Things Have Changed
by DICK CHENEY
creator Mitchell Hurwitz
A lot of the time I secretly believe my wife Lynne does not actually know if something is funny, and that she only laughs because she presumes it humors others or reminds her of something genuinely funny. Last night in a moody fit of rage reminiscent of how I first binged on Oreos and pork rinds at the age of seven, I viewed the entire Netflix-exclusive season of Mitchell Hurwitz's Arrested Development. The first thing my wife said was, "Isn't Ron Howard embarrassed to go on television looking like that?" and the second thing she said was, "You actually find this type of humor appealing?"
I responded only with a flip remark, as has always been my metier, telling her, "You're ruining this for me." Some people only want to relive experiences they had in the past; others are comfortable in an uncertain future. For obvious reasons none of the members of the Bluth family were able to shoot any scenes together. (Except for Will Arnett because he's being blackballed by the rest of the industry for cheating on Amy Poehler.)
The clear decision should have been: we cannot have a show if people only interact with their friends and family on the phone, right? Let's forget a new season and focus on distributing our old episodes in Korea, where the kid who played Annyong Bluth can become the superstar he was destined to be.
When I really think of what the jokes in Arrested Development are about, I start to sympathize with Lynne. After all, she does not complain when I jerk off and rewatch Millennium, all the while dropping pertinent facts like, "Did you know Lance Hendrikson is illiterate?" or "Jesus Chris Carter was a fucking hack POS."
Here is an early list of what all the jokes in Arrested Development are about:
Lucille drinks too much.
Michael's relationship with his son is too suffocating.
Will Arnett is wearing the same v-neck in every episode.
Tobias doesn't know he makes puns.
Everything Michael Cera says is funny, don't try to make sense of it or note that the delivery is identical in every instance.
Powerful people are hypocrites.
Lindsey is an idiot.
Buster doesn't realize how powerful the hand that Army gave him is.
Ben Stiller actually married that woman and demanded she be employed before he agreed to the project.
Liza Minnelli is disgusting. (She's not.)
Isla Fisher is disgusting. (...)
Also, for some reason the George Sr. episode only featured one of these tropes and was otherwise completely serious except for identical twin gags, known historically as the lowest comedy there is.
Time has changed the other Bluth family members only for the worse. Buster's compulsive behavior has reached a frightening nadir before an African-American woman slanders his lovemaking after he murders thousands; Michael is tired, sad and a dick to the most important person in his life; George Michael is a boorish, cowardly and sexual capable liar; Lindsey becomes a prostitute and cuts her fantastic hair into a mere clump; Tobias starts dating a crack addict and is designated a sex offender; same goes for Maeby; Lucille 1 goes to jail and Gob continues to pretend to be gay for some unclear reason.
Every time someone repeats that familiar and odious cliche to me, announcing as if it had never been pronounced before, "Ah think people don't change," my loins ache and my stomach grows queasy. If that's true, then how is Anthony Weiner not sexting some coed while his wife goes on and on about the NSA leaks, waiting in vain for her husband to make a semi-decent oral joke about a whistleblower? But that isn't happening, instead Mr. Weiner is running for mayor. People do change, you just only acknowledge that shift when it suits you.
The longer you spend among those who only agree with you, the bigger the bubble becomes. After seeing the President once pull Susan Rice's pants down during an innocent game of Twister, do you honestly think anyone has the balls to contradict him during a meeting? Then again, if I had access to audio recordings of Peggy Noonan around her home, you can bet I'd listen to them with this expression on my face the entire time.
So yes, it is disappointing to find the Bluths roughly where we left them. Part of the gag is that they never learn, I suppose, but that just reinforces the idea that the show is more about wacky concepts than real people, and that I was not supposed to be turned on when the boy did that to his cousin.
More than the others, it is Maeby who I found myself most disappointed in. She wasn't like them, not only because she was not genetically related to the family itself, but because she was successful in all the aspects of life the adults were not. Instead of making anything positive come from this story, she is now just fodder for jokes about women being bad at math.
There's a really weird scene in this version of Arrested Development where magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) and his real life wife, Christine Taylor are sitting on a bed together. The two discuss tricking Gob, but it is more how easy it is for the two to be together that caught my attention. For a few days I could not get this image out of my head. Even though it was not part of the scene, it is so rare to see not only actors in the same room on Arrested Development but two people genuinely comfortable in another's presence, that I started to realize what I was missing. Two seconds later Ron Howard started loudly talking again, telling a joke only he found funny.
After about the fifth or so episode, a particular loathing begins to intrude on the proceedings. It's roughly the same feeling one gets after eating a bowl of ice cream. The bowl was so good you immediately want more. You start to eat the new episodes of what you have been told is the same flavor of ice cream, but the ice became warm and sour merely through the passage of time. I don't know why anybody would put yogurt in their body.
For some reason Hollywood satire is the main thread through all of this. There was this William Goldman essay where he estimated that like 3/4ths of the plays on Broadway at that time were musicals about people putting on musicals. What makes Arrested Development even worse at this overwrought genre is that the only person actually purporting to be in this industry is Ron Howard, and he is not looking great these days, although to be fair it was not as bad when he sat next to Brian Grazer.
There was a moment for this kind of self-indulgent bullshit; but just as the original run of the show took place before its chaotic style became commonplace, this iteration just reminds us of how dated the essential subject matter is. Lampooning rich people is all in good fun until it turns out we're all worse off for the comparison. Arrested Development remains the whitest show on television, and Franklin seems a lot more racist in retrospect. Even the fiery Spanish couple looks like they were cast in Santa Monica.
After I finished these little 30 minute abominations, I had this vision of an old, decrepit Veronica Mars, where the guy who played her dad, his face has rotted, and Kristen Bell's post-baby body is a mere 7/10. I don't want to live in that world. I hope that world is buried somewhere under Joss Whedon's ego.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location where Isla Fisher can never find him.
"Echo or Encore" - Eleanor Friedberger (mp3)
"You'll Never Know Me" - Eleanor Friedberger (mp3)
The new album from Eleanor Friedberg is entitled Personal Record, and it was released on June 4th from Merge Records.