Posts Tagged ‘Jason Bateman’

“Now the story…”: Brief Reviews of Arrested Development

The original plan — like four years ago — was for John S and Tim to barrel through the 53 original episodes of Arrested Development and cooperatively rank them best to worst, with an in-depth review of each. Circumstances intervened with the thoroughness of that project, and egos intervened with the idea of two people “cooperatively” ranking all 53 episodes. (Ranking Game isn’t as effective with just two people.)

So here’s the result of all that labor: Shorter reviews of all 53 original episodes, presented in chronological fashion (albeit with a good deal of ranking going on within them).

Arrested Development is our favorite show, and this, in 53 different ways, shows why.

(Extended) Pilot

John once made a point — I think it was in here — about how dramas are most perfectly conceived in their first seasons. (He’s taken a step back, btw.) Comedies have always been driven differently. It takes time for the characters to evolve and develop the right way, for the proper interactions to take hold.

Which makes watching Arrested Development’s extended pilot so remarkable. The characters are properly and almost comprehensively established right away. “This is Michael Bluth. He’s a good man” is the first line of the series, and it foregrounds everything that is to come after it.* Lucille is overdramatic and quick-witted, Lindsay is hypocritical, Tobias is oblivious, Gob is creepy, Buster is incompetent, George Sr. is going through one of his phases (a cowboy one to be exact). None of these characterizations ring untrue.

*The “He’s a good man” is actually cut from the pilot that aired. Seems like it shouldn’t have been.

This isn’t the funniest episode of the series by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one of the funnier pilots you’ll ever see, especially considering the amount of expository work that has to be done. The series lays its extensive deck of cards on the table right away, complete with the eccentricities of its characters and absurd plot developments (i.e. incest in the first episode). It’s a nearly flawless pilot. —Tim

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Recapturing Greatness

With news that Fox is close to greenlighting a pilot that would team Will Arnett up with former Arrested Development co-creator and executive producer Mitch Hurwitz (as well as AD co-executive producer Jim Vallely, who wrote the scripts for some great episodes, including “Pier Pressure,” “Righteous Brothers,” and “S.O.B.s”), the big (and sometimes insularly arrogant) Arrested Development fans here at NPI couldn’t help but get a bit excited. After all, the news that Arnett will be playing “a rich Beverly Hills jackass” sounds more than a little Gob Bluth-esque.

At the same time, we’d probably be better off to cool our expectations. The post-Arrested Development career of Will Arnett has been filled with plenty of flops (The Brothers Solomon, Let’s Go to Prison) and only a few mild successes (his guest appearance on Parks & Recreation, Blades of Glory). Even his previous reunion with Hurwitz, the animated series Sit Down, Shut Up (which included fellow AD alums Jason Bateman and Henry Winkler) was a mild disaster, lasting only 13 episodes. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Funniest Comedians of the Decade

Comedy is a broad subject. It’s not confined to any one medium, genre, style, or format. It’s hard to define and almost impossible to quantify. But here at NPI, we take comedy very seriously. The comedy of the Aughts in particular will always have an important role in shaping our senses of humor. So today we present a list, in no particular order, of people who helped to truly shape the comedy of the decade. This is not a list of people who were funny once or twice, but people with a body of work that is both rich and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some groundbreaking comic teams (Flight of the Conchords, Stella), couldn’t make the list. And that’s because the following individuals/groups reached a level of success, both in terms of popularity and quality, that helped define the comedy of the decade.

The cast of Arrested Development

Arrested Development has the funniest ensemble cast in the history of comedic television, and it’s way ahead of whatever’s at #2. Tim has already extolled the virtues of Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, but the fact is that the main character is about the sixth-funniest cast member on the show. Michael Cera gave a breakout performance for three years as George Michael, completely selling every awkward quirk of the character, including (and especially) his love for his cousin. David Cross played Tobias’ obliviousness and physical awkwardness to perfection, conveying every sexual inadequacy and illicit implication (“She said ‘single,’ right?”). Will Arnett made a magician named Gob come off as arrogant, creepy, and sympathetic. Portia Di Rossi played Lindsay’s self-righteousness and laziness as mutually coexisting. Jeffrey Tambor, as the family patriarch, managed to make the character so memorable that they had to keep him as a regular, even though he was supposed to remain a guest after the pilot. Tony Hale’s Buster, Jessica Walter’s Lucille, and Alia Shawkat’s Maeby, rounded out the cast, ensuring the show didn’t have a single weakness. Even guest stars, like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Michael Higgins, manage to turn their characters into memorable comic stars.

Most important, though, was the way the cast interacted. Plenty, if not all, great comedies have breakout characters and star performers, but few entire casts have had the chemistry that this cast had. Exchanges between Michael and his son, for example, are so great not just because of the dialogue and each character’s eccentricities, but because of the interplay between the two characters. Their ability to talk over each other, fill in each other’s awkward gaps, and respond nonverbally to the other’s lines are as funny as anything in the script. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Best TV Characters

John S already called the Aughts the “Golden Age of Television.” Now, he’s joined by Tim to help further justify that statement by recalling some of the most original and memorable characters the medium has produced over the last 10 years. We had one criterion: The character had to debut this decade. Some notable characters who did not make the cut include Gil Grissom (CSI), Mr. Bennet/HRG (Heroes), and Walter White (Breaking Bad).

As for the ones who did, we’re not saying we ranked them, but we’re also not saying the order is random.

Adrian Monk: The character of the seemingly all-knowing master detective has been around for some time now, dating back to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, at least. Adrian Monk didn’t reinvent the wheel on Monk, but in giving the detective a compelling backstory and severe psychiatric disorders—the latter usually played for comedy, except in the context of the former—it added a depth to what could otherwise be a stale cast character.

Furthermore, it’s hard to think of an established actor who has engrossed himself in a television role as much as Tony Shalhoub did for the eight seasons of Monk.* As the eponymous detective stricken with a severe case of OCD, Shalhoub mastered the portrayal of the neurotic genius, even if the show too often settled for being a network procedural that just happened to air on cable.

*There is one other guy on this list that has a case.

–Tim

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The Invention of Lying: A Review

Lying Ricky Gervais“It’s funny because it’s true.” We’ve all heard this statement and variations of it before. The truth is funny.

Well, Ricky Gervais has decided to turn this comic principle into the premise for his new movie. The Invention of Lying takes place in a universe in which nobody on Earth has ever told a lie. No lies, no mistruths, no fictions, no deception.

The first few scenes, which basically just lay the groundwork for such a universe, show just how durable this premise is. Gervais picks up a date who announces: “I’m disappointed and pessimistic for our date tonight.” He watches a commercial for Coke in which a pitch-man says, “I work for Coca-Cola and I’m asking you to please not stop drinking Coke” and uses the slogan “Coca-Cola: It’s very famous” (Pepsi’s slogan: “When They Don’t Have Coke”). He writes “scripts” that are basically just descriptions of historical events for Lecture Films (“Nobody wants to see a movie about the Black Plague.” “I got the 1300s! What do you want me to write about?”). All of these scenes are good for at least a few laughs. Continue reading