Thursday, October 11, 2007

Laughter Reviews, #8

For a change, we depart from the world of publishing to broadcasting.

DVD, Seasons 1 & 2

Competent, ethical, common-sensical middle son is forced to run the family business, deal with his jailed father's charges of fraud and 'light treason', and manage family members who share none of his qualities.

What Works
Pretty much everything. The casting of each part is spot-on, without a flat performance in the bunch. Michael Cera as the sweet teen, Jessica Walter as the alcoholic non-maternal socialite mother, Jeffrey Tambor as the ethically challenged father, and Jason Bateman as the straight man and nominal central character are especially brilliant - but really, all the main characters are superb.

The guest star choices are inspired, with celebrities gleefully poking fun at themselves. Liza Minelli (cast as the mother's chief rival in more ways than one) grumbling "Everyone thinks he's Sinatra!"at a lacklustre karaoke performance, Henry Winkler (cast as the hopelessly incompetent family lawyer) whipping out his comb to repeat his iconic Fonzie mirror image gesture, Julia Louis Dreyfuss (cast as a trial lawyer pretending to be blind) channelling Elayne's extreme pragmatism and abrasiveness, Charlize Theron (cast as a beautiful, developmentally delayed British woman) whose overprotective uncle comments she was lucky to have enough money for surgery as the camera cuts to a 'Before' shot which is really a movie still from Theron's comparatively overweight, underattractive character in 'Monster' - all are priceless.

Jokes become running gags throughout the season and are suddenly given a new twist (the secretary who keeps flashing her surgically enhanced breasts at the unwilling Michael while saying 'This is the last time you'll ever see these!' and the brother-in-law suddenly being inspired to do the same but with the exclamation 'And you'll be seeing more of these!'). There is simultaneously an exquisite attention to detail (in an episode about people acting like sheep, a group of employees board a bus simply because it is there; the bus side carries the caption 'Church of the Good Shepherd'), and a cheerful refusal to explain basic background (Why does Gob go everywhere by Segway? Why is there next to no information about Michael's deceased wife? How in the world did clueless but lovely fashionista /cause supporter Lindsey meet much less marry the dorky and forever bumbling Dr. Tobias Funke? Why was daughter Maybee given a name synonymous with 'perhaps'? This question is highlighted even more during an episode when Maybee and her cousin have a conversation at their school in front of a poster exhorting students to vote for 'Surely', Maybee's altar ego.)

The writing is unpredictable and irreverent, taking skillful shots at such topics as car culture, Spanish language soap operas, the Hollywood industry, alopecia, detox programs, fundraisers, nudity in media, and even the war in Iraq (via spoofs of the pursuit and underground discovery of Saddam Hussein) to name but a few. The relationship between show creators and viewers is constantly tweaked - no more so than when the series was threatened with cancellation and the Bluth family's efforts to prevent their company going under become a transparent, cheeky vehicle for the show's efforts to keep itself going, to the extent of a 'savethebluths' website address being flashed on the screen and a very funny discussion among family members about which other networks might offer refuge.

What Doesn't
The only thing Apprentice Writer can criticize in this series is the fact that the public, and therefore the broadcasting powers-that-be, decided to pass on its continued brilliance and cancelled the show after only three seasons. Apprentice Writer chooses to see the silver lining of this cloud; having gone out in a blaze of glory, 'Arrested Development' won't suffer the indignity of jumping the shark (Ha! another Fonzie reference!) and deterioration from genius to mediocrity (Twin Peaks, anyone?).

Rather than sameness-overload and resulting boredom, watching the episodes back to back intensifies the humorous edge and makes the running gags more apparent.

But does it make you laugh? YES, YES, YES!
This series is a satiric treat. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of a highly entertaining weekend, and many happy repeat viewings.


Carrie Lofty said...

I LOVED THIS SHOW. I cannot relate to people who didn't find it painfully funny. :)

M. said...

arrested development, will scarlett, salzburg - our taste corresponds once again, carrie!

Unknown said...

Everyone tells me I need to watch this show. I'm going to go looking for the DVDs.

M. said...

hi christine -
when you do have a chance to watch, let me know what you think!