Arrested Development: 4.09 “Smashed”
Posted by therebelprince on June 6, 2013
We continue to hammer through Arrested Development‘s fourth season, with a musical and a rehab clinic and some serious development in what happened on the night of Cinco de Cuatro…
“Patients doing pills on a literal pile of garbage? That’s not what we’re about at Austerity.” — Lucille 2
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the series.
written by Dean Lorey & Richard Rosenstock
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
I’m filled with self-doubts, particularly as a reviewer and consumer of entertainment. So when I say I like or love something, it’s usually with the understanding that I want you to make up your own opinions (and will probably kowtow before you if you can make a convincing argument). But if you don’t enjoy the sight of Tommy Tune, Tobias Fünke, Maria Bamford, and Emmett Richter playing the Fantastic Four in a Broadway-style musical, then you’re watching the wrong show. Simple as that. Smashed is possibly the strongest episode yet of the season (or at least the beginning of four Arrested Development classics), perhaps because it builds on everything that the show’s fourth season has developed yet stays true to its core storyline. Condensed into such a short timeframe (Tobias’ release from prison only occurs about a week before Cinco de Cuatro), the episode is able to play out yet more of the writers’ bizarre fantasies while also tailoring to the improvisational and comic talents of its varied cast.
So we find Tobias released from prison after a “particularly vicious beating with a soup ladle” and a phone call in which he reluctantly agrees to take that $120,000 job at Austerity, the clinic run by Lucille Austero’s brother Argyle (Tommy Tune). Tune’s cameo is possibly the most bizarre the show has ever done, yet he fits perfectly into what is almost a literal fantasy world. (Variations on the word “fantastic” occur throughout the episode; Argyle himself is “Mr. F”) Also residing at Austerity are Emmett Richter (he’s a hoarder), Mark Cherry the baby-faced singer (still cute), and – in a burst of kismet – DeBrie Bardeaux, who reminds Mark of his grandma (admittedly “a real sick version”). It’s a twisted way to spend a half-hour of the show’s life, and your satisfaction with Smashed may depend on how much you like ham. (Cue Argyle: “I don’t like it. I love it!”) For much of the episode, the script is freed from the obligations of fitting in outside concerns like the Wall and the politics of Newport Beach, instead allowing this ragtag group of social rejects to put together a musical that may prove to be their return to society. Watching the rehearsal process feels like watching a delicately-scripted improv piece, if that lunatic definition makes any sense. Emmett is playing the guy with the flame (so sue me, I’m not a comic book fan) with his face blurred the entire time; Tommy Tune is the big one; DeBrie recaptures her former glow as Sue Storm; and Tobias is, of course, The Thing. (He’s legally obligated to tell everyone he’s a registered sex offender, which is another joke that pays off in spades.) It’s a strong conceit that makes room for little jokes like DeBrie’s tooth falling out through to long callbacks like Tobias’ astounding showreel (where, hey, we finally see his House audition! Unsurprisingly, “the graft is rejecting the host”).
For about half a day, Tobias seems like he might be the first Arrested Development character to renege on his fantasy life and choose growth. Instead, he quickly sees the chance to take this miserable excuse for a stage show to Broadway, and all he would need (to turn this 8 minute preview into a marketable piece) is $700,000, conveniently the exact amount of money Michael Bluth owes Ms. Austero. So now they’re gonna use the Cinco de Cuatro festivities as a preview and Tobias is tasked with recouping the money Michael has pissed away building Sudden Valley.
By effectively concluding Michael’s storyline back in The B Team, Arrested Development has tried to seed him through most of the other characters’ plots to fill in what happened on those last fateful days between meeting Rebel and getting roofied by GOB. In Smashed, this leads to the episode’s flabbiest moments when Michael runs into the Austero siblings at dinner. The narrator goes into a surprisingly unnecessary amount of exposition about Michael’s dinner with Lindsay (I assume so that the context makes sense when the series is syndicated overseas? Seems like putting a bandaid on a gunshot wound to me.) but it does lead to Michael’s self-righteous line “you’re out of the movie!” which he yells to Lindsay and Tobias in quick succession, and will do so to almost every member of the family by season’s end. The Michael/George Michael phone tag bit grows tiresome, however, since it stands out as a joke we’re not going to get until we’ve seen the other side of it. Arrested Development has been very canny about either making these lines stand on their own even as we see that they’re two-sided (GOB’s confrontation with Michael in Flight of the Phoenix), obscuring them entirely (Lindsay’s moment with the Shaman in Indian Takers), or finding fun ways to restructure the scenes (as with the misadventures of Cindy the ostrich). Here though, it’s a punchline in search of some set-up, completely stranded in the middle of an otherwise fantastic episode. (Well, okay, I can’t speak ill of George Michael’s fantastic line “It’s like you always say: family first unless there’s a work thing. And then work first.”)
Michael and Tobias stop by for a quick confrontation with Ron Howard which gives all of the characters some ammunition going into the climax. Michael finally learns that Rebel is Ron’s daughter, but in the process he isolates himself completely from the great director, while Tobias gets violent. (Cue Michael: “You’re out of the movie.”) I’ll concede that, as well as Jason Bateman sells them, some of Michael’s dry responses to Tobias’ inappropriate comments are beginning to grow long in the tooth, but the sequence works because – although furthering Michael’s arc – it’s really about pushing Tobias to the place of desperation where only an easy victory with Fantastic Four will see him through. He might not really be a sex offender, but Tobias has an addiction just as strong as that of DeBrie or Emmett: his just happens to be an addiction to hope.
So it’s back to Austerity and time for the entrance of Lucille Bluth, “the C-Word from the B Ward”. Given that the dinner occurs on May 2 at the earliest, this means the entire “transformational rehearsal” sequence happens in a 48-hour time span. I’m not sure if that was deliberate, but it sure adds a 1930s “Broadway success story” film feel to the proceedings. Lucille and Tobias are such a reliable comic pairing that it’s a shame the series doesn’t unite them more often. Lucille has so much fun destroying Tobias but also raising the quality of his musical, although one wonders what Lucille 2 thinks about having her rival involved in the production. And you know what? I may be a 26-year-old dude, but I hope I have Jessica Walter’s legs, face, and talent when I’m her age. (“Maybe they should retitle this Fantastic Three and Lousy One”.)
As an episode, Smashed has the fewest callbacks of the season, but it makes up for this during a sequence with the longest time we’ve spent at Cinco thus far. Realising his risk of getting labelled a sex offender, Tobias recasts Buster as The Thing (“you’re a monster”) only for DeBrie to pass out after a drug binge fueled by Dr. Norman’s careless disposal of waste. After an ill-timed cease and desist order from lawyer Lonny Ross (you guys, Lonny Ross!), Tobias looks set to take on the role of Sue Storm – complete with Mrs. Featherbottom voice – himself. In a burst of set-up, he of course gets on the wrong boat, becoming Marky Bark’s unwitting accomplice as they prepare to detonate a bomb that will destroy Herbert Love’s diehard supporters – and, it turns out, Lindsay. Thankfully, the manic pace of the evening (and the abundance of clever lines) means that everything passes by in a whirlwind. Tobias’ last appearance (from a continuity standpoint) sees him covered in blue paint on the wrong boat, missing the premiere of his cut-rate superhero musical, about to blow up his own wife with the help of a man who can’t even tell the difference between guys or girls unless he gets them under the sheets. Seems about right.
- I didn’t bring it up in the review proper, but the series continues to hedge its bets on whether Tobias Fünke really is homosexual. I mean, his relationship with the hot seamen this season suggests it is so, yet the series has pulled back a bit on that particular running gag. Perhaps his genuine connection with DeBrie suggests he just wasn’t right for Lindsay? Or is he like the homosexual version of GOB – for the first time in his life, he’s found a friend, but poor Tobias processes it instead as sexual interest.
- The neat pun of a title makes it a fun coincidence that Smashed premiered the same weekend as the show Smash limped to its timely grave.
- Imagine Generic is the company that Ron Howard used to produce The Fantastic Four. Its logo is just a plain font saying “water drop effect”.
- I never dreamed I would live to hear Jessica Walter utter the words, “Hello, Anus Tart”. “And she never even saw the license plate.”
- Some odd bits of ADR in this episode. First Tobias: “I guess I’m gonna have to give up my dream and my love forever” (bulking up his credentials as a murder suspect?) and then from Ron: “she’s dating someone else”. It doesn’t fit into the context of the scene, but seems to exist because the writers realised Michael had never found out this piece of information, and really kinda needed to.
- Ron Howard: “I call all my barbers Floyd”.
- While the Lucille 2 line that opens this review is my favourite of the episode, I also appreciate Jason Bateman’s sincerity on “It’s my time to bathe her. She should be my num-num’.
- “YOU ARE RUINING MY LIFE, RON HOWARD!”
- “That redhead lady can’t throw her wad at that guy”.
- It’s a good thing Sue Storm is the Invisible Girl, so at least the production can go ahead under the closing credits, “since they worked so hard”. I hope this means Mark Cherry got out of rehab early.
- Great exchange between Emmett and Argyle: “The only thing that can destroy me! Water!”
“It’s not an ad-lib, I can’t swim!”
- Maeby and George Sr. are out this week, in a surprisingly bumper week for the main cast given how insular the story is.
- Tobias sings along with the song from The Fantasticks just as Michael Bluth once did with the theme to Sugarfoot. (Yep, that’s really all I’ve got for this section.)
Who killed Lucille 2?
#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 and who blatantly suggests in Double Crossers that something might just happen to her rival. Also seems mighty convinced Lindsay really is a Bluth after all.
#4. George Bluth, Sr. – puppet of #3.
#5. Heartfire – potential puppet of #4.
#6. Oscar Bluth – had an affair with Lucille 2 and clearly wanted to keep it quiet.
#7. China Garden – slept with Oscar, and seems like the possessive type.
#8. Tobias Fünke – only has til Monday to come up with the funds for his musical extravaganza. He can’t go back to prison.
#9. DeBrie Bardeaux – a meth addict who we know will end up at Cinco de Cuatro, and whose current state received no kind words from Lucille 2.
#10. Cindy the Ostrich – an ostrich never forgets.
#11. Byron “Buster” Bluth – clearly susceptible to his mother’s wishes, one of which primarily includes defeating Lucille 2. (And he has some serious issues controlling his appendages.)
#12. George Oscar “GOB” Bluth II – the new President of the Bluth Company, destined now to share his parents’ rivals.
#13. Marky Bark – sure, his main beef is with Herbert Love (and the guy has face blindness, not colour blindness), but Marky insists Lucille Austero is part of the problem as well.
#14. Herbert Love – clearly has no morals, may know about the compromising photographs, and will do anything to win. He went missing on the same night as Lucille. (cue Indian singing voice) Coincidence?
#15. Lindsay Bluth Fünke – now aware that Lucille has compromising photos of her, and needs to do anything she can to sabotage a rival. And is Lucille 2 her real mother?
#16. David the campaign strategist – would presumably do anything for his boss, as evidenced by his “giant!” snipe.
#17. Argyle Austero – no clear motivation, except Lucille may have blamed him for the failure of Fantastic Four: The Musical. But we’ve seen him kick, and it looks dangerous.
On the next Arrested Development: “She’s in rehab!”