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February 11, 2006


TV Review: Arrested Development Season 3/Series Finale
The Arrested Development series is done. It has not officially been announced as such, but Fox took their last four episodes of the season and shotgunned them back to back against opening night of the Olympics. They're obviously done with it.

So am I. I've been a fan of the show, and I appreciate the unique character and flavor of what they've created. I've managed to watch most of the episodes over three seasons, and I tuned in tonight a bit sad and nostalgic. Damn those Fox bean counters!

But then I watched what they're actually putting on the screen at this point, and it became very clear that it is time for this series to go. Beyond any network commercial considerations, this show is pretty well totally creatively spent.

It jumped out tonight that in fact the entire series suffers from a severe case of arrested development. Exactly that premise doomed the series as a long term thing. These characters were amusing, but limited and not going anywhere. They aren't growing or developing, and there's no place for them to go. Thus likewise for the series.

It started out amusing several seasons ago. The individual neuroses of the various characters were a little different than anything else I've seen, and the fussing and resentments were pretty cute for awhile. But in truth, these characters are pretty two-dimensional. They were never really going to develop into interesting long term characters exactly because of the arrested development premise. It was never in the cards for them to become Bunkers or Simpsons.

The show was always very arch, and this limited the capacity for pathos or real long term investment in these characters. Even evil cartoon Cartman on South Park has far more real poignancy than any of these characters.

But it made up for that for a good while just by being funny. When they had George Michael battling Uncle Tobias in the Godzilla suit, stomping through the model home set in front of their Japanese investors, that was pretty sharp writing. Keep coming up with stuff that funny, and it doesn't matter so much if the characters aren't developing.

But they're not coming up with more stuff that funny. The mock trial of the dad tonight was just dumb, WAY not creative genius. They wanted a mock trial to practice for Dad's treason trial, so they had it on the set of a new Judge Reinhold court show with, of course, guest Judge Reinhold. See, it's a Judge Judy thing, and his name is Judge. Get it? Worse, they milked probably a good five minutes of screen time on that one lame, painfully obvious joke.

But that was a damned brainstorm compared to Reinhold's TV show band, William Hung and the Hung Jury. The creators of Arrested Development knew that this was probably their last season, and still the best thing they've got to put on the screen is in fact William Hung singing. William Hung was a stale joke going nowhere a year or two ago. The show is creatively spent, and this was jumping shark after shark after shark. Enough already.

If there was any doubt about the spentness of the premise, they ended that with the party to celebrate the dismissal of charges against the father, with the feds showing up to bust them just like in the pilot for something new. Enough already. Get some new material.

Defenders of the show might argue that the characters were more sympathetic than might be obvious. Poor Buster in particular had a few moments of legitimate pathos. One might argue, however, that the whole show jumped the shark the first time when he lost his hand.

By tonight's finale, he's way past any pathos into just boring dumbness. For the finale, he's faking a coma to avoid having to testify in his father's treason trial. The totality of the series' creative spentness becomes bludgeoningly obvious with the extended hospital scenes. The business with the nurse who only loves guys while they're in a helpless coma and rejects them when they awake gets that joke played like literally ten or twenty times. The business with Mom renting out her supposedly unconscious son (knowing better) for medical tests and such just wasn't funny. Incompetent inner city youth dental students accidentally choking not-really-unconscious Buster just wasn't funny, merely stupid.

But there's not much original going on here in these four final episodes at all. In particular, they've absolutely six kinds of worn out the incest theme. That was the main point with the George Michael character, and his unspeakable guilty lust for his cousin Maeby. That was perhaps a reasonable point to slowly exploit over time. Fair enough.

But jumpin' Jebus on a stick, they were doing little else but that tonight. My people are from Kentucky, but even I've never seen this much damned involved incest. They arbitrarily dropped in now that Maeby's mother Lindsay was in fact adopted (to spite a competitor), so she's not really a blood relative. So then, Lindsay's determined to marry not-quite-brother Michael. The continuously resentful brother Gob wants to hump her to get back at his brother. Been there and done that in the show with the brothers passing their women around. Then they do that yet one more damned time with Gob and George Michael's girlfriend. Shut up already, damn. It's become extremely arbitrary and unmotivated, just purely beating a very dead and decomposed horse.

The incestuousness of this show also extends to the show itself. That is, the show was constantly having sex with itself with the frequent self-referential material. They were doing this a year ago with Bluth homes ordered and cancelled -- like the way the Fox network had ordered a season of the show and then cancelled part of the order. That was a somewhat clever idea, but really why would that be interesting to anyone not employed at the show? Is there any reason why someone watching this on a DVD even a couple of years out would care?

They ran that idea absolutely 100% into the frickin' ground tonight to end the series. Maeby got fired from her movie studio job when it was found out that she was just turning 16. But this was a news story, and now the studio is interested in buying the story of her family as a property.

The last scene of the show, then, is Maeby pitching her family as a TV series to Ron Howard. As godfather of the show and uncredited announcer, this amounts to more of the extremely belabored incest theme. Thus the final seconds of the show go to Howard. No, that's not a series, he explains. A movie, maybe.

No, Ron. Enough already. It's done. Time to quit while you're still (a little bit) ahead.

Air date: 2-10-2006


posted by Al at 2/11/2006 12:12:00 AM

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