You missed a lot of great movies this year. There were plenty more you didn't even know existed. But now's the moment when your regret transmutes into sweet ecstasy, all while watching David Ehrlich and Film.com's ultra-sleek countdown of Ehrlich's favorite 25 films of the year. It's engrossing enough that it almost doesn't matter if you saw the movies in the first place. (And no, you're not going to be spoiiiiiled. Stop crying about spoilers! You're a grown-up!)
There is an indie act called Islands; they just put out an album Pitchfork finds kind of OK. Commemorating the occasion, though, is an improv-heavy YouTube clip about Islands' dubious rock-and-roll legend status. Michael Cera says things like, "They're all basically conductors, electrical conductors, and sometimes you can't even give those guys a high five without getting a little zap." Bill Hader, in top Bill Hader form, comes up with material like, "You've got a guy with a voice, who's saying lyrics, out to you." Alia Shawkat and Joe Lo Truglio also jump in, to delightful effect. Still haven't listened to Islands, but if Ski Mask is half as funny as this clip, I'm giving it a spin.
One of the most disconcerting things about being alive is how many interesting things happen every day that you never know about: the books you'd love but will never read; the movies that would change your life but somehow never make it onto your radar; the Internet that hangs on the vine, ripening, sweetening, and then eventually falling to the ground to rot, ignored by you accidentally forever. The YOLO and the FOMO, and if you want to go there, the PO-POMO: There is simply too much content sometimes.
The new generation of fall television seems to be gripped by a universal anxiety that you will ignore it, and, as The Hollywood Reporter detailed yesterday, the networks' marketing and publicity departments are going all kinds of crazy in their isolated brainstorming chambers. It's not that these "buzzy stunts" are all bad ideas — some of them are excellent ideas, involving $100,000 prizes (Lucky 7) and the placement of "eight giant mushrooms" along with "one life-sized rabbit" (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland) in various New York City locations — and everyone deserves points for getting creative and thinking outside the box (the head of CBS marketing told THR that "In [his] business, there is no more box"). However, it seems like the challenge the networks face in publicizing their shows this fall is not necessarily what they think it is.
The momentum that kept the last couple of episodes clicking along like an eerily precise percussion instrument continues with "Blockheads." Indeed, the episode moves so merrily forward that it continues (as usual) past the credits and presumably right into the next season.
The growth of "binge-watching" and longform serial television has meant that viewers are gifted more and more with shows that approach their seasons more like novels than a collection of short stories. From Lost to Boardwalk Empire to Battlestar Galactica to Game of Thrones: Producers have the long view, and it encourages in a certain kind of fan the sort of precision viewing that we're attempting with Arrested. I'm not entirely sure examining this season has led to the deep pleasures that came, for me, with seeing all the hand and "loose seal" call-forwards in early AD episodes once I went back and watched again.
Well, maybe. After ratcheting up the excitement meter for the already salivated-over return of Arrested Development by pointing out that pulling together the cast was such a herculean task that this was almost certainly a one-and-done deal, Netflix has just gone ahead and — totally changed its mind. I mean, it still might take a while, and then never actually happen. But the vibe is in the air.
It's taken a long time for this season to click along at the pace I remember from Arrested Development’s first three outings, though comedy always flows at a faster pace in hindsight. You don't remember the journey to get to the joke, you remember the joke. One of the many reasons that Arrested bears repeated viewings is that there's no need to rely on faith that your patience will be rewarded, there's only the anticipation of the reward.
This first and only Buster episode clicks along nicely, perhaps because Buster is so singularly weird and delightful. He is barely a Bluth at all, a poster child for fetal alcohol poisoning in the best way possible. He is the most innocent of the Bluths, the most confused and least vengeful, and consequently the most tangential to the family's schemes.
And so more than any other episode, "Off the Hook" relies not just on a single character but a single actor; many of the scenes are just Tony Hale interacting with props or fantasies. I know people praise Arrested for its ensemble cast and say they miss the group dynamics in this season, but the scenes of Buster re-creating — and improving upon — his home life with a pillow-bodied Lucille ("Welcome home, chubs") delighted me as much as any of the snappy dialogue between two real people. Of course, it's Buster's nature to be more at ease with stone-cold objects rather than those made of flesh and blood. No wonder he loves his mother so much.
It's all finally coming together, fellow slow-bingers, the pieces (Fakeblock, George Maharis, Maeby's career) fall into place in George Michael's "It Gets Better" episode. The Rube Goldbergian plot of Season 4 gains the sleek chassis it needs to glide smoothly over the finish line. "Sleek" and "smooth" are not, of course, adjectives one would normally associate with George Michael Bluth. And one still would not associate them with him, though by the end of the episode, he has gotten much better at lying.
Michael Cera continues to play George Michael with endearing and familiar awkwardness — an adolescent since the crib, really, and probably forever one. There's a lot of talk in the entertainment world about Cera growing into other parts beyond Seth Rogen's geekier shadow (even as played in the show, Rogen is somehow more believable as George Michael's grandfather than Michael's father); apparently, he's going to be a bad guy. "It Gets Better" picks up the Opies plot thread, and there's a weird meta-echo to the Cera hype in the multiple references to child actors struggling to remain relevant/attractive/believable as they age. (Steve Holt, anyone?) But George Michael's development is just as arrested as any other Bluth, and thank god for that. The producers seem to recognize this; much of the George Michael humor still derives from seeing baby-faced Cera struggle to cope with inappropriately adult situations — or a porn star mustache.
Maeby has an equivocal name but an unequivocal nature. She is decisive and, seemingly, self-assured, able to waltz into a production company as a 16-year-old and not just pass as an adult but thrive as a producer. She's secure in her identity, even if it's a fake one. She's not much of a Bluth, basically. The end of Season 3 revealed that she literally wasn't a Bluth, either. Lindsay was adopted, so Maeby is not of the Bluth blood, though she was raised in a Bluthian way — she may have filled a hole in Tobias and Lindsay's lives, but after she was born, they kept on filling it.
Maeby's inability to distract her parents from their own self-involvement (Invisible Girl, anyone?) moves "Señoritis" along a parallel track to the main plots, and we get to know her insecurities a little better (she's competitive with George Michael), but she's still not so much a Bluth family member as she is a Bluth family hostage. As the narrator notes, "It's easier to get into a Bluth home than it is to get out."
This Gob-centered episode takes places almost entirely outside the established, already loopy story lines of Season 4. Though it briefly swerves into Michael's mission, and gives some context for what we'll eventually discover about George Michael's situation, Gob is — as usual — operating at the fringe.
In high school, apparently, Gob was the cock of the walk, but as an adult he's a Segway-riding, garishly dressed, part-time illusionist whose primary skill appears to be seducing women who are very old or very ugly. Naturally, he still thinks he's better than everyone: He's the guy in the $6,000 pants, but metaphorically he's garbed in whatever you'd call the opposite of the emperor's new clothes. He thinks he's dressed to kill; everyone else can see right through him.
This is the first Lucille episode, but I feel like she's been Season 4's most visible Bluth family member. It's her beaching of the Queen Mary that launches a plethora of plots, and it's her machinations that animate the herky-jerky attitudes of the Bluth family toward the border wall — and, for that matter, toward each other. She is very much the Queen B, and right up until the end of the episode, she seems in full command of her colony and of herself. The rest of the family may be in near-constant states of identity crisis, but Lucille is quite comfortable with who she is. In this episode, the only time she pretends to be what she's not is when she puts on her "drunk act" to get into rehab and, well, that's not much of an act.
The lack of pretense makes her the most consistent and least interesting Bluth. Buster may seem one-note, but he's actually pretty conflicted, even complicated. His love interests have included Lucille Two, Lupe, and a Roomba — how's that for range? No, Lucille is the most one-dimensional Bluth; it's not really that surprising that Jessica Walters does an almost note-for-note version of Lucille as the mother/mastermind on the animated series Archer. What's weird is that when the show offers Lucille a way out of her martini-swirling villainy, it's not to become more complex, but to consider becoming invisible. This might be a commentary on the paucity of roles available to actresses over 60.
I think before this whole experiment in synchronized storytelling started, I would have said that Tobias was an ancillary character, that he was the source of the series' least-subtle jokes, and the most thinly sketched. But as Season 4 has twisted around and into itself, piling on story lines and coincidences, the Tobias episodes are the lightest in tone (despite the darkness of some of the subject matter), the least freighted with backstory — and the ones I find myself invested in. I want Tobias to succeed! I want him to get the girl, pull off the musical production, and not go back to prison!
My sympathies have to find somewhere to land, what with most of the Bluth family careering about the limited frame, propelled mostly by greed and always cushioned by overweening self-regard. Even Michael, the series' longtime straight man and moral center, has drifted id-ward.
But by the end of "Smashed," Tobias also performs (hammily) out of pure self-interest; much like Lindsay, he comes to be a Bluth because he acts like one, not because he was born one.
Of all the Bluth family members, Lindsay has the most fraught sense of self, the biggest questions about her role in the family. She grew up thinking she was Michael's twin (twinness itself a complication of identity, multiplying it), and then discovered at the end of Season 3 that she was adopted. In "Red Hairing," she approaches her literal identity crisis in a very literal manner: Changing her appearance, or, given the eerie manipulation her face seems to have undergone since 2007, it might be more accurate to say that she's changing it even more. "Who am I?" she frets throughout the episode, trying on different looks and different relationships until, like all Bluths must, she returns to the sea … Cinco de Cuatro, to be specific.
The episode picks up almost exactly where the first Lindsay episode began: at an ostrich farm run by Marky Bark, freegan activist son of Lindsay's one-time protest partner Johnny Bark. Lindsay and Marky met cute, as many couples do, dropping their original partners off at the methadone clinic. Now Lindsay has joined her face-blind, speedy lover at his desert ostrich farm and is experiencing a little sweat-and-squeeze herself. She's so hot she'd "give $20,000 for a lemonade," even as Marky's mother presses her into grimy service as Marky puts pressure onto the neighboring businessmen's retreat that's rubbing up against their property lines.
Gob is a dick. He'd probably be the first to admit it. What's amazing about the character is how much we like him anyway. In previous seasons, he's bedded (or attempted to bed) Michael's girlfriend, he's romanced Lucille Two for her money, he's been the voice of a racist puppet, pretended to kill a stripper, and fired the entire staff of the Bluth company for laughing at him. Yet he's so inept and ultimately so desperate for love and acceptance that his avarice isn't offensive. We know, if he doesn't, that the reason he craves success is to fill that Bluth-family-size hole inside him. His development is less obviously arrested than others in the family, but he's no less a child — he even believes in magic. (A favorite moment from this episode: Gob unloads his drowned stunt animals, explaining how he was going to turn flowers into doves, and doves into rabbits. Tobias interjects, "And rabbits into mice!" Gob deadpans with the seriousness of a believer, not a skeptic: "That can't be done.")
Of the entire Bluth family, Gob has the biggest gap between his selfishness and his haplessness: Lucille might be greedier, but she's also more on the ball; Tobias is comparatively saintly (like the Amazing Jesus!), but he's also almost completely helpless. Gob desperately wants fame, riches, and women, and his egotism would be distasteful but for his inability to actually obtain what he wants — and the pitiful depths (sometimes literally) he sinks to while trying. His awareness of his faults glimmers to the surface only rarely; he doesn't think it's his character flaws that doom him, but his choices: He's not stupid, he's just made a huge mistake.
People forget that when Arrested Development debuted, it was marketed as a comedic spin on the financial scandals of the time — Enron, Global Crossing — not a multilayered postmodern meditation on father-son relationships, identity, and avian behaviors. I remember feeling almost betrayed by the series circling back to quasi-ripped-from-the-headlines comedy with its Bluths-build-in-Iraq story line; Wee Britain was about as far as I wanted the Bluths to travel.
But in retrospect, and upon repeated viewing, the "light treason" subplot doesn't just illustrate the show's fearlessness, it reveals itself to be the through line of the first three seasons, long before Buster joins Army. "Light treason" is, in fact, mentioned in the sixth episode of the first season; the 14th episode of that season is called "Shock and Aww," and features an adoring collage homage to Saddam Hussein; and Gob announces that the company's slogan is "Solid as a rock," in Season 2's second episode. The show satirizes greed and self-centeredness, and reckless intervention, mostly on the level of personal relationships, but the punch lines apply to international ones as well.
All this is to say, of course there's a Herman Cain character — Herbert Love, mentioned previously but actually present in "Double Crossers" — and I suspect that the show will again prove itself to be just as much a story of wealth as it is a story of a wealthy family.
Before we dive into "A New Start," let's get some housekeeping out of the way. First: I have apparently been stubbornly mishearing the moniker of George Michael's privacy software (if that's what it really is). It is not "FaceBlock," but rather "FakeBlock." I still argue that the project fits in with the season's central theme, exploring the nature of identity: What is maintaining one's identity but to "block" what is "fake"? See also: this episode's running joke about copyright infringement and character rights.
And that little grad school semiotics flashback brings me to my next point: I hope this doesn't feel like homework for you guys, but watching the series on my own, constantly searching for hidden themes and self-aware references, largely fueled by coffee and popcorn and dressed in sweatpants — well, at least I'm not racking up any student loans.
This Tobias-centric episode actually leavened what has been becoming less of an Easter egg hunt and more of a forced march through hazily familiar territory. Tobias has always been something of a blank slate, both in terms of his character's background and his character's self-knowledge, and this episode was refreshingly whimsical and untethered in comparison to the freighted story lines we've seen so far. Yes, there were the required callbacks and Tobias's story intersected in the plots we're already aware of, but most of the humor was about Tobias, who really does live in his own little, even wee, world.