In Slate’s Arrested Development TV Club, two fans will IM about each episode of Season 4 once they finish watching it. Today, Brow Beat editor David Haglund and editorial assistant Emma Roller recap Episode 15, “Blockheads.”
David Haglund: Well that was a punch in the face.
Emma Roller: Yes, let’s start with the end. Was that punch supposed to be George Michael’s I’m-a-man-now moment? Because it was a pretty weak one, if so. And while I suppose it makes sense that the season finale was a nonending—in keeping with Mitch Hurwitz’s original idea of the episodes having no real order—I sort of wish “Red Hairing” was the finale, even if Lindsay is a secondary character. That episode provided a sense of closure, seeing Lindsay transform into her mother. What did you think?
Haglund: Ninja, please. After we saw Lindsay transform into her mother, we watched George Michael become his father! You’re right that the punch was weak; George Michael is the very image of rugged manlessness. And so, in his way, is Michael Bluth.
I was initially frustrated by that ending, as you were—it’s less of a bang than a whimper. But on a second viewing I saw in it the very dark overtones of the season as a whole. What if you shouldn’t keep your family together after all? And yet you can’t escape from them? You might find that situation “too funny,” as Michael Bluth does (or claims to). But George Michael’s verdict—”horrifying”—seems more accurate.
Roller: Well, it might be OK that this family fell apart. Has George Michael really turned into his father, though? Michael has proven himself even more conniving and incapable of claiming the high ground than he was in the original run. And sure, George Michael made up a new persona and lied to Rebel about his true identity, but he’s still no Michael 2.0—the disgust behind his punch proved that. Unlike Michael, George Michael has learned that “putting family first” won’t make your relatives less awful, or make them stop hurting you.
Haglund: But they seem to agree: “Family first, unless there’s a work thing, and then work first.” And mostly I’m thinking of the way the camera work emphasized their similarities. Plus they’ve both become wildly dishonest and frequently uncaring. You’re right, though, that Michael seems willing to accept that they’re both sleeping with Rebel, whereas George Michael rightly punches him in the face for that thought.
And if family is the predominant subject of Arrested Development, taboo sex—sometimes with your own family—is probably subject No. 2. There were many jokes this season about our culture’s paranoia about sexual predators, and our exiling of them to places like Sudden Valley. But in “Blockheads,” they were the butt of many of the jokes—and those jokes were largely less funny (though that one guy staring from the bushes while they played football cracked me up).
Emma: Totally agree. I enjoyed John Beard’s To Entrap a Local Predator bit, but some of the jokes in this episode amounted to, “It’s funny because they want to seduce George Michael and he doesn’t realize it!” Dangerously close to Hangover territory, in other words—just instead of trafficking in cheap gay-panic jokes, we get cheap sexual-predator-panic jokes.
Haglund: “Put it into Bluth” made me chuckle, but the looks on those guys’ faces, not so much.
Roller: I wondered if the scene with George Michael and Rebel in the photo booth was an homage to a scene in Buffalo 66, where the lead is also pretending to be more adept with women than he actually is. I also noted that the Fantastic Four musical was billed as “F4,” which is also the keyboard command to “close” a window. But there I go over-theralyzing again.
Haglund: I hadn’t thought of Buffalo 66, but I have been reading about Route 66, since one of its stars was George Maharis—who, it turns out, was once arrested in an L.A. gas station’s men’s room for having sex in there with a hairdresser named … Perfecto Telles. The charge: “sex perversion.”
Obviously, Arrested Development is a slapstick comedy, not an op-ed piece. But whatever it is, it’s really interested in what people once called sex perversion. Which is surely why some people online think the father of Rebel’s son is … Rebel’s father (aka, Ron Howard). I don’t buy that, though I do agree that Lem was probably conceived in the Lunar Excursion Module that’s in her father’s office. (His dad’s presumably Gérard Depardieu, who might have visited Imagine Entertainment on business.)
Roller: This show is more obsessed with intra-family sexual skeez than Game of Thrones! I was wondering what “Lem” came from—my only theory was that it had something to do with the desert lemonade or a fear that this season would be a “lemon.”
It was weird to listen to Ron Howard narrating his daughter’s sexual escapades. But I loved the two extended voiceovers that got into George Michael’s head—first when he was teaching algebra to Maeby, then in bed with Rebel. When George Michael is debating whether to tell Maeby the truth about FakeBlock, an awkward silence ensues while Ron Howard goes on for 20 seconds narrating all of the conflicting thoughts in George Michael’s head. He does it again when George Michael is debating whether to tell Rebel the truth. Has Ron Howard ever served so transparently as a character’s conscience?
Haglund: He’s always had a Jiminy Cricket quality, I think. And I certainly I enjoyed those moments more than Ron Howard’s many, many on-screen appearances, which went a bit overboard. Of course, Isla Fisher isn’t Ron Howard’s daughter in real life, so his narration of her escapades seemed only sort of weird to me. The weirdest thing, for me, about the new season: What happened to Lucille 2? Is she really dead? Did Buster really kill her? Did someone else? I still have no idea.
Roller: A delicious whodunit! If Lucille 2’s disappearance is meant to be a cliffhanger, though, it’s not what will bring me to watch whatever comes next for this series. Though I do think it would be great if Buster took his parents’ place as the jailbird—then maybe Lucille would bring him pies. What would you hope to see in the show’s next endeavor?
Haglund: To be honest, I’m pretty indifferent about there even being a next endeavor. Not because I have any Mongolian beef with Season 4—I’m increasingly amazed by it, though I still wonder whether or not I’ll ever do enough re-watching to fully appreciate it—I just think there doesn’t need to be any more. And even if I don’t re-watch these episodes a bunch, they’ll be sinking in for a while. As Troy Patterson has suggested in his contributions to this TV Club, Mitch Hurwitz’s vision in these new episodes is probably darker than it’s ever been, and to a degree that many viewers don’t seem to appreciate—no doubt because of the sheer wackiness on display.
What I’m most concerned with, beyond the whereabouts (or nonwhereabouts) of Lucille 2, is whether the show’s last line, “Love each other,” comes through sincerely at all. If so, maybe there’s a light at the end of the Bluth family tunnel? But listening to it these first few times, it rang—deliberately?—hollow.
Roller: I understand more than you’ll never know. The constant winking irony sort of eliminates the possibility that any character (apart, perhaps, from Buster or George Michael) could deliver a genuine sentiment that viewers can take at face value. And when we do hear “Love each other,” we hear it from characters like Gob and John Beard—not exactly the show’s moral centers.
But I hope the universe provides a path for them, be it another season or a movie, if only for my Groundhog Day-like mentality that with more trial and error, the show can be just as good as the first time around.
Haglund: Does this show have a moral center? I’m not sure it’s that Siri-ish. Or rather it is differently serious than I realized. And I’m glad that Hurwitz took these characters to a different place—formally, emotionally—than he did in Seasons 1 through 3. I don’t think he needs to take them anywhere else. If he does, though, he’s going to get some hop-ons. Myself included.
Roller: See you later, twin hater.