Erik Adams: At the end of “A New Attitude,” after the veritable Fuck Mountain of merry mixups has been cleared away to reveal:
- that Tony Wonder is sleeping with Sally Sitwell,
- that George Michael is his father’s rival for Rebel’s affection,
- that Anne has a kid, but it’s not GOB’s—it’s Tony Wonder’s, and
- that it wasn’t a woman trying to ditch GOB and Michael at the model home, but rather Tony Wonder (he’s his own legs!)
I started to feel like Arrested Development’s fourth season takes place in a small, small world. Now, given Noel’s thoughts on the show’s jones for miniaturization and my own notions about how the Bluths travel in intersecting downward spirals, it makes sense that the principal players should all be involved in each others’ affairs. When I hear outside opinions that say season four is too convenient in its twists or doesn’t give itself enough room to breathe, this is the kind of thing those people are talking about. Forget about the typically closed-quarters settings of a farce and the fact that there aren’t many people who’d be caught dead doing business with the Bluths—isn’t it strange that anything of consequence in Arrested Development’s Orange County involves the same dozen or so people?
But then “Señoritis” tosses off one of the smartest jokes of these 15 episodes, an aside demonstrating that this fictional Orange County isn’t a Tiny Town. Explaining to George-Michael how she can afford to plant the seeds for Fakeblock in a 500-nerd airplane hangar, Maeby let’s it drop that one of her backers is Lucille 2. George-Michael thinks his cousin says “Lucille, too,” but he’s corrected: Maeby meant Lucille Austero, a woman whom—and I’ve yet to do my due diligence on this—George-Michael has never met, despite the location of her condominium, her proclivity for Bluth men, and the way in which even the most minor of Arrested Development characters have deep, deep history with one another. It’s a great gag, and such an elegant way of looking at Arrested Development’s seeming tangle of intersecting characters from a different angle.
The sense that everyone knows everyone in the Arrested Development universe might be heightened this week because we’re considering “A New Attitude” and “Señoritis” at the same time, and these episodes pull cartwheel after cartwheel to keep their houses of cards (to borrow a turn of phrase Sally Sitwell borrowed from Netflix) standing. In the waning hours of a season-four jag, these are the episodes that pull the viewer on through the end: Their pacing is relentless, just turn after turn after hilarious turn. “Señoritis” does some necessary backtracking, and “A New Attitude” gives Tony Wonder the chance to take some digs at recap-heavy early-season episodes, but these two installments move at a clip that keeps pace and even outruns the swiftest episodes of Arrested Development’s broadcast run.
They have to keep moving, or otherwise they’d sink under the weight of all this plot: In “A New Attitude,” GOB plans to undermine the career of his bursting-out-of-the-closet rival by means of seduction—but only after he fails to lock the guy in any of his act’s myriad props. (Turns out he was concealed in a bean bag chair, betraying GOB’s lack of interest in going anywhere near Tony’s sack.) This plot turns into a roofie circle/dramatic-irony-tango all its own when it turns out Tony is trying to entrap GOB by similar means, a lesser scheme in whatever Wannabe Lucille Sally Sitwell has up her sleeve.
But those zigs and zags look positively lackadaisical stacked up against the con(s) Maeby has going in “Señoritis,” where she displays the family knack for building castles out of sand by selling software that doesn’t exist, pimping a woman who doesn’t realize she’s a prostitute, and entrapping local predators in houses that have no children in them. That last job is one she eventually shares with her Uncle GOB, thanks to his realization that (well predicted, Noel) the relative isolation of Sudden Valley would be an undeniable draw to registered sex offenders like his brother-in-law.
There’s another throwaway line from “Señoritis” that I admire for what it says about season four, and Arrested Development as a whole: When Maeby’s making her reluctant return to the Model Home, The Narrator notes that it’s “a lot harder to get out of a Bluth home than into one.” This quote too relieves my anxiety about the size of the show’s world: By the internal logic that drives Arrested Development and that makes the show such a fascinating puzzle box of a sitcom, the Bluths must bump into each other, and the same set of supporting players, again and again and again. There’s a cruel gravity at play here—The Narrator, far more helpful this week than he’s been in weeks past, chalks up one of Maeby’s many “Señoritis” freebies to “The Universe”—that keeps pulling these people back together.
To put it another way: There are settings and scenes in these new episodes that attract each member of the Bluth family, no matter how hard they fight that attraction. Some of them are part of the “way stations” I’ve ragged on in earlier reviews, the points of intersection for each storyline that Mitch Hurwitz and his team believed possess a greater level of Rashomon-like intrigue than they actually do. (Since there are always exceptions when it comes to discussing the fourth season, I will say I’m still having fun discovering that, say, the coughing overheard at the Queen Mary-heist debriefing was fake, a cry for parental attention from Maeby.) For my purposes, the settings that hold the most interest are the most familiar, the ones where Maeby has near misses with so many of her family members in “Señoritis”: The Model Home and the penthouse. Symbols of the Bluths’ former largesse, there’s always something calling out to the family from these places, be it a “There’s always money in the banana stand” instinct or an urge they all feel, but long ago developed the ability to shrug off: roosting. You know, like that ostrich and those vultures are doing.
And even though it occurs within The Model Home, I think the true power of “A New Attitude” comes from the way GOB kicks at his Bluthian instincts and accepts Tony Wonder not as a competitor, but as a friend. It’s only in his natural GOB overzealousness and lasciviousness that he mistakes this platonic affection for sexual attraction—a moment of clarity and an opportunity for growth clouded by his previous inability to achieve either milestone.
But enough about GOB—“Señoritis” is poor Maeby’s lone feature episode, and I like it just as much, if not more, than “A New Attitude.” It sets up Alia Shawkat’s character as season four’s anti-Michael, the Bluth who’s been lurking at the edges of other storylines rather than busting in on them, appropriate for a daughter whose parents conveniently and constantly forget about her. Did you get that impression, Noel? And how many shares of Fakeblock can I put you down for?
Noel Murray: Thanks to a publicist e-mail I received a couple of weeks ago about the actual Fakeblock app, that particular surprise has been spoiled for me—that’s one of the perils of the slow-watch, I know—so I’ll take exactly zero shares of FB, thank you very much. I will however invest heavily in these two episodes, both of which I thought were among this season’s best. Maybe it’s because these episodes are bringing earlier storylines to some kind of fruition, rather than just teasing what might happen next. Or maybe it’s that the main characters in these two are more enjoyable to hang out with. And I don’t just mean GOB Bluth and Maeby Fünke. Tony Wonder as well is an amusingly odd bird: a GOB-like boob, similarly self-deluded and insecure. I was impressed too by the way “A New Attitude” goes all the way with its depiction of two shallow narcissists who mistake kinship for lust, and ending up literally(ish) fucking themselves.
It’s easy to get caught up in the insanely intricate plotting of Arrested Development and the quirkiness of the individual characters and forget that this show was originally meant to satirize the arrogance and sense of entitlement shared by some members of the American upper class—not the ones who worked hard to get where they are, or the ones who try to use their fortunes for good, but rather the ones not used to hearing “no” or having their whims go un-catered-to. “A New Attitude” is funny just as a piece of juvenilia. (How many scenes in that episode end with one man pressed up against another, inadvertently simulating anal sex? And how many of those scenes involve relatives?) But it’s also a hilarious vivisection of GOB, who’s a prime example of the sort of guy who’s always had the money and the undue confidence to pursue all of his bad ideas. The difference is that GOB’s also had to deal with a mother who doesn’t “care for” him, a father who belittles him, and siblings and peers who think he’s a joke, all of which make his cockiness less appalling and more understandable, even when he’s forgetting the birthday of his son Steve Holt! (while chastising Steve Holt! for forgetting years’ worth of his birthdays).
That’s true of Maeby too, when you think about it: that she’s driven to execute crazy, selfish plans because of a general lack of respect and attention. Sad-sack though she is, Maeby’s failed upward for most of her life. She can’t pronounce the word “heiress,” she has an ESL student doing her English homework, she’s so math-challenged she can’t sing “99 Bottles Of Beer,” and she doesn’t understand anything about computers. (She suggests to George-Michael that he call his software “The Fakeblock,” because, “It’s cleaner. Like The Netflick.”) But by her early 20s Maeby’s already been a high-powered movie executive, and now she’s spearheading the launch of a new software that doesn’t really exist. There’s something touching about The Narrator noting how Maeby’s self-esteem grows with every phony stock option she hands out. (After all, we all know what happens to girls with low self-esteem.) And there’s something wickedly sharp about “Señoritis” showing Jim Cramer anointing Fakeblock with his first-ever “Hypothetical Buy.”
I loved “Señoritis” dearly, for most of the reasons you point out, Erik. For me it represents the best use so far of season four’s interlaced storytelling, as it reveals Maeby’s secret role and/or presence in what’s been going on with her family over the last five years or so. The tone of the episode reminds me of one of those old Goofy “how to” cartoons, with The Narrator walking us through the funny foibles of an everyman. And Maeby may be the closest thing Arrested Development has to a true everyman—much moreso than Michael or George-Michael, who each have too many hang-ups to be the show’s straight men. Like I said, Maeby has weaknesses aplenty too, but at least she seems to react to the madness around her with the appropriate level of disbelief.
I give much of the credit for that to Alia Shawkat, who should really be acting more (y’know, if she wants to… I don’t want to tell her what to do). As Maeby, Shawkat has some of the keenest comic timing of anybody in the Arrested Development cast, which is saying something given the comedy all-stars in this show’s line-up. But there’s a naturalness about Shawkat too that’s different from almost everyone else in AD, all of whom are playing broader. Maeby’s thin, lightly condescending smile alone is adorable, but her running, under-her-breath commentary about what’s happening to her—and only her, because she’s ultimately as self-absorbed as anyone else in her family—is downright endearing. I want an all-Maeby season five now.
EA: Why not a full-on Maeby spin-off? She could team up with one of those reality-show crews who’ve been hanging out with her between the panels of season four. (Coloring between the gutters this week: Tobias’ favorite show, Babies Having Babies.) There’s even a built-in angle: Father-daughter registered sex offenders. Call it Disciplined With Daddy or something along those lines.
I’m glad you picked up on the failing upwards pattern of “Señoritis,” Noel, because there’s a great joke within the episode about how Maeby simply can’t fail enough to get her parents’ attention. It’s a perfect reversal of the typical Bluth anxiety, where no amount of success is good enough to secure the respect and admiration of your parents—Steve Holt! runs his own extermination service and he can’t even get GOB to acknowledge his birthday. (Fitting, because GOB didn’t acknowledge the kid’s birth for years.) At this point, the various “crocodile” grades Maeby has earned at every stage of her life just wash right off her back, and while that gives a good reason to feel for her, it also imbues “Señoritis” with a satisfying pluck. At the end of the latest series of things blowing up in the Bluths’ faces, it’s oddly refreshing to watch one member of the family sidle right up to an “I’ve made a huge mistake” before making a mid-sentence reversal. Maeby is going to be fine—in spite of finally getting her just desserts for multiple seasons of low-level fraud—and that’s just one more reason to enjoy her character.
Her inability to complete her uncle’s most well-worn catchphrase is just another reason that “A New Attitude” and “Señoritis” make for complementary viewing. Sure, we’re discussing them in the same breath for reasons of our own devising, but I just love how these these episodes interlock: The continuing adventures of the “discrete-iest” Bluth as companion to the latest of GOB’s many, highly public flameouts. Then again, her movements won’t be so secretive now that she’s been apprehended by Rock Richter, whose wig hookup isn’t as skilled as the Real Housewives alum who madeup Maeby as Lindsay’s Mr. Whipple-riffing shaman.
These reviews are headed into the home stretch, and as nice as it is that these two episodes afford us a small taste of the binging experience, it’s also reassuring to see how well they work as individual pieces. The massive framework required by season four makes it difficult to get through some of the first few entries, but now that it’s been established and we’re hearing from characters whose voices were underrepresented in the early goings, the experiment gets a lot more fun. Maeby might have a tendency to pull a disappearing act when the going gets tough—though in the case of Fakeblock, George-Michael helps her out—but it’s great that she’s able to make such an impression with such little screentime.
“A New Attitude”: A-
After four years of hearing their show compared to Modern Family, the Arrested Development team finally gets a chance to conflate itself with the show that made a single-camera family mockumentary that’s palatable to the masses: When Michael and GOB brag about their celebrity squeezes, both ask if the other is seeing Modern Family star Julie Bowen. Later, at The Opies, Perfecto ignores Maeby in order to get the attention of Rico Rodriguez. [EA]
Barry tells Maeby that “After 21 it is illegal for you to enroll in high school.” Is there a Happy Days joke baked in there, or is this just a gag about the average age of the TV high-schooler? [EA]
I was happy to see the resumption of the “George-Michael and Maeby act faux-sophisticated about sex” running gag, as Maeby boasts that she’s at the height of her sexuality, and George-Michael meekly “me too”s, muttering, “We’re a couple of… forces of nature.” (Undercutting George-Michael’s assertion even further is the very strange, very funny digression in “Señoritis” into just what makes G-M such a terrible kisser.) [NM]
There’s scarcely a line or image in an Arrested Development that doesn’t connect to something else. Early in “Señoritis,” for example, Maeby yells to her parents that senior year is when a lot of kids start getting into drugs and getting pregnant. Later, on the bus with the other math-challenged “alge-tards,” Maeby squeezes by a pregnant teen, and sits behind two girls who ask if she wants to get high. [NM]
Callbacks aplenty in this episode, both to earlier this season (as when Maeby tells her movie-producer cohort that they should book 10,000 extras “so then we’ll have it,” and when Sally Sitwell worries she’ll have to sell Tony Wonder’s closet on Craigslist as a sweat lodge), and to earlier in the series (as when GOB looks for day-laborers at the “Dr. House Home Improvement Center”). My favorite recurring motif this season however is the proliferation of birds, seen most notably in “A New Attitude” when GOB, like his father before him, gets life advice from a birdlike apparition. For George Sr., it was Marky Bark dressed as an ostrich; for GOB, it’s one of those drinking bird paperweights. (Also, did you notice that the mascot for Maeby’s latest high school is an ostrich?) [NM]
Maeby ends up acting like a multitude of Bluths in “Señoritis,” but don’t forget that donning a letterman jacket and giving increasingly desperate year-book quotes (just like her cousin/ex-boyfriend Steve Holt!) contributes to this count as well. Because I almost did. [EA]
Yes, I like the bird motif even more than the impotence motif. But that didn’t stop me from appreciating the moment in “A New Attitude” when GOB tries to post a Help Wanted sign at the border ribbon, but can’t get it up. [NM]
Or maybe my favorite motif this season is the belated wave of characters eating parmesan and mustard, which in “A New Attitude” culminates in the classic sight-gag of GOB and Tobias coughing and laughing, spewing out clouds of parmesan dust. [NM]
These are two funny episodes, and yet I don’t think any moment in either made me laugh harder than the sight of Tony Wonder in his beanbag-chair hiding-place, peering out through two tiny eyeholes. It’s funny in the way that a costumed character’s static expression is funny. The world grinds on, but the guy in the mask never reacts. [NM]
Classic Arrested Development name-pun: GOB and Michael’s fight has them breaking through the thin walls of “Thin Wally’s Knife Store.” [NM]
Pop-culture references aplenty in these episodes, from the Curb Your Enthusiasm music that plays during Mort’s anecdote about his firing, to Maeby at the Opie Awards saying, “Thank you, Kirk Cameron, for that incredibly Bible-y introduction.” (But my favorite “life these days” gag was probably Siri calling GOB “gob.”) [NM]
When Maeby mispronounces “heiress,” George-Michael makes the point that the way we say words matters. That resonates with Arrested Development as a whole, which often has a weird way of phrasing things. For example: GOB saying he wants to bring George-Michael to The Gothic Castle (not The Gothic Asshole) to be his “arm-candy-bean,” and The Narrator referring to an argument between GOB and Michael as a “tinkling match.” And then there’s the delightfully specific end to that argument, with GOB commanding Michael, “I want to hear you say the words, ‘I’m not seeing Julie Bowen,’” and Michael answering, “I have not seen Julie Bowen.” [NM]
The Narrator’s sarcastic “untainted” counts as enough of a hint, but George Michael ought to do a something search for his new pseudonym. He may find some interesting facts about Maeby’s boyfriend while he’s at it. [EA]
Tobias has a list of men who can fill every opening you have. Meanwhile, Tony Wonder would totally have gay sex or whatever, but he just drank a lot of water. [NM]
Michael plays down some of Sudden Valley’s newest features in decidedly dark fashion: “There are some vultures that might still smell Pete.” [EA]
The one knock against “A New Attitude” in my book is that the ending is a mess. Not the Tony-and-GOB-put-on-masks-and-have-sex ending (I liked that part a lot), but the “on a previous”/“on the next” ending, which tries too hard to shoehorn more plot into the final minute-plus. [NM]
But let’s take a moment to appreciate the truly, truly disturbing image of GOB and Tony each donning masks of the other’s faces. That split screen is a transmission from the deepest parts of the Uncanny Valley. [EA]
The best “on the next” in these two episodes: Busted for having sex with the 17-year-old Perfecto, Maeby sighs that, “I’m gonna have to move to Sudden Valley.”