The truncated final broadcast season of Arrested Development can be split into two halves in terms of plot and quality.
The first six episodes deal with Michael (Jason Bateman) falling for beautiful British girl Rita Leeds (a game Charlize Theron), while struggling to find out who, if anyone, has set his father up. The second half finds its way back to the Bluth family, upping the ante, and the amount of incest, to the maximum. You can say this for it: it certainly didn’t go out with a whimper.
It’s a soft opening for the final outing of the Bluths on Fox, with The Cabin Show, the premiere, only amounting to about 10 or so chuckle-laughs, including one simply brilliant moment of silence that alludes to too much information. Otherwise, it takes a long time, and some really weird sub-plots, for the season to really kick in. The Charlize Theron stuff, while offering some good jokes, is far too flat, and its big twist a real lame duck – but there are gems spliced within these episodes, including Maeby (Alia Shawkat) as a studio exec dealing with some big flops, plus a great build-up to a sight gag involving a mole, a jetpack, a toy town and a group of Japanese investors that cuts it perilously close to bad taste.
Once the show finds its way through these initial episodes and makes a dash for the finish line (head first like Pete Rose), the episodes become a lot lighter, funnier, and full of strong character moments. One particular episode, Save Out Bluths (or S.O.B’s), is a great take on the kind of show that would do anything to keep audiences interested. The cameos, the stunt casting, 3D sequences, Ron Howard’s narrating pleading to tell your friends about the programme; it’s irony that pushes into genuine as well.
Franklin returns in a fantastic episode featuring Judge Reinhold and former American Idol contestant William Hung, which mocks magazine ads for My Name Is Earl (this is how old these episodes are now), while Michael discovers a possible sister in Nellie (Justine Bateman), once again increasing the ick-factor of the incest within the show and how meta it was willing to go.
In addition, Henry Winkler’s lawyer, Barry Zuckercorn, is fired by the family and replaced (to skew younger) with Scott Baio – much like Happy Days once did – and one perfectly cast episode involves Andy Richter as identical quintuplets, including Chareth the Flirt.
As season three tries to wrap up several years of the show, it sometimes struggles with its own plots and how far to push them (Tobias’ Graft vs Host story is horrible), but it remains part of one of the best shows on TV. An ensemble playing up as expected, with lots of great jokes, revelations and freeze-frames, season three of Arrested Development tries earnestly. It falls over a few hurdles, but it’s worth watching – both for completists, for fans, and for anyone who simply loves good comedy.