Sunday, June 2, 2013

Arrested Development: Season 4 (spoiler heavy)

Shortly after the first trailer for season 4 of Arrested Development was released, creator Mitchell Hurwitz gave an interview during which he cautioned fans not to watch all of it in one sitting.  The internet collectively gawked.  How could we, after six years of hanging on rumours of new seasons and the possibility of a film dangling on the horizon, not devour the return of the beloved Bluths?  Hurwitz must have felt he created some kind of monster, something unfathomable, like a five-mile high statue of George W. Bush.  Inhaling it all at once would feel like being Lucille Bluth's smoke receptacle.  

See? Even though I didn't fully dig it, I'm still full of references.  After viewing the entire 15 episode run in the recommended two sittings, it's easy to see from where Hurwitz was coming.  Netflix's Arrested Development is an ambitious, over-reaching mess.  It's also just as much the unprecedented landmark for television as the show's original run was and incredibly funny.

It could have just as easily been a thrown together mish-mash of callbacks and references to jokes from older seasons and, though it would have detractors, still managed to please fans.  But Hurwitz instead continued undaunted by complex plotting.

Hurwitz's newfound freedom at Netflix exposes some of the shows worst traits.  Development has always been innovative in its storytelling, but its promptness allowed it more than we thought it constrained. His freedom at Netflix exposes some of the show's awful bloat and, on occasion, gets irritating.  Jokes don't pay off when they should, or they're lazy payoffs to seasons past.

The control of a 22-minute, 24 episode run that network TV demands forces writers to work under constraints; but understood constrained contracts become a necessary tool.  In the first three seasons, Development was put through the ultimate test by FOX.  The network pulled on every string it could to kill the show - from shifting it's timeslot to cutting back on episode orders to running episodes out of order to the final death knell: running the last four episodes back to back against the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.  But Development persisted, by fans and writers.

Season four of Arrested Development picks up where season three ended, then takes its time explaining what happened in between.  Naturally, it takes on a different tone.  On occasion, it's a messy clean up, but works its best with echoing the fantastic series finale.

Arrested Development has always used broad stereotypes as the yolk of a larger laugh, but season 4 has lost that charm.  Some of the racial stereotypes get uncomfortable.  Less there to demonstrate the Bluth's ignorant WASPyness,  more there for cheap laugh - particularly the Chinese.

Perhaps the best way for old fans to approach the new season is as if it were an entirely new show.  That way, the unnecessary handholding throughout some of the callbacks to older seasons would feel less condescending.

All that being said, it couldn't have had a better conclusion.  Netflix would support and fund a fifth season, but it shouldn't.  George Michael punching Michael (a good man) in the face, declaring independence from his father is the precise opposite from the series finale.

Its not perfection, but it is certainly what we demanded.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Things To See 1: Ride The High Country

It is in the spirit of using this blog that I begin suggesting something people should see.  This is not, naturally, an original idea, but a worthwhile one and the choices are my own (and, of course, it fills up the times when I'm not writing long-winded diatribes.

I would like to start by offering Sam Peckinpah's brilliant 1962 Western Ride The High Country.  People often associate Peckinpah's work with his love of old west transition, more specifically The Wild Bunch.  But High Country retrospectively echoes many themes and even scenes later found in Bunch.  It opens on an elderly lawman, played by Joel McCrea, who expects the surrounding applause to be for him, only to be shuffled off the street for a rigged camel vs. horse race.  Later, he is told to watch crossing the street for this newfangled thing called the automobile.

Old West values slowly disintegrate as his partner and he, Randolph Scott, head off on two days ride to collect gold from a mining community; unbeknownst to the lawman, his partner plans to sweet talk him into taking the money for themselves.

To give away anymore would be as criminal as Scott's plans, but be assured values are compromised and twisted, gunfights are aplenty, young overtakes old and it features one of the most heartfelt and fist-pumping blaze of glories ever filmed.

The same year beget John Ford's excellent The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence which, in far more literal Ford fashion, was about the taming of the West.  Its widespread appeal and Gene Pitney song (never used in the film) may have made it more well known, and it certainly signified a major transition in the Old West on film.  It also coined a legend of it's own:

" When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

This may well be the kind of legend that gets printed.  It's certainly a fine primer, or even a spiritual prequel to, The Wild Bunch.

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