Arrested Development: 4.13 “It Gets Better”
Posted by therebelprince on June 8, 2013
Coming up: a look at Arrested Development‘s boy wonder, and the show’s only possible hope for humanity. But does the season’s structure bear itself out?
“Is George Michael here?” — Rebel Alley
Please note this review contains spoilers for the entire fourth season of the show.
4.13 It Gets Better
written by Dean Lorey & Richard Rosenstock
directed by Mitch Hurwitz & Troy Miller
It shouldn’t be so, but there’s something deeply upsetting about sitcom characters becoming estranged. Although I was never a huge fan of Will & Grace, I enjoyed the first few seasons, and I tuned in again years later for the series final, only to learn that the title characters spent several decades separated from one another over a personal argument. There was a real sense of poignancy there, and the positive ending – where differences are put aside and old age savoured – never quite made up for the loss (it’s a similar feeling I have on shows like As Time Goes By, which aim to make the most out of lost years but just depress me). So, seeing Michael and George Michael leaving the family but then becoming gradually estranged themselves… it’s tough. Sure, we’ve realised this season that almost none of the main characters have had consistent contact over the last five years (ironically, by being locked up in the one place for that duration, Lucille has come the closest) but the parent/child disconnect is the most unsettling of all.
To its credit, It Gets Better (and the related episodes Flight of the Phoenix and Blockheads) doesn’t avoid that emotional response, perhaps because the character of George Michael Bluth has always provided the most harmonious mix of comedy and sincerity. Watching Michael Cera back when he was a “comic discovery” (and before the “awkward shtick” era that has taken over mainstream-alternative comedy of the last ten years) was like watching a genius musician play a delicate concerto. It was raw and youthful, sure, but you could easily imagine Cera as the kind of comedian like a proto-Buster Keaton or Michael Richards, who can take any physical item and make it part of the dance. Intertwined with this is that natural Charlie Brown melancholy that pervades the awkward teenager: socially inept, subdued at home, passionate about interests that much of society laughs off. Thank goodness for his “amazing internal clock”, or George Michael would really make me cry. That shtick is not so new anymore,but the show’s fourth season does what all the best episodes have done – suggesting this character is actually more than just a series of running gags; he’s someone who can be placed into a new life situation and still reveal his individual nuances.
It Gets Better is another well-structured example of the latter half of the season, taking a solid character story (with some deft comic touches) and threading it through some of the existing plot and situations that have been established. George Michael’s graduation party is the first of many great conceptual jokes, as we now learn that his party was tacked on to the existing family meeting. The character has deliberately been kept out of the frame through the first 12 episodes’ exploration of that scene and now we realise why. George, Sr. gave him a cheque for a car, and his dad – in the midst of his “out of the family” tantrum – made the kid tear it up. Now, George Michael has no possessions, a car that makes him a laughing stock, and his uncle’s Segway, for better or worse. Cera and the writers really sew together a delightful portrait of this weird kid, as he plans with P-Hound to create an electric woodblock app, and then talks in detail through the cheaply-made existing apps on the subject! There’s a lot of neat little character touches, like his matador pants on return from Spain and the way Cera delivers the title line, with a George Michael now content in his life but still just a little bit pretentious.
(On the subject of Michael Cera, news reports during the wilderness years often suggested that he was reluctant or uninterested to return to the role of George Michael. This article suggests much of this was an Andy Kaufman/Joaquin Phoenix long con which could have seen its way through to the promised Arrested Development movie!)
I feel like I have little to say about the comic construction of It Gets Better, but many more random musings and callbacks. After an hilarious sequence speeding through George Michael’s first four years of college (in which he fights with Kunal Sharma’s Ray for their true love Becky, and is passionately awakened in Spain by a señorita played by Nadine Velazquez), his development is “forestalled” (to use the narrator’s phrase) by the arrival of two family members: Michael and Maeby. The overall conceit of Arrested Development‘s fourth season is that every character is offered a moment of choice: a choice between reality and fantasy, between self-growth and self-denial (or even self-delusion in some cases). Some blithely make the choice, others take their time. In one case – Lucille – the choice was made years ago but is now being reconsidered. (Buster might be a special case, but we’ll discuss that next time.) Only George Michael stands apart from this: his indecision is the moment that ends season four in Blockheads, suggesting he’s still the character who holds the potential of salvation for the Bluth family. But impulsive lying runs in this family, and George Michael’s return to the Bluth fold threatens to destabilise his persona as “George Michael 2.0”. It’s hard to be yourself (and some of the Bluths never even try) but for this kid, it’s the worst.
It Gets Better is perhaps oddly-placed in the season. While there’s certainly pay-off to some long running business (the reveal of FakeBlock, the truth about Rebel’s dating life), most of what happens here has little relevance to the Cinco climax of the season; indeed, this is more of an introductory episode ala Indian Takers or Borderline Personalities. While I think It Gets Better is a strong episode of this show, I still can’t help but feel that we’re catching up to things a little bit late. Maybe this was just a consequence of scheduling availabilities, meaning that George Michael and Buster’s stories got shunted to the end of the season and then – once the Chinese puzzle box of a season had been hashed out – this could not be altered. Under the circumstances, I’m forgiving. But perhaps incorporating more of this story earlier on would have added more weight to Michael and Rebel’s relationship, and given some of the season’s structural quirks (the comparative absence of Portia de Rossi and Jeffrey Tambor from the latter half; the almost complete absence of Tony Hale and Michael Cera from the first half) less prominence. Or perhaps I should just rewatch these episodes in an order of my own choosing, and quit complaining about getting an entire season of one of my favourite comedies!
Can George Michael bring about the redemption of the Bluth clan? Or is he as hopelessly lost as the rest of them? We’ll have to follow it up in Blockheads to find out, but I think it’s clear that for all of Michael Bluth’s talk of putting family first, his weaker traits may have prevailed in his parenting strategy. George
Mi- Maharis is “a good kid”, but he still signs off by saying “Ciao, fathero”. Perhaps they’ll never learn.
- No prizes for guessing the instrument in George Michael’s opening credits.
- We finally meet Tracey Bluth, played by the delightful Maria Thayer in a flashback to 1992. Thayer is perfectly cast in a small role we’ve heard much about (although, a lot of that was the coma). The Babytock Infomercial features a neat reference to the season’s ADR-filled joys, when Kristen Wiig’s Lucille Bluth cuts over Tracey. “It’s impossible –” “– to deny! I’ve always wanted a smart baby.”
- While I’m becoming an expert in the season four fictional timeline, I’m less certain of the real-world timeline. If it’s true that Mitch Hurwitz wrote (or devised) the movie first, maybe that explains some of the plots this season – like Ann’s suspicious baby-daddy – that will flower in the movie. I’m wondering then whether the Social Network climax to P-Hound’s storyline is just a one-episode reference, or whether it will return. (The prominence of FakeBlock this season perhaps suggests the latter.)
- In case you’re wondering, “OS” = “overtly sexual”.
- The phrase “as I live and breathe”? Sounds as unnatural as the narrator suggests. It’s also exactly the kind of thing a kind like George Michael would pick up for this scenario.
- In a sly cutaway, we find out George Michael’s Spanish mistress is pregnant – looks like GOB and Oscar aren’t the only Bluth men to father children unsuspectingly.
- Interesting the change that occurs in the dorm when Maeby arrives. George Michael reverts back to his highschool self, while P-Hound adopts a much more OS outfit.
- George Michael determines to win Maeby back, in a sequence that is really sweet and perhaps suggests that the cousin pairing may still be a potential series endgame. And then his urge to educate overrides any lustful feelings he may have.
- I’m sure I’ll dissect it more in Blockheads, but it’s funny that Rebel ends up chasing George Michael so much. The conceptual joke that she’s more interested in people playing hard-to-get brings to mind Lindsay’s uncertainty over Tobias in the season 3 premiere, but I’m not sure it works quite as well as the writers envisaged.
- Similarly, I’m not 100% convinced that anyone would think George Michael caused the blackout just because he happened to press a button on a personal device. I guess the implication is that it was a member (or members) of Anonymous who saw him – but I feel as if we haven’t been told the whole story about that.
- Time it takes George Michael to ponder telling the truth, while the narrator stalls: 41 seconds. (see also: GOB and The Sounds of Silence.)
- Rebel dissing Mort is comic gold.
- Arrested Development continues to play games with that family meeting. We find out in It Gets Better that George Michael was also in attendance, meaning all nine Bluths were in the same room, however Buster is kept offscreen throughout this episode’s contributions! It’s cruel and deliberate and also hilarious.
- Turns out Maeby was wrong to doubt George Michael’s skills as a lover although, to be fair, she couldn’t have known.
- P-Hound’s band also plays the “balls in the air” song.
- The sex offenders of Sudden Valley grow gradually more prominent, after a reasonably late introduction this season. This will all pay off (as long as you don’t mind some good, wholesome, sex offender humour) in Blockheads.
- Continuing the trend of Bluths not being proud of their name, Michael’s wife is credited in the infomercial as “Tracey B.”
- Rosalita: “The drones are coming!” Unbeknownst to them, that is Buster Bluth (or one of his comrades) in Off the Hook, unable to control their drone.
- I’m not sure that George Michael’s chicken dance grows organically from the scene it’s in but, come on, CHICKEN DANCE!
- So, “Maharis” comes from Maeby’s pronunciation of “heiress”.
- STAR WARS KID!
- George Michael on seeing his aunt: “Gentlemen, start your engines”.
- A good Cornballer origin story is always welcome.
- George Michael does his father’s classic chair-leaning bit, and then decides he needs to “put up a wall”.
- The series’ obsession with reality TV and tween programming continues when George Michael gets overly excited about recognising David Henrie from Wizards of Waverley Place. (Not only did Jeff Garlin have a recurring role on Wizards, but it’s the source of one my favourite bizarre jokes on Curb Your Enthusiasm.)
- George Michael echoing his uncle: “We would just lie there”.
- Rebel was in the remake of Les Cousins Dangereux. George Michael signed up to Netflix because of that movie!
- George Michael didn’t really pack his bag before the twin vote. He also failed to do so back when Michael was voted out.
No new clues in this episode due to its place in the timeline, but I’ve added couple of other potential killers who have occurred to me, and updated some of the motives that seem less suspicious now.
#1. Michael Bluth – owed Lucille 2 $700,000. [seems unlikely since he intended to [bleep] his way out of the problem on Cinco de Mayo]
#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. Suggests in Double Crossers that something might just happen to her rival. Seems mighty convinced Lindsay really is a Bluth after all. Realised her second love, Oscar, had been stolen by her rival, and pledged to “pay [Lucille 2] back once and for all”.
#4. George Bluth, Sr. – puppet of #3.
#5. Heartfire – potential puppet of #4 [but possibly dead due to injuries sustained in bee attack].
#6. Oscar Bluth – had an affair with Lucille 2 and clearly wanted to keep it quiet. Also spent part of the night making out with her by the staircar.
#7. China Garden – slept with Oscar, and seems like the possessive type. May have had a financial motive, as her Mongol connections were building the Wall.
#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 – Cindy’s life in the week before Cinco is suspiciously ambiguous…
#11. Byron “Buster” Bluth – clearly susceptible to his mother’s wishes, one of which primarily includes defeating Lucille 2. Also 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. May have suspected Lucille 2 of sabotaging his Christian illusion. [however, he would seem to have an alibi, given he leaves the party reasonably early]
#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. Was knocked unconscious by Buster on the same night as Lucille 2 went missing, but the timeline is unclear.
#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.
#18. Sally Sitwell – stole $100,000 from Lucille 2. Wanted to run for politics herself. Connected to Tony Wonder, so may have had some familiarity with using masks to impersonate others.
#19. Tony Wonder – he’ll do anything to save his career, and he and Sally have a lot of dark deeds going on. Familiar with using masks to impersonate others. He may have wanted to use GOB and the To Catch a Local Predator cameras as an alibi, but he arrived at the house later than the others.
#20. Pastor and Mrs. Veal – may have suspected that someone in the Austero camp ruined their daughter’s wedding, leaving her pregnant and unmarried.
#21. George Michael Bluth – it’s a long shot, but he may have been bitter that Lucille 2 took his car (the very car on which she was murdered). And she was bankrolling what was ultimately a non-existent business. (And was George Michael lying about having never met Lucille 2?)
#22. Maeby Fünke – a new business partner for an unstable venture, and now at risk of being caught out as a sex offender.
#23. Perfecto Telles – possibly protecting Maeby, since we’ve seen in the case of Herbert Love that he’ll use violence (or have others use violence) when need be.
#24. Dr. Norman – was dumping drugs in the bay; perhaps Lucille 2 caught him in the act?
#25. Jade Triad – they and the Mongols had a clear financial stake in keeping Lucille 2 off their backs.
#26. Gene Parmesan – seems pretty desperate, since his night job is at Chicken Dan’s. Would he do anything for the right client?
On the next Arrested Development -hey, brother!