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Review: “Indian Takers,” Arrested Development season 4, episode 3

June 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Philip J Reed in review | television

Arrested Development, Indian Takers

If you had told me before this season began that Lindsay’s episode would have been miles better than Tobias’s, I wouldn’t have believed you. That’s the case without question, though, and that says more about the bumbling “A New Start” than it does about anything “Indian Takers” does right.

I’ve already discussed my disappointment with the way the individual episodes of this season fail to fit together, but I think it’s worth mentioning that this disappointment could have been avoided entirely if the season didn’t want to fit together. If we had gotten a series of 15 isolated character sketches, we could have taken them at face value. Instead we have 15 components that struggle against themselves to form something bigger, and this reaching for narrative complexity ends up undermining its success.

In “Flight of the Phoenix” and “Borderline Personalities,” we had smaller stories that didn’t exactly close off by the episode’s end, but which progressed at least to natural breaking points. “Indian Takers” is the first of many episodes this season that just shows us a bunch of stuff happening and then suddenly ends because there’s nowhere left to take it.

In fact, it plays out like one of Tobias’s “Yes And…” improvisations that we see in the episode; desperate, flailing attempts to conjure a story from nothingness, which ends with hands being thrown up and the experiment abruptly stopped. I’d say that qualifies as thematic resonance but for that to be the case Hurwitz and co. would have had to have deliberately given us a disappointing episode, and I doubt that’s what happened.

I’m being hard on the episode, but the fact is that the first act or so holds a lot of promise. Lindsay fleeing to India to do some impulsive soul searching is a perfect setup for the flighty character (as is the fact that she only makes it 2/3 of the way through Eat, Pray, Love before running off, inspired), and Lindsay returning to Tobias after flying halfway around the world to get away from him is also in line with her personality and her history.

Unfortunately that’s only the first act. In an earlier episode of Arrested Development this might have been a B-plot, and Lindsay’s return would have been the end of the story, probably capped off by some unfortunate phrasing on Tobias’s part that suggests he wants to be buttfucked by a man. However this is season four, which for some reason I still can’t understand seems to think it needs longer episodes when it has so much less to say, and we have a lot of filler between this and the episode’s end.

There’s a lengthy detour with a Realtor — a welcome Ed Helms, whose cheerful on-screen presence overshadows some pretty lazy writing — another Lindsay and Tobias fight, and then the major development of the episode: a trip to the Method One Clinic.

Tobias misunderstanding the name of the organization is a nice gag, but we get mired there for a while, then get swept along with a junkie couple to a barter restaurant, where Lindsay and Tobias run off separately with the junkies, and then Lindsay has sex with the guy, and the guy says he has “face blindness” so that we can have some jokes about that, and then Lindsay is naked and an ostrich attacks her and an old woman calls her a slut. Cool story, bro.

That sort of thing might pass for a plot on a lot of shows nowadays, but on Arrested Development it’s glaringly sloppy. Lindsay’s soul-searching / bargain hunting in India should have been the focus of this one…instead it’s just a spark meant to kick her through the gauntlet of nonsense the episode really wants to show us — but can’t figure out why — before it ends. Yes and…yes and…yes and.

One of the other problems here is the same problem we had in “Borderline Personalities:” the new characters are simply too broad to care about. At least in “Borderline Personalities” we had Heart-Fire, whose joke actually had some genius to it…and Dr. Norman and China Garden don’t reveal themselves as irritatingly one-note until later in the season. Here we get Marky Bark (descended from Johnny Bark in season one*, because why not) and DeBrie, who punish us for being amused at the methadone / Method One misunderstanding by hanging around all season being annoying.

This is the kind of episode that could afford some narrative messiness in favor of payoff down the line, but these characters don’t really go anywhere. (Maria Bamford as DeBrie at least comes close, but we’ll discuss that in another episode.) Marky Bark’s face blindness offers a chuckle when he not only kicks open a bathroom door to tell the wrong woman he loves her but goes back to the bathroom to apologize, but that’s about it. Every time we return to it it’s the same joke, static, and the show hopes it will somehow just come across as funnier the next time. It never does.

I’m also disappointed by the fact that Lindsay actually has sex with him. In earlier “seeing other people” plots, both Lindsay and Tobias were failures, and naturally gravitated back toward each other. This was both more satisfying — we, as viewers, do want them together — and funnier, especially because the writers had to come up with cogent reasons that eligible men wouldn’t want to be with Lindsay. It might have been expected, but it forced the writers to work for the payoff, and their hard work showed. Especially when compared to this, in which they just have sex and that’s that. That’s not as rewarding, and it takes a lot less effort from all sides. (So to speak…)

In earlier seasons I liked that Lindsay and Tobias were a failure as a couple, but also proved themselves to be failures apart as well. It was cute, and it was interesting. Now, suddenly, they both do quite well apart (spoiler warning), and that’s another step backward in a season that’s been full of them.

Oh well. I’ll have more to say in the Tobias episode for sure, but I do want to end on a big nitpick about the India stuff. (You didn’t think I’d just let myself be satisfied with something I like, did you?)

The casual racism in the first episode involved blacks and Muslims, in episode two we got our hooks in the Asians, and now we’re picking on the Indians. Some of it plays well enough when they’re reacting to Lindsay and playing up the stereotype in order to swindle her, but this episode provides some pretty concrete evidence that it’s not the characters being racist…it’s the show.

When Lindsay asks about a swimming pool, the hotel receptionist tells her, “It’s hard to tell because there are so many people in it, but yes it is a pool.” Later the narrator makes a similar joke about the ocean. If it were Lindsay saying these things (and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been) it would have told us something about the character and we could have laughed. Instead, it tells us something about the show, which wants us to laugh at them, and that’s problematic. There’s also the clumsy dialogue on the bus about how much worse it would be to hit a cow than a tourist, and it just feels like lazy, embarrassing standup repurposed as a sitcom script. This isn’t funny…it’s just putting a stereotype on display and having it dance for us. Arrested Development, you’re better than this.

Oh well. Up next is another Michael episode. If anyone can get this mess in order, it’s him.

Episode 3: “Indian Takers”
Central Character: Lindsay
Other Family Appearances: Lucille, Tobias, Maeby
Most Clumsy Reference to Original Run: “I was thinking of Mike, the hot seaman.”
Scene That Most Needed Tightening: The exchange with the Realtor, in which the audience grasps the joke in around three seconds, but is stuck listening to it over and over again for the next several minutes. Lindsay and Tobias shouting at each other through their cavernous home is a close second.
Best Line / Exchange:

TOBIAS: It shouldn’t affect our area. He’s over by where the fountain is.

—–
* Am I the only one who doesn’t like the SHOWSTEALER PRO watermark over the old footage? I guess the joke only really lands if you pirated the first three seasons. Otherwise all it does is prevent the new footage from flowing naturally from the old and makes the whole thing feel even more artificial. That’s a notable step down from the brilliant retreads and retellings we got in the original run.

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12 Responses

  • Ridley says:

    New edit: Marky sleeps with Cindy after mistaking her for Lindsay.

  • Andreas says:

    I agree many of the India-related jokes were pretty lazy and not especially funny, but I’m not convinced that they’re racist – that’s far too strong a strong word and I’m sick of seeing it bandied about. Racism has a meaning – it’s when one thinks their race is superior to other races. Just because the show makes some lazy jokes about Indian population density and plays on some stereotypes of India doesn’t mean the show thinks Indians as a body are inferior or subhuman or whatever.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      You may be sick of hearing the word, but you’re also simplifying the meaning. Racism doesn’t solely refer to thinking of others as subhuman…there are a lot of less severe shades before we get anywhere near that, and what we have here are absolutely racist jokes. I think we can question whether or not we find them offensive, or funny, but I don’t think we can question whether or not their racist.

      A good litmus test is to remove the context of comedy. If you overheard somebody in real life talking about how Indian comes from a place so crowded you can’t see the ocean and is a garbage pile that stinks of animals, I think you could pretty confidently conclude that those comments were racist, or at the very least represented a severe and active ignorance about another’s race.

      Taking those same comments and sticking them into a comedy doesn’t stop them from being racist observations…it just turns them into racist jokes. That’s where the question of whether or not they’re offensive or funny comes in, but it doesn’t make them less racist.

      A good illustration of this actually comes from the earlier seasons, with GOB’s puppet Franklin. GOB says many racist things through Franklin, but he doesn’t realize he’s being racist (which is important, as racism isn’t always about intention), and the fact that the joke is ultimately on GOB for being such a doe-eyed fool that he’d say these things through a puppet and not understand why people get upset.

      The lines I single out above would have been fine coming from Lindsay (and similar lines have come from her and Lucille in the past) because the joke would have been on her. Instead they are lines from the narrator, or that were given by the show to the Indian characters themselves, implying a level of endorsement from the show itself, rather than an indictment of characters who would speak that way with a straight face.

      I really don’t think there is a question over whether or not it’s racist…change the context but keep the observation intact and it clearly is. I’m not offended by it, though…I’m just baffled. I don’t think Hurwitz is a racist monster who believes Indians are sub-human. I do, however, think someone who did feel that way would make similar jokes in a very similar way, and that’s the problem. The writing should be above that.

      Whew. Thanks for reading and I hope you stick around.

      • Andreas says:

        I’m loathe to resort to quoting the dictionary, but its defines racism as 1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others; and 2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief.
        .
        So on that definition I don’t think the depiction of Indians in the episode is racist, it doesn’t really depict them as being inferior to Americans, just different. I do think context and intent is important as well. For example, I’m an Australian and I’m thinking of The Simpsons episode where they come to Australia – and it’s a ludicrous depiction of the country full of silly stereotypes. Is that racist? I don’t think so, it’s obviously all tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken seriously. Similarly, the depiction of India in AD is just a silly caricature, no one should read that as being how Indians are in real life. I think calling such trivial things racism encourages people to take offence where none is intended. We shouldn’t be above laughing at ourselves and each other.
        .
        But we obviously don’t agree on this point so I won’t go on about it again, we can at least agree that many of those jokes were lazy, and I do agree it would have been better to have some of those lines in Lindsay’s mouth. The episode is supposed to be about her after all, and not about India.

        I look forward to more of your reviews. Your ones of Red Dwarf were spot on, and you introduced me to Venture Bros. too which is a great show.

        • Philip J Reed says:

          I’m always glad to agree to disagree! But I thank you for the intelligent rebuttal. Whether we agree or not isn’t the issue…I just appreciate you taking the time to discuss it. Hope you stick around for the rest of the reviews!

  • Justin says:

    Man, do I ever agree about the Showstealer Pro gag. The first time I saw it, I thought, OK, there’s a gag, it isn’t funny but I get it. And it just never goes the hell away. I also don’t really get what the joke is about — you guessed piracy, but I guessed that it was someone putting the show less than professionally. Neither makes any sense so who knows.

  • Jeff says:

    I think a single line such as the pool joke is okay, personally, because anyone who’s seen an Indian movie understands that many parts really are as crowded as fuck. Check out the dance scenes in Gunday… man, those cats are jam packed! The joke re: hitting a tourist hits much closer to being an offensive stereotype. But I don’t think jokes about how crowded this country is are necessarily offensive. Funny, well, that’s another issue.
    .
    Overall I preferred this episode to the 2 before it simply in terms of watchability, but I wouldn’t say I thought it was good. So far we’ve only made it through 4, and I’d say the 4th has been my favorite so far–even got a couple of laughs out of me.
    .
    Oh, and this may be completely inappropriate, but Lindsay/Portia’s appearance seems to have been somewhat ravaged by her (alleged) problems with eating disorders. I’m a sucker for beautiful women who are funny, so at least let her be funny again… although she’s still kind of beautiful. Also, I used to wonder in the past if she also used/misused Botox. And that didn’t keep her from being beautiful either. I am very shallow, you see. I have to pee now.

    • Philip J Reed says:

      I’ll be interested in hearing your opinions as you work through the rest of the season. Opinion is definitely split on these, so even if you end up disagreeing with everything I say, you’re still in pretty good company. (If you don’t count Ridley.)

      I won’t say anything to spoil you, except that my problems with episode 4 actually come with retrospect. In isolation I quite enjoyed it. As part of the larger piece…well, we’ll talk about that when you get there.

      I will say that even though opinion is split, there’s one episode that everybody seems to agree is pretty great. Arguably there are two. And you haven’t gotten to them yet, so if you’ve enjoyed the season so far, it’s likely you’ll find the rest of the ride enjoyable as well.

      • Jeff says:

        It’s funny, because when I suggest we watch the next episode of Arrested Development, Erin says, “Let’s try something new like Orange Is the New Black.” Then we wind up liking that more, so we watch it instead… we watched the ENTIRE SEASON of OITNB before going back to Arrested Development. Then, last night, she said, “Let’s try something new like Portlandia; I hear that’s pretty funny.” So now we’re watching that.
        .
        I guess the problem, then, with Arrested Development is that it isn’t competitive enough as a single menu item amidst a smorgasbord of audiovisual goodness.
        .
        But I will watch the entire season, eventually…

  • Sarah Portland says:

    I feel like there are quite a few problems with this season overall. While some of the episodes are fantastic, others fall very, very short. Part of it is that AD got a swift cancellation, with fans screaming for it’s prompt return, which didn’t happen. There were rumors, false starts. Finally, we get one last season. The fans have been pining for more AD for years, so their expectations are sky-high, and when Arrested failed to come through, those fans fell harder and were more disappointed.
    The format creates some issues. Fewer episodes than a full season, but with content so jam-packed in that one has trouble keeping track. In seasons one through three, each episode came out a week apart, and one needed to recall what had happened the week previously, and sometimes what had happened in earlier seasons. Part of the pay-off was that things were sometimes resolved further into the future than one expected, and when that issue did return and was resolved, the viewer had often forgotten about it in the meantime, and was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the narrator was even called in to remind the audience of that storyline. By shooting and putting all episodes up at one time, AD creators had enabled viewers to participate in the latest fad of marathoning. The story took place at a much faster pace and the gags were more tightly inter-woven. I’ve found that people disagree with me on this point, but the latest season reminds me of the difference between trying to unknot a length of heavily-knotted sewing thread, and trying to unravel some loosely-bunched Christmas lights. The lights are twisted and meandering, but it’s not impossible to get them apart if you work a bit. This reminds me of seasons 1-3. But season 4 reminds me of that heavily-knotted sewing thread: the knots are much smaller, tighter and more closely-packed together, making it a messy process to pick apart. By the time you get there, you don’t really give a shit about the pay-off.
    Yes, being able to recall things from episode to episode changes when you are able to simply play them all back to back, meaning that you don’t have to be as creative in reminding your audience of previous storylines. But I feel like that was part of the charm of the original seasons, and that it was partially lost when people only had to remember the story threads from a few hours earlier.



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