“And that was Arrested Development…”
t says something about the ever-evolving TV market that a cult-favorite show being cancelled no longer has to be seen as a final statement on the show’s future. Unlike previous critically acclaimed but little viewed and ultimately cancelled shows like Freaks and Geeks, fans are now able to not view the finale of Arrested Development as a death certificate, but as a jumping-off point for further negotiations. Ever since FOX announced their decision to jettison the series, rumors have been flying about the show being picked up elsewhere—from Showtime to HBO to even one of the other major non-cable networks. So as viewers tuned in to the final episodes of Arrested Development, the question on every fan’s mind (including mine) was not whether The Bluth Company would stay afloat, or if George Michael and Maeby would ever consummate their amor prohibito, but whether or not the show would give any indication of having a future elsewhere.
Unfortunately, if fans were expecting the final four episodes to make a statement on whether or not the show has a future, then they were met with a resounding “no.” Mitchell Hurwitz and the rest of the Arrested Development crew appear to be more than a little bit bitter about their FOX rejection, cruelly taking out their frustration on the characters of their show in its final two hours, burning off subplots at their loose ends and forming one of the most cynical series finales in recent memory. Short of killing anyone off, the writers seem to have done their damndest to make sure that no fan turned off their TV on Friday night with any misconceptions of the show’s future.
Considering the dire mood surrounding the last aired episode from a few weeks ago, “S.O.B. (Save Our Bluths),” this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Compared to the self-aware last-ditch techniques for viewer attention grabbing that episode deployed, these last four episodes feel like unpleasant afterthoughts—odds-and-ends collections that employ all the leftover gimmicks the show has been meaning to use. Justine Bateman, sister of show star Jason, rumored to be appearing on the show since the first season, finally shows up, and now-outdated “topical” bits parodying the Terri Schiavo controversy and making comments on US involvement in Iraq, are misguidedly brought out. The show also throws in a few fairly inconsequential plot twists for good measure, including the fact that Lindsay was adopted, and that the abandoned character of Annyong was in fact a spy trying to get revenge on the Bluths for stealing the Banana stand idea from his grandfather a half-century ago.
The really discouraging thing about all these plot advancements, though, is that they still can’t distract from the rut the show has clearly fallen into. This season has been up-and-down to begin with, but these last four episodes reflect almost all the worst qualities of the previous season. There’s the endlessly recycled, good-at-first-but-now-totally-redundant plot lines (GOB gets mad at Michael for not calling on his “talents,” Lindsay and Tobias try to cheat on each other but fail miserably, and so on), there’s the caricatures that many of the characters have fallen into (the far worst of which being Tobias, whose hilarious, multi-layered patheticness has been reduced to a series of increasingly unfunny and unsubtle “LOL GAY” jokes), and most upsettingly, there’s the mean-spiritedness. The Bluths have always done things to each other that border on the unfathomable, but there were moments of real tenderness, too, and at the end of the day, the family always ended up sticking together. By the end of these four episodes, though—after GOB tries to seduce his nephew’s ex-girlfriend, after Lucille sells her family’s company (along with her adopted daughter) back to her competitor, and after Michael finally decides to abandon his family for good—it’s hard to feel anything but numb.
That said, it’s not all bad. Though the laugh rate for these final episodes isn’t quite as high as some of the best episodes, there’s no shortage of classic lines—“you forgot to say ‘away’,” “photocopies are not permissible as memories,” “I bought you a wedding ring…tone,” and countless others. And for the more devoted watchers, you have little details worth watching a second time for, like Saddam Hussein’s subtle callback to ImOscar.com in his trial defense, or the barely visible presence of an “R. Howard” in Maeby’s address book. These moments do a great job of reminding us why so many people are going to be missing this show in the first place.
And what’s more, the cynicism in these final episodes reveal a question that might be even more important than whether or not Arrested Development will be returning, which is: should it be returning in the first place? The flaws and tired attitudes displayed by this season, virtually non-existent in the first two, were sure only to be exacerbated further in later seasons. And all said, I do have to admire Hurwitz and company for having the courage to really pour the gasoline on the characters and concepts they spent so long building and then light a match over them—almost ensuring that the show has no possible future to damage.
Almost. The creators of Arrested Development are still too smart not to leave themselves outs, and they leave themselves a real big one in the form of the final scene in their last episode, in which Maeby pitches her family story as an idea for a TV show to, of course, Ron Howard, who replies “I don’t see it as a TV show…how about a movie?” The idea may never come to fruition, and it’s not necessarily even a good one. But after a series finale that, through its callousness and sense of futility, is ultimately more heartbreaking than any traditionally sentimental finale ever could be, it’s good to see the producers seem to understand what, to anybody who watched the finale, should be more than obvious—that the show’s stay on TV is good as done
Hard to believe that the best tele-noir is on UPN. It’s even harder to believe that its second season is on the way to being better than the first. But so it goes for the complex, well-written Veronica Mars. Halfway to the finish line, the social strife between the Latino PCHers and 09ers, Veronica’s uneasy place between the two, and that nagging bus crash mystery seem poised to make the show’s concluding UPN episodes just as engrossing as those that have come before.
It’s not hard to believe, however, that there are no plans, as of now, to release Ed on DVD. Something tells me that the unfortunately titled Love Monkey will come to the same fate. As Joy Press rightly notes in her review of the show, Tom Cavanagh and the paunchy Jason Priestley attempt a sort of Sex and the City for dudes with music substituting for the sex. While most readers of this website might find this a tantalizing proposition, after seeing the indie label heartthrob Wayne Jensen (played unsurprisingly by major-label project Teddy Geiger) even Dom Passantino would be turning this off in favor of Wolf Parade mp3s.
By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2006-02-13