Though I know the character-focused episodes of Arrested Development Season 4 are primarily a product of how impossible it was to get all the actors in the same room at the same time, I’ve loved them.
At their best, they let the season feel like an in-depth family saga, something of a comedic Godfather II (but with waaaay more sex offender jokes).
And of these new, character-oriented episodes, I loved "A New Attitude" the best. It delivered as many laughs and as many excellent Arrested Development quotes as any classic episode... but this time, those laughs came from examining the inner darkness of hollow Hollywood values, repressed sexuality, desperation, revenge - rather than the quips from the show’s first incarnation, which focused more on the darkness that can engulf essentially well-meaning people who are pursuing money and power.
I’m not making it sound very funny, am I? Well, it was also the funniest episode of the new season - from Michael and Gob’s ball-pit “Boyfight," to a joke about the pronunciation of "Gothic Castle" that I'd only be ruining if I tried to transcribe it here.
Not to mention that that the rubber-masked rendez-vous harkened back to Tony Wonder’s Arrested Development Season 2 exclamation (from “Sword of Destiny): “Wait. Are you telling me that you have a multi-stage trick with hidden identities?”
Oh, Tony, you do not even know the half of it. This episode was an expertly oiled comedy machine.
â€¨Gob's intricate plan to destroy Wonder, his erstwhile rival, was a particularly pitch-black gag in a season already soaking in dark humor - most of all because every single element of it (nephew-kissing included) seemed to take revenge upon and hurt Gob most of all.
Ben Stiller's Wonder - who was a relatively lightweight character on O.G. Arrested Development - flourishes, bouncing around with an energy I never knew the character possessed. During the show’s first run, Wonder worked as a joke about showboat magicians more than an actual character, but I was in love with Stiller’s performance here.
â€¨â€¨While Season 4 has made Michael less sympathetic, it has made Gob far more so. Oddly enough, for a sitcom that was so much sunnier and lighter in tone than this one (even when characters were losing limbs), the original Arrested Development had much less sympathy for the majority of its characters. Gob, Tobias, and Buster (for the most part) existed only as punch-lines, while the bulk of our empathy was supposed to reside with likeable audience-surrogate characters, like Michael and George-Michael.
But in devoting this season to closely examining the entire cast - with the side-effect of no character serving as an audience surrogate - we are now allowed to sympathize with characters who weren't permitted any depth in the original series run.
I winced as much as I laughed through Tobias's Season 4 episodes, and found myself, for the first time, empathizing with Gob's self-loathing-cloaked-as-attitude schtick.
Maybe it was watching him survive in a storage locker while eating only candy vines, but he came out of this season as my new favorite character, and the moment when he and Tony confessed their "feelings" for each other (with both men confused by feeling any positive emotions towards another human being) was sad, hilarious and just a little touching.â€¨â€¨
In the new Arrested Development, there are no heroes or villains, and everyone's old values and identities are turned upside down, making the holiday they're celebrating seem a little closer to Purim than Cinco de Cuatro.
The new show is a harder, darker, crueler animal (and Michael has kind of turned into a pretty serious d*ck), but I don’t think that’s a failing of the writers. Arrested Development’s first round reflected the era those episodes were produced in - the George W. Bush presidency, the housing boom - and this new series reflects a resolutely different era that is, if not bleaker, certainly different.
It’s easy for a beloved cult show to come back and just coast, giving fans exactly what they want after a long absence. But it takes talent and cojones of steel to show up after close to a decade away, give fans the exact opposite of what they asked for, and have the end product be phenomenal, anyway. I’ll toast some mustard and Parmesan to that!â€¨â€¨