When you binge watch a television show, it’s easy to miss things or get episodes muddled when you think back. Mitch Hurwitz was appealing to fans not to binge on Season 4 of Arrested Development before it debuted, but guess what, a whole bunch of people went and did it anyway. I was one of them. I couldn’t resist. I didn’t sit down and watch them in one eight and a half hour batch, but I did work my way through all 15 in less that a day. In some ways, though, a series like this lends itself to binge viewing. The complexity of the narrative is a lot easier to follow when you watch the episodes in quick succession. There’s no danger of losing your place or forgetting certain events when you’re blasting through them in one after another, and a weaker episode can be quickly forgotten if a good one follows straight on from it. Imagine watching one of these a week for 15 weeks, you’d forget Buster ever existed!
But I was wary of appraising Season 4 on the back of a binge watch, precisely for the reasons I mentioned in the first line of this piece. In the immortal words of Gob, “It’s so easy to forget.” If you’d asked me a week ago what I thought of Tobias’ first episode, I’d have told you that I thought it was one of the best of the new 15. But after a rewatch, I’m not so sure. It opens and closes brilliantly, and maybe that’s responsible for it leaving a lasting impression, but there’s an awful lot of stuff in the middle that doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work precisely because of the new format.
So before we get to the inspired bookends to the episode, let’s talk about those structural problems. Two episodes ago, in the Lindsay-centric Indian Takers, we saw Lindsay separate from Tobias, head to India, reunite with him at the Bluth family meeting, buy a house, visit a methadone clinic and then go on a double date at C.W Swappigans. In A New Start, we see Tobias split with Lindsay, head to India, reunite with her at the Bluth family meeting, buy a house… and, well, you get the idea. It’s not until over 15 minutes into this episode that we see a new portion of the narrative. Maybe that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if this episode weren’t so close to Lindsay’s, but it is, and until we get to the point where they go their own separate ways it feels like we’re still waiting for the episode to get started.
And sure, it’s not like we’re seeing the exact same scenes again. We’re seeing them from a different perspective, and we’re getting fresh details. So when Tobias is on the plane to India we see that he’s the person sat behind Lindsay that she slammed her seat back into. It was Tobias who took her bag at baggage claim. He was the tourist the bus hit outside the airport. In the Lindsay episodes we were seeing the set-up, and it felt like set-up, because why show that kind of stuff if there isn’t going to be a punch line? So as soon as we find out that Tobias is going to India too, we know they’re coming, and somehow the foreshadowing set-up seems funnier in retrospect than the punch line proves to be.
But even though this large portion of the episode feels a little like treading water, there is still some good stuff contained in it. The best, undoubtedly, is the ANUSTART reveal. We hear the phrase uttered many a time in the episode’s cold open and we also heard Lindsay say it a couple of episodes back. It immediately sounds like a new Analrapist class of joke in the making, although it’s not entirely clear why it’s funny. Why is Tobias an Anus Tart? Where’s that coming from? I didn’t make the link when Tobias said he was looking for a new start. It took that genius license plate reveal (and we know how much Tobias loves a vanity license plate) for the full extent of the joke to hit home. It is, without a doubt, the best joke of the season so far, and I had to pause the episode for a minute to wipe the tears from my eyes before I was ready to continue.
It works particularly well after Lindsay tells Tobias that everyone else thinks that he’s gay, “it’s kind of a running joke in the family,” and naïve as ever Tobias is baffled as to why that might be the case. Cue him wearing Lindsay’s old Shemále t-shirt to the family meeting, and telling Michael “for 2000 rupees we’d both go down on Matthew McConaughey.” There are also some good background jokes in the segment; the film choices on the plane spring to mind, and there’s another occurrence of the not tipping African Americans joke too. The pay-off to the Thanksgiving duck joke made me laugh, as did Tobias telling Ed Helms “all I need you to do is tell people what a terrific actor I am, because I can’t do it believably.” So great, that means that revisiting the same events from another perspective isn’t necessarily going to be a problem every time it happens. Maybe this is just a case of too much, too soon.
The second half of the episode, the new portion of Tobias’ story, is dedicated to his time spent with Maria Bamford’s DeBrie. I’m not sure I really liked the character all that much, I mean, she’s a fairly depressing character to spend time with. This is an example Season 4 going to some pretty dark places again. Saying that, I didn’t actively dislike her either, and the Fantastic Four jokes are pretty funny. And it’s at the point that Tobias says “I’ve got just the thing. The Thing. Cut to…” and we see him in his Fantastic 4 outfit that the opening scene begins to make sense. As the episode draws to a close, we see Tobias finally arriving at the model home and it becomes clear how many hoops the show has had to jump through in order for that sketch to work.
John Beard has to have been a victim of the dumbing down of his news programme and the housing market crash to be presenting ‘John Beard’s To Entrap a Local Predator: Orange County Edition: Super Creep’. Tobias had to get that license plate to service the “looks like we’ve got ourselves an Anus Tart” line. Maeby has to be living alone in the model home for Tobias to ask “is there a little girl here all by herself?” And Tobias had to meet DeBrie, who had to be an actress who starred in Fantastic 4, who had to be broke enough to dress in her costume to pose for pictures, which had to prompt Tobias to also dress as The Thing to tee up the line “Daddy needs to get his rocks off.” It’s superb. It’s hilarious. And it goes on for another glorious two minutes into the ‘Next Time on Arrested Development’ section. And it turns out we’ve been watching the story of how Tobias became a convicted sex offender the whole time – surely a sitcom first?
Any Other Business:
– The films available on the in-flight entertainment are DeBrie’s Fantastic 4, the two Tom Jane films Junk and Homeless Dad, and Love, Indubitably.
– I loved Tobias improvising his way out of a marriage.
– DeBrie starred in nine Straightbait videos, of which Tobias has watched three. One of them was called Anus Tart… I wonder if that was one of the ones Tobias watched.
– Tobias reminds DeBrie of Billy Crystal Meth, a funny drug dealer.
– What a catchy song that was that Lucille II was singing along to.