This Arrested Development review contains spoilers
Arrested Development Season 5 Episode 4
A lot of the same problems that have plagued the early episodes of Arrested Development Season 5 remain present in “Old Start, An.” The episode is too long, the editing is sloppy, and at least one character is entirely missing (sorry Linds).
It’s also the only episode of season five thus far that can confidently be labeled as a success. The difference between “Old Start, An” and everything that comes before It is fairly simple: this one is funny.
After what feels like seven hours of needless exposition, Arrested Development is fully warmed up here and ready to dip into its comedy playbook. GOB is back in full-on failson mode, spending $14,000 a month for a bigger office space for the Bluth Company and spray painting a giant anchor gold to indulge his daddy issues and admittedly very funny new participation trophy obsession.
Tobias’ antics aren’t toned down necessarily but are at least less out of place in an episode that features everyone else depicted as less of a cartoon character. It’s easier to laugh at Tobias wearing George Michael’s clothes and saying things like “Not only are you finding me in your son’s pants. You’re finding out how the sausage is made” when he is bouncing off of just Michael and not four other lunatics.
I’m even willing to go as far as embracing Tobias’ role as a kind of closeted, mustachioed kabuki theater performer, depicting the most outsized and dramatic versions of the rest of the cast. Yes, that is very dumb and overly generous but it’s amazing but a few real laughs will do for a show. Three or four belly laughs and for a fleeting, vulnerable moment a critic will look at something as just a step below Shakespeare.
There really are some deep, satisfying belly laughs to be found in “Old Start, An.” Refreshingly, so much of it relies on straight-man Michael (something Tobias can never pass as sadly). Michael is central to “Old Start, An’s” success because he’s able to process the level of lunacy around him on a carefully constructed, one-by-one basis. He’s there to bear witness to GOB’s reworking of a 2-Hour Teeth dental office into the new Bluth Company HQ. He’s there for whatever it is Tobias is working through. Most importantly, he’s there for the introduction of another prime bit of Bluth family real estate: the beach cottage.
When Tobias tells Michael to go back to the last place he saw Tracey, he means it metaphorically. Michael, however, takes it literally. Maybe he should go back to the old family cottage. After all, his family’s selling of the cottage after Tracey died there was the nicest thing they’ve ever done for him.
“My number one rule is ‘don’t tell Michael’…what to do,” Tobias says. As it turns out, everyone’s number one rule is “Don’t tell Michael” as Michael soon finds out. The family never sold the beach cottage after all. Our narrator sets up Michael’s discovery in perhaps his best joke of the season thus far.
“Perhaps he did need to look the grim truth of mortality in the face,” Ron Howard intones as Michael opens up the cottage door to see his mother staring back at him. A particularly fun Arrested Development trope is the Bluth family’s implicit understanding that Michael is the only normal one among them and inviting him along on any of there various schemes would just ruin the fun. The rules at the cottage are simple: “1. Hang towels to dry. Do NOT leave on floor. 2. Don’t tell Michael.”
Once Michael does find out, however, there are a lot of rapid-fire jokes that follow that all hit their mark. Michael says he’s upset that his family lied to him “which is worse” than any of the sins leading up to it, which is exactly how George Michael predicted Michael would react to his own secret about his failed relationship with Rebel. Lucille reasons that that couldn’t sell the cottage because the housing market was so bad.
“Were we supposed to lose our precious daughter-in-law and a couple hundred grand in the same year?” she says. “We didn’t want to bring up all those bad memories. We all have bad ones here. My mother died here. GOB was born here.”
Earlier Tobias had correctly summed up Michael as only having two character traits: returning to his family and keeping his hands in his pockets. There is a wonderful callback as Michael gets up to leave the cottage.
Michael: “Goodbye forever.”
Lucille: “See you tonight.”
Tobias: “See you tonight.”
Michael “See you tonight.”
It’s amazing how easily Arrested Development is able to generate comedy when it just makes its characters… do stuff. Michael is delivered a clear mission in “Old Start, An.” He wants to go find the old cottage. That simple directive leads to a Odyssean journey in which he encounters many of the other characters, operating under their own plans and the comedy just happens so naturally.
Granted, scenes go on a touch too long – longer than they would have in the first three seasons for sure – but the process of getting these characters in motion gets a sense of vitality back and the jokes start to work. Sending Michael on a journey through his family’s quirks and secrets is like surrounding LeBron James with a bunch of three-point shooters. Michael gets so many open looks in the paint.
Of course, there is more than one way to generate comedy and “Old Start, An” finds similar levels of success with two characters who were already doing fine work. Even when Arrested Development Season 5 struggled, George Michael and Maeby flourished. Perhaps it’s just the novelty of watching Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat grow into their own as adult comedic actors but their interactions were the only ones that felt fresh thus far. That streak continues here.
George Michael goes to meet Maeby at her new home (after watching he and his father’s near skirmish on the video series “Near Mister Moments”) and discovers that she’s living at the lush retirement community Spotted Palm. After Lucille 2 disappeared, Maeby found a key to this apartment in her car and has been occupying her senior citizen sex pad alongside Stan Sitwell ever since.
This is just an inherently weird and funny place for Maeby’s life to go, particularly after her season four plot involved her with a much, much younger man. It also gives Ed Begley Jr. as Stan Sitwell an opportunity to interact with a member of the cast he previously has not. It’s strange that five seasons in there are still pair ups the show hasn’t tried, like in season four when George Michael realizes he’s never met Lucille Austero, but better late than never.
Seeing Maeby in old-age makeup (but not too old. She’s 75 but looks 65) is a welcome shock to the comedic system. It also lends itself to another round of happily stupid pun-based humor.
“Annette?” Stan asks Maeby, referring to Lucille 2’s sister
“Oh that’s a great idea! Do you have one,” Maeby says, struggling to get a goose into the house.
Maeby also explains away her lack of proper documentation to the house with: “I recently moved here from New Orleans and I lost all my paperwork in Hurricane Cantina.”
Also, I’m just gonna bury this here: old Maeby can kind of get it.
“Old Start, An” isn’t a complete return to form. George Sr.’s storyline continues to go nowhere and I’m not sure I even understand what’s going on with Dermot Mulroney as aging, rich, surf hippie Dusty, but the show has captured a sense of fun and play here that was missing from the first three offerings. It’s a shame that the show needed almost half its season to get here but at least now we’re laughing.