Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Arrested Development Is Back...This Sunday

This weekend, the best sitcom that no one watched is back!

Yes, Arrested Development fans rejoice. The cast is back for a fourth season. All of the episodes will be released at once, only on Netflix. (I think I’ve mentioned my love for Netflix here and here.)

What’s that? You’ve never watched Arrested Development? You’ve made a huge mistake.

Here’s the premise. The Bluth (pronounced Blooth) family builds homes (think McBride & Son Homes in terms of scope, minus the impropriety). In the first episode, the family patriarch, George Bluth, is arrested for a variety of nefarious business dealings.

One of the reasons Arrested Development floundered was its huge cast of characters. Each character is quite complex and multi-faceted.

It only adds to the humor for avid fans. For the uninitiated, it can be tough to keep track of everyone.

If you want to jump right into season four on Sunday, here’s a bit of background on the cast of characters that make this a glorious sitcom.

The Siblings

Michael Bluth: Played by Jason Bateman, Michael is the cornerstone of the series. As the middle son, he’s tasked with keeping the family business afloat, while battling its biggest enemy – the rest of the family. Oh, and he’s a bit of a task master with his son, George Michael. Yes, even the white hat is not without a fatal flaw in this series.

GOB Bluth: The oldest son is played by Will Arnett. A horribly inept magician, he also plays the part of ladies’ man at times. Oh, and GOB (pronounced Job) is an acronym for George Oscar Bluth. Look for the subtle mispronunciations within the show.

Lindsay Funke: Played by Portia de Rossi, she is Michael’s twin sister. She’s married to Tobias Funke. Lindsay frequently takes up a cause, like humane treatment of animals, only to abandon it moments later.

Byron “Buster” Bluth: The baby of the family, Tony Cross plays Buster. Despite being an adult, Buster is a huge momma’s boy who is prone to frequent panic attacks. Note: he’s also missing his left hand. For the full backstory on that, you really need to watch the other three seasons.

The Bluth Banana Stand was the family's first business venture. Selling frozen bananas dipped in chocolate, it's also the only profitable Bluth enterprise.

The Parents

George Bluth: Throughout the series, the father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is usually incarcerated. Along with embezzlement, he’s accused of doing business with Saddam Hussein (light treason). Most of the time, he’s trying to run the business from prison, despite Michael’s attempts to take over.

Lucille Bluth: Played by Jessica Walter, the mother is a bit of an alcoholic. She’s quite the elitist, often demeaning the help in hilarious ways. Oh, and she hasn’t quite accepted the fact that the Bluth family is in financial trouble.

Cousins and Tobias

George Michael Bluth: Michael’s son is played by Michael Cera. George Michael’s mother died of cancer before the show started. Hence, a frequent plot device is Michael seeking George Michael’s approval of anyone he dates. Also, George Michael is a wee bit attracted to his cousin, Maeby.

Maeby Funke: Maeby is Lindsay and Tobias’ daughter. Played by Alia Shawkat, Maeby has been largely ignored for most of her life by her hippy-ish parents. She also appears to be a bit attracted to George Michael. But, again, they’re cousins, right?

Tobias Funke: Played by David Cross, Tobias was a therapist. Well technically, he was an analrapist (an analyst/therapist). However, he quit the therapy gig to pursue acting, at which he is horrible. Tobias appears to be a homosexual. However, he has yet to come out of the closet.

The Narrator

Ron Howard: Yes, Richie Cunningham is the narrator. It’s perhaps the best narration job since Daniel Stern provided the grown up voice for Kevin Arnold. In the third season, just before the show was cancelled, Howard gets a bit desperate, saying flat out “tell your friends to watch this show.”

FYI: My favorite character is GOB Bluth. For evidence as why, watch Season 2’s “Afternoon Delight.” GOB continually berates the Bluth Company employees by bragging about his increasingly expensive suit.

“Yeah, the guy in the $4,000 suit is holding the elevator for the guy who doesn’t make that in four months. C’Mon!”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sons of Anarchy: A Grungier Version of Dawson's Creek

I curse Netflix and its meticulous backlog of cable shows. Watching programs in the traditional episodic manner is now painful.

Previously, I documented my obsession with The Walking Dead. Now, I’m on another kick. It’s called Sons of Anarchy. For the uninitiated, the FX show documents the eponymous California motorcycle club and their illegal activities.

With two full seasons under my belt, something has been gnawing at me. A sense of familiarity. It’s like I’ve seen this sort of show before. Then it hit me.

If you ditch the bikes, trashy women and guns, you’d be left with series that is very close to a successful late-90s drama – Dawson’s Creek. Before all you manly, SAMCRO-lovers click back, just hear me out. (FYI: SAMCRO stands for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original.)

#1 – A Blonde Adonis 

James Van Der Beek
Charlie Hunnam
I think the photos speak for themselves. Need I say more?

#2 – Serendipity Becomes Ubiquity

One thing that always bugged me with Dawson’s Creek (yes, I watched it, no need to hook me up to a lie detector a la Seinfeld) is how crucial conversations and plot points always started out with a seemingly serendipitous meeting.

Scene: Pacey is bummed about breaking up with XX. He goes for a walk on the pier. And, he runs into XX only to engage in a spirited conversation and a romantic interlude.

SoA does the same thing. The hospital is frequently the meeting spot for chance encounters. For a series that features motorcycles so prominently, the main characters spend more time in hospitals in the first couple of seasons than the cast of Scrubs. Here’s a hint for law enforcement, bug the freaking hospital chapel!

#3 – A Brunette Beauty

Katie Holmes
Maggie Siff
Again, need I say more?

#4 – Small Town, Huge Significance

Dawson’s Creek was set in the fictional town of Capeside, Mass. SoA is set in the fictional town of Charming, Calif. Come on!

Both dramas succeed in making these small towns feel like the epicenter of everything that matters in the world. I don’t really have an issue with that. Though, I will say when a show like Breaking Bad is set in an actual city (Albuquerque), it adds a lot of realism.

Sure, shooting in a real city is more expensive. But, in the process, it helps alleviate the annoyingness of point 2. Want to talk to Walter White? You better call him, because this is the real world and he doesn’t exist only in three places.

#5 – Never Ending Circle of Betrayals

If one thing drives me absolutely nuts about SoA, it’s the frequent backstabbing. Then, just an episode or two later, the aggrieved party is right back in bed (sometimes literally) with the Judas.

I’ve lost count of how many times the Sons and Mayans have brokered deals, only to break them an episode later. It’s ludicrous.

At least the frequently changing affections of high school relationships are believable. Getting shot at with automatic weapons as a result of a betrayal seems like it would stick in your mind.

Anyhow, there’s my two cents about Sons of Anarchy. It’s definitely entertaining. However, in no way would I put it on par with the excellent Breaking Bad.