Thursday, June 06, 2013

Culture Shock 06.06.13: Season 4 is our 'Arrested Development'

A funny thing happened after "Arrested Development" was canceled in 2006.

The housing bubble burst.

"Hey, that's not funny!" you say? Not on its own, no, but who could have suspected a sitcom about a bankrupt family forced to live in a model house in an unfinished subdivision could prove so prophetic?

Yet as the old economy stagnated, the new economy kept on keeping on. Canceled by Fox, "Arrested Development" was resurrected by Netflix, which has released the entire fourth season all at once, because the way Americans watch television has also kept on keeping on.

Thanks to Netflix and its streaming service, supported by a growing library of TV programs, binge viewing is rapidly becoming the norm.

Who hasn't lost an entire day to a "Battlestar Galactica" marathon?

But enough about my problems. This is about the Bluth family's problems, which are as numerous and ridiculous as ever.

Michael (Jason Bateman), the son who passes for the responsible member of the Bluth family, has cut ties with the rest of his family. Again. No, this time he means it. He has sold his stock in the family company and finally finished, on his own, that subdivision. Just in time for the housing crash.

So, broke and homeless, Michael has moved in with his son, George-Michael (Michael Cera). Unfortunately, George-Michael is at college and lives in a dorm.

Meanwhile, family matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter) is preparing for her trial for hijacking the Queen Mary in an attempt to flee from the Securities and Exchange Commission. (See the end of season 3.) The rest of the family is strangely ambivalent.

And while all of that is going on, the family patriarch, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), is hatching a scheme involving his twin brother Oscar (also Jeffrey Tambor), a sweat lodge, gullible corporate CEOs, cheap desert real estate, and a plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The rest of the Bluth family is also on hand, including youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale), who still has a hook for a hand. Eldest brother G.O.B. is still trying to find the ultimate magic trick. Adopted sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) is still trying to find herself. And brother-in-law Tobias (David Cross) is still trying to find a clue. All unsuccessfully.

Old supporting characters are back, too, like Henry Winkler's crooked lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn and Liza Minnelli's unbalanced Lucille 2. But the heart of the story belongs to Michael and George Sr.

Michael finds himself in Hollywood, trying to turn his family's story into a movie for Ron Howard, which adds a new wrinkle to Howard being the show's narrator. And while Michael is caught up in the entertainment economy, George Sr. is caught up in his old ways: shady real estate deals and corrupt government contracts. It's just like old times. It's how the Bluths got into this mess to start with.

Unlike the original run of "Arrested Development," each episode of the fourth season focuses on a particular member of the Bluth clan. That's probably owing to scheduling conflicts. Everyone in the cast has moved on to other projects since 2006. But series creator Mitchell Hurwitz makes that work for him. Each character's story arc ends up crossing the others' arcs in surprising and funny ways.

In a way, the entire season is one very long episode that, for reasons of custom, is split into 15 segments. It's the first TV show meant specifically for binge viewing. If you don't watch at least the first six episodes in one sitting, you're not doing it right.

So, a television show that began as the story of a dysfunctional family is now equally as much the story of a dysfunctional economy, but delivered in a format best suited to the new economy.

This is our arrested development.

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