Arrested Development Season 4, Episode 5 Review: “A New Start”

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Editor's Note
Due to Netflix’s controversial method of releasing an entire season of television to the world all at once, we had to decide just how to tackle Season 4 of Arrested Development. Ultimately we decided to review all 15 episodes of the show, with one new review going up every weekday for three weeks straight. To achieve this goal, we divided the work amongst three people: Matt, Jared, and Jeremy. Jared will be covering the fifth episode.

I think the least talked about aspect of this new season of Arrested Development is how sad it is. I mean, on paper, it’s just downright depressing. A family, broken and divided by petty arguments and a fleeting sense of affluence, has its mother imprisoned, its father slowly becoming a cross-dressing shell of a man, his son essentially stealing his woman and his life away, his younger brother dealing with PTSD and a lost limb from the Army, his older brother a failed magician, his younger sister debasing herself to prostitution to pay a heavy debt, and his brother-in-law a newly registered sex offender. But when you slap the Bluth name to these people, it automatically makes their faults and their dire situations 100% funnier. Why is that? Do we find their current predicament funny because how sad and pathetic it is? Or do we relate to them in some way, having horrible things happen to us all the time? Tobias’ life should be completely ruined by being branded a child molester, but then again same with his acting career, and before that his medical license being revoked. And with “A New Start”, he goes to the lowest place I’ve seen a Bluth go yet, landing in poverty with his new druggie girlfriend attempting to turn tricks for hamburgers, and both of them being hounded by copy right lawyers while they try and make money from performing on the street. From the outside looking in, that’s a grueling and sobering plot to a comedy, but tragedy is comedy and vise versa, and what makes it all come together can only be attributed to the deftness of Mitch Hurwitz, the Arrested Development crew, and David Cross.

I had my doubts, too, that David Cross could still pull off the balance needed to play Tobias. There’s a certain way that character works, being both someone who is very reliant on visual and physical humor, and also one who is renowned for his innuendos and sexual puns. There’s a very Yin and Yang balance to him, and too much of one and not enough of the other can make him a parody, instead of that likable person who does the parodying unintentionally. So I questioned whether or not he could be the Tobias we all know and love from before, and with Lindsey’s episode I didn’t get enough evidence to prove Cross could still pull it off. But thankfully he’s in tiptop shape here, and I think out of everyone in the cast the two people who brought their A game were Jessica Walter as Lucille and David Cross as Tobias. Being a sex offender is a brilliant move story wise for Tobias to go, and it doesn’t seem to stop him from his old ways of optimism, flamboyancy, and being very easily misunderstood for the way he phrases…things. And speaking of the thing, from the very start of the episode we are given a tease at his The Thing outfit, and the limitless potential ways Tobias’ two episode arc could go. And of course they went with a sex offender/Hollywood riches to rags/Fantastic Four story; who saw that coming? I certainly didn’t.

What’s so great about “A New Start” is its willingness to take that title and run with it, and really switch things up on the old Tobias formula, taking the typical Tobias gags to their farthest possible limit. The first was breaking the unwritten and unspoken rule to never tell Tobias there’s a family wide (and audience wide) running joke of him being gay. The writers took that risk, and I think it paid off, because as long as Tobias denies it, then he gets to prove (or fail to prove) that he is the opposite of gay, which leads to funnier scenarios. Watching ‘Straight Bait’ 2, 4, and 9 doesn’t help his case, but kissing his new boo does. That new boo is DeBrie Bardeaux, played wonderfully by Maria Bamford, who is my favorite of the new characters introduced this season. Again, this was a chance to break Tobias free of Lindsey for some time, and instead of the usual she-male or “friend from the gym”, they actually gave Tobias a legitimate love interest, and enough time for that to develop unlike him going to Reno with Kitty. So it comes as a shock to find him going in for the kiss in a dingy bathroom, showing he can actually connect to a woman romantically, while still leaving bread crumbs to his homosexuality. It’s where the episode takes us, and the perfect bookends, that makes “A New Start” my favorite episode of the season.

As a standalone episode, it has enough story twists to not feel like a slog, it goes at a breakneck pace, supplying a lot of laughter at a consistent basis, and it also pays off a lot of set-ups from the Lindsey episode (which I found somewhat lacking). The opening is stellar, and the post credits sequence is the best and most pure few minutes of comedy I’ve seen in this entire fourth season. The only thing I could actually ping as being a negative was some odd ADR issues, but if you don’t look for them you won’t hear them. I think it does a good job of being the first episode to ramp things up, as after episode five there’s a good streak of great episodes. I imagine the writers spent some time warming up to the new structure, and this one flew by. The Ed Helms agency scene worked here, being shorter and more to the point. And that gave birth to the funniest joke of the entire episode, one packed with a lot of great ones, wherein a guy spinning a sign while at a funeral had the perfect balance of morbid and sad yet hilarious and satirical that makes Arrested Development head and shoulders above other comedies. The ‘loose ends’ portion of this review will be a laundry list of humorous things I found, and the way everything flowed just had me in pain for too long, because my side hurt from splitting. If I had to sell this fourth season to someone on the fence, this would be the first thing I show them, simply because I think it’s the best of the fifteen, in my humble and sometimes wrong opinion (people tell me that often).

Loose Ends

  • In keeping with Arrested Development’s hobby of hiding jokes no one should ever be able to find, Josh Trank (director of the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot), plays on of the process servers who serves Tobias.
  • The number of ways ANUSTART was used just speaks to how smart this show can be. I’ll be using that insult for a while.
  • “I’m a man, don’t make it look like make-up.”
  • “Is there a little girl here all by herself?”
  • The beginning scene where Tobias and Lindsey talk about splitting up is a fantastic deconstruction of their entire relationship up to this point, and then she had to break the news of the gay joke to him. Some classic AD right there. I mean, he kisses her cold shoulder, that’s genius.
  • The Eat, Pray, Love joke works better here than in Lindsey’s first episode.
  • “Go cry in your pie!”
  • “How could they not have Failure to Launch?”
  • “Throw oranges at it. Hot oranges!”
  • I love how the interplay between DeBrie and Tobias at the clinic all starts with “this shit IS fucked up, sir” and then ends with good line readings of “you’re neat”.
  • There were references to Party Down, SNL (Ambiguously Gay Duo), and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Nice.
  • The ‘Straight Bait’ video was almost as good as the fact that DeBrie did nine of them in one day.
  • I want to see Billy Crystal Meth in the next season…or movie. Do we want a season or a movie?
  • The way Tobias backs away from DeBrie when she says “a new start” is great.
  • “Can I improv my way out of a marriage?”
  • The whispers of ‘coincidence’ are the new ‘Mr. F’.
  • “Oh my god that’s a butterface.”
  • Second best joke goes to Tobias breaking down and crying for the attention of Hollywood big shots.
  • “Are you high? We met at an acting class.”
  • More Tobias 1920’s voice, and him saying things like “children love fire”.
  • The blurring of the 4 logo not because of Marvel is clever. So was the “paper beats rock” rock puns.
  • “That would be like a fisherman selling his fishing costume.”
  • Lucille 2 got attacked by an ostrich. And the Charlie Brown music returned. Both of those things killed me.
  • “Daddy needs his rocks off.”
  • “There’s a raccoon in the backyard.” “Ha, bullshit!”. I’m not going to quote that entire scene, but I really want to. Damn that was a perfect end to that episode.

Check back Monday as Jeremy reviews season 4, episode 6: “Double Crossers”.