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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Passion of the Shakespearean Tragedy of the Bluths (with emphasis on Michael Bluth, Prince of Sudden Valley)(Literally)

The first episode of 'Arrested Development' aired in 2003. The last aired three years later.

It took seven years for 'Arrested Development' to move forward, which is a long time to be arrested in 53 episodes. Seven years rewatching three seasons of Bluth madness, seven years replaying the jokes involving characters doing actions over and over again. Seven years depending on sameness and predictability of storylines playing out just so.

For a show ironically called 'Arrested Development,' which fans prided themselves for being sufficiently developed to appreciate--while casting a disdainful glance at the fans of more devolved sitcoms like 'Everybody Loves Raymond' and 'World According to Jim'-- 'AD' didn't just represent the initials of the show; 'AD' meant After "Development."

"Anno Development," perhaps. The arrival of the Television Messiah, sent by the gods of television to redeem the unredeemed and deliver us all from developmentally-challenged sitcoms peopled with half-witted man-children and the sharp-tongued, hot wives who loved them.

A respite from long-form of 'The Sopranos' and the... complications of 'The Sopranos'.

Seriously, was TV worth watching before 'The Sopranos'?

So what, then, are we to make of the messiah's heralded return, here in AD 10 (AD premiered in 2003)? Does it still have moments of walking on water, as Rita Leeds (Charlize Theron) manages to do? Or, with this resurrection, has the messiah proved itself to be a charlatan, more trick than Hollywood illusion?

Fans are a fickle bunch, and even the most enthusiastic converts can lose their faith. The return of 'Arrested Development,' to a great many, has seemed more like the visitation of a ghost rather than proof of a full-out return of the original.

(And here I'll leave the Jesus metaphor, because it's both tiresome to write and because I'm pretty much at my limit of Christian knowledge, unless I want to drag 'Seinfeld' in as a sort of John the Baptist, and go with 'The Office' and '30 Rock' as John and Peter. Also, it may imply that I don't have faith that 'AD' actually returned, but think it a rumor that became fact after a period of time spent whispering about its manifestation upon this earth after death. Theology has no place in televised entertainment, just like televised entertainment has no place in theology, etc.)

While some critics are raving about the most recent season, dropped with great ceremony upon a very suspecting public this past Sunday, via Netflix, a good many critics have howled to the heavens (no metaphor; some have quite literally howled to the heavens) that the show is now ruined for the end of time. No more does creator Mitch Hurwitz warrant a place in the media heavens (again, no metaphor). No longer do the Bluths and their incredibly intriguing cohorts warrant further attention. Rather than (ok, returning to metaphor) the ghost of a dead messiah announcing to devoted fans a promise to return from the grave, critics are going with another ghost who wandered around false battlements demanding, "Remember me," as more an interrogatory than a declarative statement.

(Last time I'll go with Jesus as metaphor. Maybe. The guy just never dies, and is such a vague character that he can be endlessly interpreted for any occasion. He inspires me to mixing my metaphors up with Hamlet. Also, when I say "literally," I really am just giving a shout-out to Rob Lowe's character on a show I don't watch, but who literally uses "literally" in the most figurative way possible. Literally.)

Most of the blame of this sullied reanimated corpse, critics insist, is in the new season's structure. Because the nature of television has developed--it isn't 2003 anymore, after all, nor is it 2006, the year of the show's cancellation--Hurwitz and company decided to once again challenge expectations by reformatting 'AD''s now oft-imitated presentation. Both out of necessity (the actors, committed to other projects, were very difficult to wrangle together) and out of a desire to play with the new format afforded by Netflix's streaming consciousness, Hurwitz and his writers decided to focus episodes on one character each, filling in gaps between the last time we encountered the Bluths and their new place in 2013 (AD 10. Cough).

I don't disagree the format is jarring, but the fractured presentation points to the overall theme: Michael is a failure. He failed at developing Sudden Valley, and he failed at keeping his family together. "He had the once choice," we're told over the first three seasons, "to keep them all together."

Maybe not so much of a 'one choice'.

If the new season fails--and I'm not certain it does, since I enjoyed most of it--it fails because Michael Cera was allowed into the writers room as Mr. Writer.

In interviews, Mitch Hurwitz has said several times that Cera's presence in the writer's room was instrumental to the success of the 4th season. "It was like 'Arrested Development' was his second language," Hurwitz said time and again. And perhaps so. But when talk of a revival was building steam, Cera was doing pissy, George-Michaelian characters in films, and probably weary of performing Michaelian stereotypes.

Total speculation, but if Cera truly was the hold-out keeping the new season at bay, and was concentrating on a rising career stalled by the failure of 'Nick and Nora Make a Mixtape' and 'Phil Silvers Saves the World', a shot to make George Michael a more mature person--thereby making all the fans who expected him to play variations of the same character in film after film come to accept him as something other than an awkward, stammering teen--perhaps the second language Cera was speaking in the writer's room for the new season was not 'AD,' but Michael Cera's management team.

The ghost wandering around the battlements demanding to be remembered, after all, got there because someone poured poison into his ear. Perhaps Cera was that poison.

One of the most genuine--if not the only genuine--relationships in the initial run of 'AD' was the relationship between Michael and George Michael. Rarely did any of the Bluths love any combination of characters as consistently as George Michael and Michael loved one another. Certainly, Michael was a terrible father. He lied to his son, manipulated his son, criticized his son's taste in girls, and humiliated his son (usually by being so narcissistic he failed to notice the rest of the family was trying to force George Michael into their own mold). But, for all the bad parenting, Michael would attempt to make right, to give George Michael some reassurance.

In the first episode of the new season, after a discussion on how important privacy can be to familial relations, a naked Michael climbs into the shower where his son is already standing, also naked, and continues the conversation of privacy. In the last episode, George Michael punches his father squarely in the face for attempting to bang his girlfriend. The between episodes--all 15 of them--fail to show George Michael at any point trying to reconcile with Michael.

For good reason! Michael has become irredeemable. He is broke, broken, and alone. The arc of Michael is, in the new season, an unforgiving, unforgivable arc. It also plays out like the script an immature 20-something kid would write for his aging father before maturity truly sets in and forgiveness is bestowed.

In other words, it seems Michael Cera--not George Michael--has not forgiven the show that made him a household name to be stuck in the arrested development of playing variations of George Michael for years after. The show ends with George Michael punching Michael in the face, and with the look of horror/relief on actor Michael Cera's face. Perhaps this is why the actor returned to the role. He didn't want to revive the thing that gave him a life in Hollywood. He wanted to kill it, and move on with his future.

Because, say what you want about the new season of 'Arrested Development,' that was the moment that killed it for me. Not the format, which I found interesting. Not the dilution of the ensemble, which I thought allowed the involved actors to work their own individuality.

I don't even recall the mandatory 'On the next Arrested Development' scenes in the last episode. All I recall is that one last moment between father and son--a moment probably scripted by Michael Cera and certainly acted by him--where he finally puts his father out, and stands free of his past.

Robbed of the relationship between father and son--of course a theme running through all of the previous sixty-seven episodes as Michael tries to balance his relationship with his own son while trying to live up to his own father's expectations; as GOB attempts to outshine Michael while gaining George, sr.'s approval; as Lindsay misunderstands, over and over, that her 'father' is not her real father; as Buster, too, comes to learn the identity of his own father--the theme of paternity is put down with a punch, and we're left with just a ruined family making asses of themselves. The satire of 'Arrested Development' lost its heart, and became a Greek tragedy worthy of Euripides.

(I wonder if Jesus ever forgave his Father for nailing him to a cross and leaving him there. Probably so, since they were, apparently, one and the same. Hamlet did his best to live up to his father's wishes, and look where that got him. Oedipus might've had the right idea. Next week, on Marc's blog: Jocasta, Madea, and the Motherlove of Lucille Bluth.)

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