Arrested Development, Season 4

“A New Start”: Tobias Meets DeBrie
Talking television.
May 30 2013 9:55 AM

Arrested Development, Season 4

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Tobias gets served.

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Still courtesy Netflix

In Slate’s Arrested Development TV Club, two fans will IM about each episode of Season 4 once they finish watching it. Today, copy editor Lowen Liu and Vault blogger Rebecca Onion recap Episode 5, "A New Start."

Lowen Liu: So here's where you tell me you once played Jean Grey in a community repertory production of X-Men.

Rebecca Onion: Ha! I wish. I didn't know until I looked it up that the Fantastic Four quickie movie was a real thing. Did you?

Liu: No! I should have searched using that thing on the Internet that is always blurred out. But then a lot of the plentiful show-biz jokes this season have gone over my head. I’m having more fun watching the romance between Tobias and DeBrie. If pinching someone’s nostrils during a nosebleed isn’t love, I don’t know what is. Does this bring up the question of whether Tobias is actually gay, or asexual, or just buy-curious?

Onion: I don't think that Tobias actually has a sexual attraction for DeBrie. I think he just wants somebody to pound the pavement with—a comrade in dreaming. I thought it was sweet how he stayed by her side in the hospital for her unfortunate -itises and -osises diagnosis. She's like the opposite of Lindsay, who has absolutely no use for Tobias. At least DeBrie needs ... somebody. (Or, she needs money for drugs?) I will be really curious to see if the show does anything with the fact that she has a law degree.

Liu: While Tobias is a doctor! Something’s not quite right here with their respective white collars. But I think you’re right that their common need is a level above (or a level below) romantic desire.

Onion: Or sideways! Something else completely.

Liu: I'm actually rooting for them. An odd feeling I have to process, not unlike Lindsay attempting to cry.

Onion: I know what you mean. What do you think about Maria Bamford as DeBrie, overall? I kind of think she's underused.

Liu: I am a big fan of Bamford here. Hers is the first new character that I'm invested in, who doesn't seem burdened by the cameo-esque, look-at-me pitfalls other new roles have suffered from—even Isla Fisher's, bless her heart.

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Onion: There is definitely that sense with many of the guest stars. I’m not a fan of the Where's Waldo feeling of it. ("Oh! The guy behind the counter at the airport is Anders Holm!," etc.) But I have to say, I think DeBrie just makes me sad. It didn’t make me laugh to see her get in that limo to be “passed around.” And since sadness has sort of been my overwhelming reaction to the series so far, she embodies it for me. The Bluths were always individually sad, but at least they had each other. Now they're just all in the toilet and I find it hard to watch.

Liu: I’m sad that you’re sad! It does appear they're no longer able to maintain the Teflon way they slid through life for the first three seasons.

Onion: Right, it was that Teflon quality that always made their abjectness palatable for me before. That, and the fact that Michael used to be a likable anchor for all of the madness. Now he’s just as awful as the rest.

Liu: Where do you think Tobias fits into this? He always seemed the most oblivious out of a whole clan of obliviousness.

Onion: Tobias' obliviousness was always the most egregious. You never thought, "Maybe around the next corner Tobias' life will turn around." That said, I can kind of accept that and not feel sad watching him. It's already established that this is the way he is. When he turns down Lucille's job offer in this episode you're not even surprised.

Liu: I am surprised, though, that they finally let Tobias in on the joke about the, ahem, impression he gives off to people. It's shifted the Tobias-is-gay comedy to a less subtle tack, one I didn’t expect. (Michael: “I don’t think there was any implying going on at all.”) And I was surprised Tobias had a genuine “aha” moment when DeBrie corrected him on the method-one/methadone confusion. Do we even want Tobias’ confusions corrected? Eeeeeennnnmmmmeeee … No.

But that aside, I can say this was the first episode of the new season that really made me laugh, and Tobias may be the only character who generates enough funny on his own to warrant the one-person-at-a-time approach the series has taken.

Onion: I definitely agree. Tobias can shoulder a whole episode for sure. And I laughed many times: when he was rewrapping the sari in the airplane bathroom, when he woke up in the alley with the hobos/undercover agents, and definitely when he was getting busted at the model home by the fake To Catch a Predator show ...

Liu: Where did his entrapment fall on your "lovably embarrassing" vs. "disturbingly sad" scale?

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Onion: It was totally lovably embarrassing. And that's because it was strict farce, playing with the way Tobias continually misunderstands language and misreads situations. The Tobias treatments that make me sad are always those that have to do with his wanting to be an ac-tor. (I can't help hearing that word in his voice when I type it!) To me, those bits are a depressing commentary on the way that the "follow your heart" advice that Americans love can lead people astray. It's too close to home, maybe, given what’s happened to the economy since the first seasons aired. Thankfully the To Entrap a Local Predator bit had nothing to do with broken dreams, though the voiceover tied it in somewhat (“Tobias was finally about to get a starring role on a hit TV show”). I laughed and laughed!

Liu: Oh good, that helps me see it at a lighter slant, too, though his arrest has me concerned (all this feeling!) about what will happen to poor Tobias. (And on an only tangentially related note, it still weirds me out that John Beard is a real-life news anchor.) But you definitely point to something larger—was the best of the farce and satire we remember from the original AD possible only in the Bush era? When it seemed the most accurate expression of just how through-the-looking-glass everything was? I almost miss the hysterical abandon I felt circa 2000-08. But this sounds too serious. Save me!

Onion: Ha! These episodes have made me feel serious. (I'm the one who brought up the failure of the American Dream.) And I wonder how intentional it is. There are certainly moments—like Ed Helms’ Realtor committing suicide and the priest’s advice to “be realistic”—that make it seem like the writers wanted us to think about this stuff.

Liu: The Ed Helms suicide was definitely unprepared for—much like the collapse of the housing market, I suppose! I also liked the funeral procession of postal-delivery vans driving slowly by in the background, which dates this nadir precisely to Pete the mailman’s death and the death of Michael's Sudden Valley dream.

Onion: And Lindsay and Tobias are the perfect people to buy a giant house they can't afford to furnish. His “Hooray for Tobias” headboard is excellent. But your question remains: Bush-era follies were somehow just easier to find funny, maybe? The Bluths wasting stimulus money less so? Or have I just lost a big portion of my sense of humor?

Liu: Maybe we all have!

Onion: I can't blame creator Mitchell Hurwitz for wanting to move things forward, though. And I'm withholding final judgment. I think we should have recession comedy … I just need to get used to it.

Liu: At least the comedy is starting to feel like comedy once more. In this episode, all the self-conscious seeding of jokes from the first few episodes begins to pay off. I got a real kick out of finding out Tobias accidentally shadowed Lindsay to India (recalling when he tailed her as a Blue Man). And the hilarious ANUSTART license plate was totally worth the delayed reveal.

Onion: ANUSTART was genius. I love callbacks to the earlier seasons (I had to remind myself what Tobias’ “Shemále” shirt referred to). But I like it even better when they start new jokes—such as the gag about tipping black people, which is really working for me so far.

Liu: Your eloquent defense of new jokes makes me ashamed to say I'm sorry we've gone five episodes without a single chicken dance.

Onion: We may be left to recreate the chicken dance for ourselves.

Liu: True! Learning to embrace this decidedly different season won’t take away from our AD nostalgia. OK, I've got all five fingers on my head, office stares be damned.

Onion: Happy me! I work from home! *High kicks* Bwak-kaw!

Liu: Chee-chaw!

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Lowen Liu is Slate's managing editor.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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