Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Arrested Development, season 4 (2013) ***½

TV-PG, 15 30-min. episodes
Creator: Mitchell Hurwitz

Directors: Mitchell Hurwitz, Troy Miller

Writers: Mitchell Hurwitz, Jim Vallely, Richard Rosenstock, Caroline Williams, Dean Lorey

Starring: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter

Narrator: Ron Howard

Guest starring: Henry Winkler, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, Christine Taylor, Ed Begley Jr., John Beard, Scott Baio, James Lipton, Andy Richter, Conan O’Brien, John Slattery, Ron Howard, Isla Fisher, Maria Bamford, Karen Maruyama, Ed Helms, Jayden Maddux, Chris Diamantopoulos, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Judy Greer, Brian Grazer, Liza Minnelli, Allan Wasserman, Carl Weathers, Max Winkler, Rich Aliaandanost, Jeff Garlin, Ben Stiller, Alan Tudyk, Ione Skye, Mae Whitman, Justin Grant Wade, Bruce McCulloch, Pedro Lopez, Jerry Minor, Clint Howard, Debra Mooney, Terry Crews, Justin Lee, Daniel Amerman, Tommy Tune, Marc Brandt, Daisy Galvis, Carter Hastings, Amy Hill, Bobby Lee, Bernie Kopell, Martin Mull, Suzanne Whang, Jay Johnston, Richard Jin Namkung

The cult TV show “Arrested Development” is back with a fourth season after a seven-year hiatus. The show was resurrected by Netflix to become part of their exclusive original content programming. It returned with record subscription numbers for the company, but not the most glowing of reviews. Critics complained that the format had changed. Some have even complained about how some of the actors, who are all seven years older, look. I suppose such controversy over such a highly anticipated and unprecedented move by the movie and TV streaming company can only be expected.

What hasn’t changed with the show is its spirit and intelligent sense of humor. That irreverence for what is expected still drives the comedy. The exponential collection of bad decisions by each of the characters still makes the show the pinnacle of awkward moment humor. And, the individuality of the characters and the uniqueness of their problems shaped by their individual neuroses still make the Bluth family immensely watchable in the same way watching a Fox News anchor interviewing Bill Maher might be. 

The presentation is a little more confusing than with the series’ original run. This is because each episode focuses on only one member of the Bluth family at a time. I’m sure this was done in order to make the production flexible to each actors’ schedules. This makes the first few episodes in the season difficult to follow, but by the later episodes so many of the details of the plot have been reiterated by each characters’ point of view that developments are a little clearer. I can see where some of the legitimate criticism has come from. There are some characters, like Buster, that I would’ve liked to have seen much more of. The characters that hold the focus in the early episodes seem to miss out a little in the later ones, but if you stick with it and pay close attention, it all eventually comes together in a particularly “Arrested Development” sort of way.

What disgusts me about some of the criticism I’ve read, is how insensitive it has been to the fact that these are characters being played by actors who had essentially moved on with their lives and careers since the cancelation of the series almost decade ago. The worst I’ve heard has been aimed at actress Portia de Rossi, who plays the vapid “environmentalist” of the Bluth family, Lindsay. In Shane Ryan’s Paste Magazine review of episode 4.3 “Indian Takers”, the critic spends the first three paragraphs, half of his entire review, criticizing the actress for apparent cosmetic surgery. De Rossi’s face does appear to be a little different than it was seven years ago, but I don’t see how any sort of facial work she’s had has any bearing on her work in the series or the effectiveness of the new season as a whole. Ryan makes a lame attempt not to seem too judgmental by arguing that the actress’s former face was the heart of her comedic appeal.

I find it inappropriate that a critic would feel it’s OK to treat an actor’s personal choices about their looks as an entry point into their negative opinions about a show or movie. The truth is, reconstructive surgery is probably something her character would’ve done in the past seven years anyway. It’s also a well-known fact that the movie and television industry doesn’t treat age well for women in particular. In order to stay a player in the Hollywood game, a woman must make some very difficult choices about her looks. That those choices would come under the scrutiny of a critic in relation to a role that for all intents and purposes ended years ago is a disgrace. De Rossi and the writers have the last laugh though, as just about every time a character sees Lindsay in any of the episodes following 4.3, they make mention of the fact that it looks like something has changed about her. That speaks to the true intelligence behind the artists involved in this series. They knew long before the notices were even possible what lesser critics would latch onto, and made them the butt of their own snarkiness.

Read Shane Ryan's "Indian Takers" review here

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