was the nominal anchor of the more typical Arrested Development but the point of this season’s structure is to allow each character to spread their wings. Perhaps his comparatively minimal relevance to everyone else’s Cinco de Cuatro climax justifies Michael bowing out of the season so early. On rewatching the season, Michael is quite neatly seeded into most other characters’ storylines as an extension of their own issues, and his simple mission here – gain George, Sr.’s signature – is the start of a running plot that ends with the great recurring joke of Michael telling everyone they’re out of the movie. And truthfully, even though the episode’s only main cast of note are Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor, this episode has a number of delights that impress. Isla Fisher debuts as new character Rebel Alley, Ron Howard’s daughter (not that Michael realises this). Fisher is great fun, played as a very down-to-earth character (from her geeky laugh to her penchant for bagpipe music), although a couple of her scenes (only a couple) have some accent issues. On first watch, Michael and Rebel’s relationship seemed to dominate the season, so I look forward to seeing how this plays out on a rewatch, when most of it has to happen through episodes nominally focused on other characters. All of Michael’s main relationships have involved some level of deception whether on Michael’s part (Sally Sitwell), the love interest’s part (Maggie Lizer), or something else entirely (Rita). Here, Rebel proves to be the first legitimate prospect possibly since Tracey, but Michael overselling his movie producer credentials threatens to get in the way. It’s another of these trademark moments of Michael selling out his ethics. This season, no Bluth wants to be a Bluth, so they’re all abbreviating their surname (the film appears to be the “Untitled Michael B. Project”). Michael is the logical endpoint of this attitude, always willing to change the facts to impress a date, even when the lie (claiming George Michael is only 7) can’t hope to last very long.
A lot of the Imagine business feels inconsequential, but it’s a joy to have Judy Greer back on board. As with the lessened homosexuality jokes surrounding Barry and Tobias, Kitty’s trademark breast reveal is shown only in photographic format. Instead, Greer gets to exercise her best paranoid acting, from the righteous “women can be movie executives, you pig!” to one of the episode’s highlights as she misreads Michael saying “Watch your back”. The Kitty/Michael relationship is yet another example of this series’ complexity. Kitty sees Michael as someone far worse than he is but in doing so she makes him feel justified in his self-righteousness, when in fact Michael is still worse than he sees himself.
Meanwhile, The B Team tosses a number of odd little moments featuring recurring characters that feel perhaps more like puzzle pieces than scenes in their own right. Like any mystery, the writers probably ended up with some clues they couldn’t fit anywhere else, and so the episode occasionally veers into someone else’s territoy. We see Oscar making out with Lucille 2, mostly interested in knowing how George will be portrayed onscreen (okay, we’re not supposed to realise it’s Oscar yet, but it’s pretty clear). DeBrie collapses on the set of Weather’s Permit-ing: The Scandalmakers Maker’s Scandal and is rushed to hospital, where it’s clear she and Tobias are regular visitors. Michael has a run-in with a limo, which we’ll later learn is being driven by GOB. Still, these gate-crashers actually make the show feel more like Arrested Development than it yet has this season. (Particularly the mischievous Barry Zuckerkorn runner mentioned in the “thoughts and musings” section below.) They’re the final pieces of groundwork being laid for the series to take off properly next week with A New Start.
For a moment, the hope Michael gained in Flight of the Phoenix seems justified. He manages to get his father’s signature when George shows up at his office (although we’ll soon realise that this wasn’t intentional), he finally makes it with Rebel in a photo booth (and he won’t be the last), and – aside from his separation from George Michael – his distance from the family is working out for the better. So of course things have to come crumbling down. Ron Howard actually needs George Michael’s signature. Rebel might be Ron’s girlfriend. Nothing is as it seems in the world of Arrested Development, but Michael’s inability to be honest with himself is at least a constant.
Thoughts and musings:
- Scott Baio is back! He’s defending Barry Zuckerkorn on what appears to be a sex offender charge (“if he can’t reach, this trial’s a breach”) but his tactics don’t impress the opposition (“that’s a low blow, Loblaw”). This is actually the climax of his arc, as we’ll later see him buying a ladder with cash, and then jumping the fence at Maeby’s school. It’s not only a buried gag for Barry, but also an early marker of the sex offender jokes that will dominate A New Attitude and Blockheads.
- Ron Howard is casting for an Andy Griffith Show movie but – like certain other movies from television shows – it’s “not a done deal yet”.
- According to Barry, Ron Howard can go [bleep] himself.
- You guys, Ron Howard is kinda cute.
- Kitty files film scripts in either “active development” or “not going forward development”.
- Kitty: “This isn’t the hot tub at Bruckheimer Towers”.
- The flashbacks to scenes from Scandalmakers that we’ve seen before are not marked by the SHOWSTEALER watermark, implying that the producers were willing to pay the far cheaper rights for them.
- The series throws us another amusing joke about Michael’s dead wife when Rebel walks all over his meet-cute memory.
- The dashing John Krasinski as a Bruckheimer exec: “You’re not charring my tree”.
- Warden Gentles wrote for Rocko’s Modern Life, Carl has fallen even lower than Scandalmakers, and Andy only agreed to be part of the film once he realised how much of a dick Conan O’Brien is. It’s a real crack team you’ve got there, Michael.
- The pact that Michael makes with his father may seem pretty clear-cut here, but it will evolve several more layers, particularly in Double Crossers and Queen B.
- Orange County Imagine really is a classic Arrested Development joke. The misdirected guests at each of the buildings are great fun, and the tag – where Michael has clearly become buddies with the Imaging stuff – is a gem.
- The B Team has the smallest main cast of any episode this season, as we don’t check in with Lucille, Lindsay, George Michael, Buster, or GOB.
- The narrator is 100% correct about bagpipe music. A kid at my college played them, and to this day I have no idea if he was a genius or a troll.
- Ron mentions his brother Clint, who is of course the man behind the late Johnny Bark.
- Apparently, the inside-jargon for StreetView car drivers is “ostriches”.
- Kitty and Ron’s photo montage mirrors her photo montage from the original series with George, Sr.
- The low floors at the Imagine building are reminiscent of Being John Malkovich but they also clearly mimic the feud between the Lucilles over their apartment walls.
- Michael makes an overt reference to the Rita arc, one of my favourite storylines but clearly not a view shared by all.
- Who would’ve thought the Richter quintuplets would ever return? We won’t see Donnie the kindly schoolteacher this season (and I kinda hope we only ever see Chareth the flirt in photographic format) but we do get Andy and Rocky this time, the latter of whom causes a stir on Conan’s show.
Who killed Lucille 2?
No clear new evidence this week, since Liza Minnelli sits this one out, so we’re still on the same path:
#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.
On the next Arrested Development: Tobias tries to get his rocks off.