Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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“Saudade,” Love and Rockets
Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, 1985

Colony Collapse

I’ve noticed that this episode tends to get singled out, by both commenters here and reviewers elsewhere, as a highlight of season four. And, really, that’s no surprise. As messy as these episodes have been and will continue to be, “Colony Collapse” is downright masterful by comparison.

Of course, that’s only by comparison. Even so, it’s nice to finally see one installment of this splintered narrative that functions as a complete and moderately insightful character sketch. We get to explore an aspect of GOB’s character that had always been left unspoken, see it through a variety of external lenses, and then close on a killer punchline. (And I mean that; barring the “On the next…” sequence, GOB’s final line is brilliant punctuation to everything we just saw.)

It has its own issues, of course, and we’ll deal with those, but “Colony Collapse” serves as an illustration of what season four should have been. Its focus is tighter, its themes well chosen, and its central character handled in interesting ways that don’t work against anything we already know about him. Relatively speaking, I’m happy with this. However it’s still not that good, and as far as I’m concerned this would ideally be the least successful episode of the season, with the others managing to rise above its disappointing but funny watermark.

The plot here, as ever, is a mess, but that works because “Colony Collapse” does something with it. While it may not have much to offer in terms of narrative it at least does use its disparate, disjointed scenes to explore an interesting theme: GOB’s solitude.

With a quiet refrain of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” we get slow, gentle zooms on GOB’s face, as he helplessly, hopelessly considers the path his life has taken.

This is a great example of the kind of territory these episodes should have charted uniformly. Admitted huge mistakes aside, GOB never really confessed to the sadness that underpinned his entire existence before. It was always there, as evidenced by his tortured relationships with his brothers and his abrupt bouts of fragility that left him in tears, but a few minutes later he’d be back to his old mindlessly swaggering self, confident and secure. There were always two GOBs in parallel existence: the one who would steal from you, and the one who was on the verge of breaking down in remorse over it. “Colony Collapse” occupies that territory in between, and allows us to follow GOB through the highs and lows, one always coming right after the other, in order to get a sense of who this quietly sad bully really is.

I like that, because it demonstrates not only an understanding of the character, but it qualifies as a genuine reveal as well, deepening our understanding of him as a viewer. It’s the sort of thing they could have done with Tobias, had they not decided to toss him into the humorless, irritating pit of despair that is the Fantastic Four musical.

In fact, coincidentally, “Colony Collapse” features Tobias in a capacity that would have made for a far more interesting episode than what either “A New Start” or “Smashed” gave us: Tobias has been picking up bit parts in Christian network programming.

That’s an episode right there! Tobias, a terrible but sincere actor, prone to inadvertently homosexual phrasings and situations, lands a recurring gig on Christian television. That would be a natural way of doing something with the character, and by default it generates better jokes and funnier plots than just having him dress up as the Thing for no reason and show up on To Catch a Predator.*

The Christian detour comes from Ann, and we pick up her relationship with GOB right where it left off in season three. I have some personal issues with this, as GOB waiting an hour for her to turn 18 crosses the line, I feel, between entertainingly creepy and just creepy, but that’s minor and in the face of better writing wouldn’t have been an issue. I’m also willing to go with it if that’s what it takes to get us to his magic trick with her and the mouse bodies, which is probably the only time in a season full of flab that a joke actually does get funnier with each repetition.

Ann is a great character, and Mae Whitman is a delight to have back. However her main role in the show was as George Michael’s girlfriend, with Michael expressing dislike for her both openly and accidentally. Sticking her with GOB and separating her from those two characters means they need to give her a new dynamic to play with, and they don’t really do that. Ann is just sort of…there, and since she’s there for around half the very long episode (almost 40 minutes), that’s a problem.

More of a problem, though, is the fact that we trip over the same joke constantly during this long sequence. When Michael would refer to Ann in off-handedly cruel ways, it was funny for two major reasons: because it was unexpected, and because it said a lot about Michael. When GOB does it again and again it doesn’t feel unexpected, and it says less about him than it does about the writers, who for whatever reason felt obligated to repeat the same old gag over and over.

It worked in the original run because the joke was always on Michael. I don’t think anyone heard his casual dismissal of the girl and thought, “Ha, yeah! She does deserve to be spoken to that way!” Instead it was a great way of revealing, still slowly at the time, the fact that Michael was kind of a dick.

With GOB it feels a lot more abrasive and a lot less necessary, to the point that it circles around to the way Family Guy treats Meg. There’s no reason for it, and if you find that funny then I’m happy for you, but relentless meanness for the sake of being relentlessly mean doesn’t reflect good writing.

Similarly, we run into another problem with Ann, because now we see that everybody in the world overlooks her and forgets she exists. Again this worked when it was Michael, because the way he reacted to her defined who he was both as a person and as a father, but when priests are surprised to find her sitting right next to them it’s no longer a character detail…it’s just a lame running gag.

I touched upon this before in the context of the new characters, but it’s a problem when this kind of comedy is extended to everyone in the show’s universe. The Bluths once felt like sheltered, spoiled brats who would have been unable to function in life outside of their comfortable bubble because they simply don’t understand it, as Lucille would say, and won’t respond to it. In fact, that was more or less the entire premise of the show.

Now, however, we see everybody acting like the Bluths, and there’s no more distinction. If Michael is passively cruel to Ann, that says something about Michael. If the entire world is passively cruel to her, there’s no joke. The playing field’s been leveled, and there’s nothing to laugh at. It’s almost as though Arrested Development now wants to occupy its own Springfield, where every character can be funny and join in on the same jokes. The problem is that we’re too late in the game for that; The Simpsons built up the town as a character very early in its run, and stuck with it. Arrested Development segregated its characters from civilization by means of prisons, penthouses, and model homes in deserted areas. It doesn’t get to stitch a world together and act like that’s how it always has been…at least not without sacrificing everything that made the characters who they were to begin with.

There’s still some very good stuff in the episode though. The Steve Holt! bits were great, and tapped perfectly into the complex blend of funny and heartbreaking that has always been a part of that relationship. And DeBrie getting into the limo is another of those rare examples where the intersecting narratives works: when we first saw it happen in “A New Start,” it felt like a dark and tragic development. Now that we see it was just GOB and his young entourage, it plays more for comedy. That’s how this sort of thing should work: reveals that add to the experience of watching.

But then the bees come out and fly around so that funny music can play, even though that already happened in “Double Crossers” and it’s no funnier here. There’s really no need for the bees. They give the episode a title but they’re never very funny, and — once again — that whole plot goes nowhere. I guess we’re able to assume from Marky’s earlier comment that GOB’s bees eventually killed Johnny Bark, though, which is great character work because everybody’s favorite thing about GOB is how he runs around accidentally killing people.

When the episode ends we leave GOB with a mountain of new experience behind him, and yet he’s no wiser for the journey. He wants to fit in, but we see it illustrated explicitly that he will never allow himself to do so; once he’s accepted, he doesn’t want it anymore. That might even go a long way toward explaining why he’s still a magician: he’s not good at it. If he were, he’d have to move on.

It’s a great place to leave the character. Unfortunately we still have another GOB episode down the line, and that’s where they’ll make up for all the accidental good they did here.

Oh, and…why the fuck does he still have the limo?

Episode 7: “Colony Collapse”
Central Character: GOB
Other Family Appearances: Tobias, George Michael, Michael
Most Clumsy Reference to Original Run: GOB’s nervous stuttering has retroactively made its first occurrence a lot less funny. “Way to plant, Ann,” is also a totally unnecessary callback.
Scene That Most Needed Tightening: All of the Ann stuff. All of it. Absolutely every second of it. It might be even flabbier than the Roofie Circle…which was pretty effin’ flabby.
Best Line / Exchange: The magazine spread advertising Tony Wonder’s new gay magic act sweeps this one, reading “I’m here, I’m queer, now I’m over here!”

—–
* And why was the show there ready to pounce on him when he hadn’t actually set up any kind of rendezvous in advance? Let alone an illegal one? UGH THAT FUCKING EPISODE.

Venture Libre, The Venture Bros.

If The Venture Bros. isn’t the best show on television right now, I’d love to know what is.

That isn’t to say that it doesn’t stumble, or broadcast episodes that disappoint, but it is to say that through four seasons and change I have yet to feel like the show has done anything overtly wrong. Even my favorite shows tend to go through patches that seem to suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of who their characters are, or they lose track of their own “voice” and start to write episodes that might still be good, but just don’t feel right.

The Venture Bros. hasn’t had that issue. Any unwelcome detour has remained true to its characters, and at least felt like part of a sustained vision. “Venture Libre” might never be the episode that I point to when I want to convince somebody that the show is great, but it would be an example of why the show is great: this far along, in the fifth season, we’re still watching our main characters grow.

This is especially impressive when it’s handled against the backdrop of the Venture clan mixing it up with animal people in the jungle, but we’ll get back to that.

When the show began, way back in season one, it was probably safe to say that Dr. Venture was the most interesting character. After all, he seemed to be our protagonist, and the more we passively learned about his backstory, the more we felt for him. The domineering and distant father, whose accomplishments by the time of Rusty’s adolescence already eclipsed anything the young boy would ever accomplish. The lack of a mother figure. The failed inventions, the financial difficulties, the pill-popping. The death of the space-age dream in evidence all around him.

And yet Rusty has proven to be the most static character. This isn’t meant a criticism…it’s simply who he is. Dr. Venture is locked into a cycle from which he can’t escape, and may not entirely want to. He’s comfortable in his misery, something sold expertly by the voice work of James Urbaniak, who makes Venture’s sustained bitchiness sound like he’s tapping into his last well of joy.

Around him, however, all throughout Venture’s circles, other characters evolve. The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend split up, explored who they were, and started a new life together. Brock became fed up with almost being killed on a weekly basis for the sake of nannying his boss around, and rediscovered a sense of professional fulfillment with SPHINX. Even Billy and Pete found separate moments of clarity in season four’s sorely underrated “The Silent Partners.”

The world grows up around Dr. Venture, but at the end of the day — to paraphrase his vanity musical project — he’s Rusty. He’s not going anywhere, and while we undoubtedly get glimpses of humanity within, he refuses to evolve. Meanwhile, everybody else — and I do mean everybody — leaves him behind.

“Venture Libre” sees this happening again. We’ve seen quite a bit of Dean growing up this season, from burning his learning bed to finding out that he’s a clone, and his evolution as a character is fast becoming one of the highlights of the entire show. What we haven’t seen as much of is a similar growth from Hank, but through some brilliant sleight of hand we get that now. Both Venture boys are already inching their way out from behind their father’s shadow…and that’s something Rusty himself was never able to do. His own sons have outgrown him.

Hank’s character work taps back (though not explicitly) into the glorious sequence in season four that showed him trying out for SPHINX…and proving himself to be shockingly capable. We’ve seen Hank demonstrate competence before, but it’s never been sustained quite as long or quite as satisfyingly as it is in “Venture Libre.”

Pairing this episode up with “Love-Bheits,” which is the last time Hank adopted his persona of The Bat, we see just how far he’s come. And even though his development in this capacity never got much screen time, it feels right. We’ve seen just enough of it to understand that, ultimately, Hank can do this. It might take him being wired on coffee beans to unlock his potential, but once it is unlocked, he’s more of an asset to the team than his father ever gave him credit for, and seeing him rescue his pop and Hatred with genuine cleverness and aplomb feels like both a satisfying payoff and a twist of the knife in Venture’s back. As much as the old man likes to keep his sons down and hold them back, they are starting to show us that they’ve managed to grow after all.

Our other big character development comes from Sgt. Hatred, and allow me to get on my soap box here for a moment: I love Sgt. Hatred. I don’t know why so many vocal fans and other reviewers seem to dislike him; I think he’s an extraordinarily rich character who is perfectly at home within the show.

I’ve seen it said that people don’t like him because his only joke is that he’s a pedophile. However I disagree entirely; that’s not his joke…that’s his tragedy.

His joke is that he’s a good person, at heart, or wants to be one. He wants to be loved and accepted. The pedophilia is what holds him back, and will always keep him in a very specific place in the world, no matter how hard he wishes he could overcome it.

The fact that he’s trying to be a good person doesn’t overshadow his dark past…rather his dark past prevents him from ever being seen as a good person. That’s tragedy in the thickest Venture tradition, and I absolutely love the way it’s been handled with his character. Jackson and Doc don’t want us to laugh at his sexual improprieties…they want us to laugh at his situation because of them. That’s a very different thing.

Now, in “Venture Libre,” we get a window into his subconscious. It’s a dream that seems to relay his backstory, as he’s injected with something and then attacks a little boy. It’s not played for laughs. At all. It’s dark. And because this is a character who earlier in the episode sacrificed himself to save his boss — and still bears the scars to prove it — that’s sad.

In fact, it shakes him up so much that he decides to stay behind on this island of abominations. He’s a monster, he says…and he just wants to be somewhere, for once, that he can be accepted.

Is that a joke? It’s certainly not played as one.

No, the joke is when he realizes he’s in danger and says, “Let’s get the **** out of here.” The tragedy is in the speech that leads up to the punchline. The joke isn’t, and never was, that he has inappropriate thoughts about children…that’s his flaw as a human being, and it’s a guilt he’ll never escape.

Even HELPeR gets a short moment of sadness, when he admits to Dean that he wants his old body back. Yes, even the bumbling old Venture robot outgrows Rusty.

“Venture Libre” isn’t about any of this character development, and that’s okay. The Venture Bros. is a show that can afford to let its characters grow in the background, so that one day they might drop down from the trees in a makeshift Batman outfit and surprise us. What’s impressive is that after so many episodes, we are still being surprised, and we’re being surprised during plots that wouldn’t seem to support it.

It’s not a great episode, but is evidence that The Venture Bros. is a great show.

Well, except for that Congresswoman stuff. That was garbage.

Arrested Development, Double Crossers

Disappointed by season four so far? Don’t worry Arrested Development fans! This show knows exactly how to get you back on board: a series of interlocking episodes focused around the political aspirations of a minor character we’ve never heard of before!

I’ll probably have more to say about this when we get to the final episode, but the most puzzling thing about this season is how much importance it gives to certain events and characters that have literally no impact on anything and that go absolutely nowhere. Here we meet Herbert Love, but we don’t learn anything about him except that he’s not a good character and not particularly funny.

Evidently he’s prone to gaffes and saying inappropriate things, but none of this is presented in a funny enough way to make it worth having in a sitcom, nor is it clever enough to serve as political commentary. He’s just a guy in a suit and some glasses, and that’s apparently what passes for character development at this stage in the game.

“Double Crossers” spends a lot of time talking about Herbert Love and whether or not he’s going to support the wall George Sr. wants to build between the United States and Mexico, in order to stick it to Sitwell and pocket some sweet government dough. So I hope you like lots of humorless scheming about political bribery, government support for construction projects, and fund juggling, because otherwise there’s not going to be much for you here.

The focus on Love is a bizarre one, even moreso than the focus on Marky Bark, DeBrie or Rebel Alley. In those cases yes the characters stink, but at least they’re portrayed as being important to the characters we do care about. Here he’s just a politician that people talk about sometimes, and though their paths do independently cross his own, he ultimately has no impact on anything that happens this season. Maybe he would have if we had gotten any kind of resolution for the 15 episodes’ worth of tail-chasing, but as it stands he just shows up, dominates a few scenes without ever making it clear why he should be important to us, and then vanishes completely with an implied middle finger raised to the audience who might have expected him to do something.

When fans asked for more Arrested Development, it was pretty clearly because they felt there was more mileage in these characters. We didn’t just want Michael and Maeby and Lucille back because we liked staring blankly at them…we wanted them back because we knew there was so much more they could do, more stories to tell, more twisted interaction to be enjoyed. So it’s a bit frustrating that when the show did come back it felt a lot more like The Continuing Adventures of Congressman Nobody, with special guests the Bluths.

Even worse is that once again the writers don’t know what to do with a character in his own spotlight episode. Hot on the heels of Tobias reprising his classic pedophile cosplay routine, we have George Sr. driving in circles and cross-dressing while Oscar fucks his wife. In other words, nothing happens.

Well, that’s not quite true. He signs Michael’s release for the film, gives some money to the Love campaign, and gets chased around by some bees so that the whole sweat hut story from “Borderline Personalities” can be stopped abruptly (we wouldn’t want to accidentally see something through this season, would we?). It’s terrible plotting, and I’m genuinely shocked that an episode in which so much doesn’t happen still has a mountain of filler.

The one potentially interesting thing about this episode is that George Sr. and Oscar begin to change places in a whole other way: George Sr. feels more sensitive and remorseful, while Oscar becomes more sure of himself and aggressive. But while the idea is raised by the episode it never becomes explicit and — say it with me now — it goes absolutely nowhere, so I’m not even sure how much of that is deliberate. Further muddying the water is the fact that George Sr.’s personality change is down to low levels of testosterone, just to prevent you from concluding that it might have something to do with good writing.

I’ve heard it said that these episodes improve upon rewatching, but without exception I’m enjoying them even less the more I see them. I think people are a bit too impressed by the fact that certain scenes in one episode continue through another, but that’s not enough for me. Cheap editing tricks and shuffled timelines are no substitute for cleverness, and the way it’s handled here isn’t as rewarding as it should be.

Earlier in the season I mentioned a scene that pulls out to reveal Buster screeching, then is reprised later with a second pull out to reveal GOB groaning. That’s the way this should work…layered jokes that add to or expand upon the joke each time we see them. But that’s the exception for Arrested Development season four, and instead what we usually get is a scene trimmed abruptly so that later on we hear some more dialogue or have a pointless little detail explained retroactively. It tries to put on a good show, but it’s really nothing more than a deliberate muddle that doesn’t actually enrich the final product.

A good example of that would be Tobias and Lindsay meeting with the Realtor in “Indian Takers.” Tobias motions toward his license plate, the Realtor looks and reacts. Our view of the license plate is deliberately obscured. Then, in “A New Start,” we see the same scene again, but we can read the license plate, which says ANUSTART. Ho ho ho.

That doesn’t work, because there is no joke the first time. We don’t get a single joke that plays in multiple ways…we get a single joke that we’re not allowed to see until later. Obscuring the license plate isn’t clever…it just eats up time in an episode when we’re going to see the scene play out properly in another episode, effectively doubling the amount of wasted time in a season already too aimless. That’s not an impressively structured reveal; it’s just gets off on being withholding.

Something similar happens here. We hear a crowd chanting “Put up the wall!” on Cinco de Cuatro, and later we find out it’s Lindsay leading that chant. Does it matter? Not really, because it just feels like an out-of-nowhere development in an episode that desperately needed an ending, and the fact that we later learn it’s Lindsay doesn’t change that, or add to it, in any way.

Oh well. Why am I talking about other episodes and general problems? Because I might as well. Nothing of any merit even happens in “Double Crossers.” Even the title suggests a better episode than what we actually have. Oscar sleeps with Lucille, yes, but that’s happened before…and it’s been handled far more interestingly than it is here. (And, again, it goes literally nowhere.) And George Sr. first wants Love to support the wall, then he wants him against it…but I don’t think that qualifies as a double cross, and it’s certainly nothing we should care about. Herbert Love is a non-character with fictional political opinions running in a race that doesn’t even play out during the course of the season, and I can’t think of anything more inconsequential than that.

We do get a pretty nice scene with GOB and Michael though, which just might remind you of the kind of thing the show does when it has some sense of what it’s doing. (GOB breaking the countertop also feels like a lost moment from the classic years.) And since the next episode is GOB’s…well, that can only be a good thing. Right?

Right?

Hello…?

Episode 6: “Double Crossers”
Central Character: George Sr.
Other Family Appearances: Lucille, GOB, Lindsay, Michael, Buster
Most Clumsy Reference to Original Run: “No, I mean it’s good to be out of that sweaty old hot-box at the compound.” George Sr. singing “All You Need Is Smiles” comes close, since that happens only because it’s a song that was once in another episode and there was nowhere else to put it, or the protracted “Bees?!” reprise.
Scene That Most Needed Tightening: Everything with the pointless Herbert Love should have been tightened right out of the season. Dr. Norman’s “here’s my character’s only joke again and again” spotlight scene isn’t much better. Then there’s GOB and Michael having their right-of-way argument. Boy, you’d almost think rigid timeslots weren’t such a bad thing…
Best Line / Exchange:

GEORGE SR.: I cry at the drop of a hat. And I hate the way I look. I actually had one cute hat, and it blew off in the CVS parking lot and this whole car full of black kids ran over it. For no reason!

Arrested Development, A New Start

This first Tobias episode, “A New Start,” pulls double duty in season four: it’s the most explicit illustration yet of why this string of episodes doesn’t work, and it’s a pretty solid promise that it won’t get any better.

It’s a shame, because Tobias is one of the most interesting characters the show has at its disposal. He’s also one of the most reliable in terms of generating comedy. Think about it; he’s funny when he’s unemployed, and he’s funny when he gets a job. He’s funny when he doesn’t land a part, and he’s funny when he does and gets to show off just how bad an actor he is. He’s funny when he’s overconfident, and he’s funny when he’s depressed. He’s funny when he detaches from his family, and he’s funny when he tries to forcibly insert himself. (DOES THAT SOUND GAY IT’S KIND OF A RUNNING JOKE.)

He’s a never-nude, a failed actor, a failed doctor, a failed husband, a failed father, a potentially latent homosexual, and he’s prone to unintentional wordplay, dressing up in silly costumes and breaking into characters of his own creation at a moment’s notice.

So why — why — does this season struggle so much to find something to do with him? You can do anything with Tobias. As Maeby would say, this was a freebie.

Or it should have been anyway. Instead we get another episode, like Lindsay’s “Indian Takers” before it, that has no idea of how to get from point A to point B, so instead we just get meandering glimpses of points D, H, T, M and X in the hopes that we’ll be too baffled to notice. None of it adds up to anything that feels connected in any way, let alone a coherent story. No, some recurring wordplay about rocks and invisibility don’t count…those should be neat verbal flourishes as a reward for paying attention, not a substitute for an even superficial understanding of how an episode of television needs to work.

Things (haha, I said “thing,” and Tobias is dressed as The Thing, so I guess I just wrote an episode too!) start off poorly, and only get worse from there, with Tobias appearing on some local version of To Catch a Predator. Remember all those funny things about Tobias that I listed above? How silly of me not to mention the pedophilia he’s so well known for.

What’s that? This has never been something associated with the character before? Silly me, assuming they’d want to write a full episode about who Tobias is, rather than as a build up to some nonsensical gag that has nothing to do with anything we know about him. I’m a boob.

I’m not saying the Predator scene isn’t funny…I’m a sucker for stupid sex jokes. But why are we suddenly mining pedophilia for a reason to laugh at Tobias?

Early in the episode, Lindsay clumsily (from a writing standpoint) says that Tobias being gay is sort of a running joke in the family. Setting that up, there are two obvious things the episode can do: it can have Tobias struggle to be more careful with his word choices so that he doesn’t appear gay, or it can embrace that and have him disregard Lindsay’s advice entirely and just blurt out all manner of unintentional dick jokes. In short, the episode said something that’s never been spoken quite so clearly before…why then, if that’s the “running joke” obnoxiously spelled out for us, do we abandon that entirely and end up structuring a climax around something entirely different?

Perhaps if Tobias were coming to see George Michael instead of Maeby it would have fit a little better. After all, not only is Tobias not a pedophile, but he’s also not supposed to be interested in women. Having him come over to ostensibly diddle a little girl is about as far from the Tobias we know as it’s possible to get…and now that I’ve spelled that out I’m kind of convinced that any laughter I gave that scene was far too generous.

But that’s just the start…it really only gets worse from there. Quite how anyone could watch these episodes and not see an enormous step down in quality of writing is beyond me, especially in the face of the first act of “A New Start,” which is literally non-stop narration for around nine minutes.

That’s exhausting, and that’s extremely sloppy. It feels very much like footage was shot with little or no mind paid to how it would eventually be worked into the show, so we end up with long stretches like this wherein the narrator just has to tell us about everything they didn’t think to shoot…which turns out to be a lot.

In this case it’s Tobias going to India with Lindsay, though neither of them realize it. That’s the long and short of it, and nine minutes’ worth of narration isn’t going to convince me that it’s any more clever than that single sentence made it sound.

While in India Tobias breaks his skull a few times, inspiring him (again) to become an actor since he has a gift for making people laugh. Nevermind the fact that rolling off a hospital bed is about the least funny bit of physical comedy we’ve ever gotten from Tobias…we’re not supposed to pay attention to that.

So he comes home and we get more of the other half of “Indian Takers,” which would be great if it filled in the gaps that this earlier episode needed in order to feel like a story, but instead we just splinter it further with stream-of-consciousness plotting that leads to Tobias and DeBrie standing on street corners dressed like two members of The Fantastic Four.

That’s another thing we love about Tobias, right? The way he dresses up like comic book characters and spends entire episodes writing musicals about them?

No?

Well, tough, because that happens anyway. Can’t wait.

I do want to talk a bit about DeBrie, though, because with Maria Bamford behind her I really did expect this to go somewhere. It never did, and that confused and disappointed me, but I think I figured out why.

I Googled her to find out how to spell the character’s name, and found some casting reports for Arrested Development season four, in which Bamford mentions she’s in the show, but doesn’t say much about who she plays, because it’s “a small part.”

That says a lot, I think. If she believed she was playing a small part, of course she’d let her character remain a cartoon. She probably only expected to be cut to now and again as a sort of punchline in itself.

In reality, though, she’s a major character this season…and that’s probably something Bamford didn’t expect. And which also suggests footage was shot in advance of knowing where any of it would go, or what it would actually be. Season four feels like it was born in the edit, and not in a “lightning in a bottle” sense. It feels dead and disjointed, with stitches of narration trying, and failing, to hold all the disparate pieces together.

Tobias was never a one-joke character, but he was definitely a series of easy jokes. That’s okay. In the third series of The League of Gentlemen, the sketch comedy troupe took a handful of broad characters and gave them each deeper, episode-length stories that stripped away the general gags they were known for and explored who they were as people. It can be done, and The League of Gentlemen had the writing and acting chops to take silly characters that we knew from two- and three-minute skits and give them humanity…without ever being less funny while doing so.

What’s more, that third series consisted of episodes that focused on one character apiece, and by the end of the series managed to come together and tell a greater story as well.

Arrested Development‘s fourth season could have learned a lot from that, because the more time we spend with these characters the less recognizably human they get, and the bigger the story it tries to tell, the more it gets mired in go-nowhere nonsense.

The comedy in this show always seemed so natural and effortless. Please, stop trying so hard.

Episode 5: “A New Start”
Central Character: Tobias
Other Family Appearances: Lindsay, GOB, Maeby
Most Clumsy Reference to Original Run: Tobias saying “Hothothot” in India was the only specific callback I noticed, but it was the lest terrible thing about that sequence.
Scene That Most Needed Tightening: Tobias wearing his sheet in various silly ways in the bathroom, which I believe was a scene cut from a Warden Gentles episode of Rocko’s Modern Life.
Best Line / Exchange:

TOBIAS: All you need to do is tell people what a terrific actor I am, because I can’t do it believably.

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