17 March 2013

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: SEASON 2, EPISODE 3, "¡AMIGOS!"

First airdate: 21 November, 2004
Written by Brad Copeland
Directed by Lee Shallat Chemel

I've seen every episode of Arrested Development multiple times, and Season 2 the most of all; I'd imagine that watching "¡Amigos!" for this review was the fifth or sixth time I'd seen it. And I still had to have the single best joke in the episode pointed out to me as I was doing a quick spot of research for the episode: at one point, the Narrator mentions, after a good but hardly revolutionary "Who's on first?" bit, that "At no point were Michael and Maeby talking about the same person, and there were only four people in their group". There are five people in their group. Even the Narrator forgot about Ann.

I open with this not only because I was so gosh-darn excited to learn about it, and I wanted to share it with all of you, but also because goddamn, the writing in this show hit some kind of level for complexity and layering in its second season that nothing else in television history could dream of - not even the same show's third season, which love it though I do, is operating in a different mode much of the time. If "¡Amigos!" suffers, as I think it does, for coming right after the superlative "The One Where They Build a House", and not living up to the sheer cumulative force of all that creativity, it's still almost unbearably overloaded with quintessentially AD gestures, most notably in Michael's escalated war of passive-aggressive conflict with his son ("Ann-hog" being a personal favorite, though the look of utter desperation in Jason Bateman's eyes on the episode-ending "I don't like her" is pretty great), and the use of stock footage in the form of an old Mexican silent melodrama with actors who look powerfully familiar (and the first of the episode's two purposeful mistranslations from Spanish).

It's all good stuff, though (well, not all: this is actually one of those very few AD episodes with a line that just plain doesn't work, Lucille's "Let's make sure we don't give him any real power" about Gob. Jessica Walter does her best with it, but clearly doesn't quite get why it's there, and I agree with her: surely Lucille and Michael are already both well aware that Gob must be kept away from a position of authority by now). Eventually, the season-long subplot about Lindsay's desperate attempt to find any man to sleep with now that she's got an open marriage going on will grow thin, but it hasn't done so quite yet; and that's as close as I even have to a caveat. The running gag of the cold Lucille waving her hands like a Muppet and screaming with baby-like delight at the hacky costumes of private detective Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull, agreeably cheesy - I'd say that I wish they'd have brought him back, but it's hard to imagine where he'd fit in) never ceases to amuse, nor do Tobias's "blue myself" lines - in fact, I like this even more than the first, from "The One Where Michael Leaves", because of its escalation ("if I blue myself early, I’d be nice and relaxed...").

It's also got a spike of meanness to it, one that is woven in well enough to be funny rather than just shocking: Lupe's heaving sigh at having to take care of Buster [sic], the background jokes about people getting hit by falling bullets, or Tobias's alarmingly ill-aimed joke about Michael's wife - one of David Cross's best moments in a show that did not see him wanting for chances to show off - or the immensely aggressive final gag of the "On the next..." sequence, sure the only time in English language drama that "he's bleeding internally" was successfully used as a laugh line. Whatever alchemical reaction has to happen to sell a joke like that, I can't say: funny because of how effectively the show has built up a cartoon universe in which nothing actually bad can happen to people, without overshooting into absurdity; funny because it represents such a weird, sudden shift in tone that, especially coming from the smarmy Gene Parmesan, it's hard not be shocked into laughing at it. Not many shows would done the foundational work to make a joke like that work; Arrested Development made jokes like that its lifeblood, though rarely in such a potent way as this one is.

All in all, a rock-solid episode from right in the middle of a six-episode run that represents the show's most sustained run of masterpiece-level stories. I am afraid that I don't have all that much else to say, because unlike some of the others, it's not so narratively complex as to need the unpacking, nor as thematically dense as to impress on that level; truth be told, it's one of me less-favorite of these six brilliant season-opening episodes, simply because as funny as it is, and as obviously complicated as some of those jokes are to parse out, it's a bit on the mechanical side: it's only hysterically, funny. Though I do have to tip my hat to some of the best foreshadowing in the show's run: no, none of us would ever think we could miss a hand that much.

4 comments:

Colin said...

It was upon our own fifth or sixth viewing of this episode (and specifically of that horrifyingly insensitive remark from Tobias about Michael's wife)that my girlfriend and I came to the conclusion that Tobias, despite the fact that David Cross succeeds in playing the character as so pitifully desperate for approval and affection that you can't help but develop a fondness for him, is actually, by far, the worst person on the show. The sheer cruelty of which he is capable during those rare moments when the show finds him with even a shred of the self-confidence required to be so outdoes even Lucille at her most cold and critical. And yet we love him and want to see him find happiness. Thus is the magic of Arrested Development.

Incidentally, did you know that when Mitchell Herwitz was 12 years old he co-founded a chocolate chip cookie business with his father and brother called "The Chipyard"? How utterly Arrested Development is that pun?

Regular GeoX said...

I dunno, man--Gob casually manipulates, uses, and discards women to get back at family members and just for kicks (and *maybe* none of them are underage, but really, what are the odds...). As far as badness goes, that's pretty hard to beat.

Tim said...

For my own part, the thoughts I have on Tobias's relative personal evilness will be better served by waiting for another episode, but I have to say this: the writers go far, far out of their way to avoid giving Gob even one single redeeming trait. Hell, Lucille at least is willing to commit crimes on her children's behalf, that's *vaguely* maternal.

Lucas said...

"There are five people in their group. Even the Narrator forgot about Ann."

Oh my God.

(I too must have seen this at least five times, and never would have noticed that.)