Saturday, October 08, 2011

Development with Limited Assistance

I'm four episodes into Arrested Development, and it's good, though so far not quite as amazing as its reputation suggests. But it may be too early to judge. Mostly I'm marvelling at what a great list of connexions the makers of the show apparently have--the show was produced and narrated by Ron Howard, so maybe he's the well-connected nucleus. The show's certainly better than any of his movies, though I've a floating date with myself to get really drunk some night and try to enjoy Willow again.

But, yes, Arrested Development has a great cast. Can you believe Clint Howard appears at one point? That's right, Clint Howard in a Ron Howard project, who would have thought we'd see the day? Well, maybe a more impressive guest star was Liza Minnelli in the fourth episode, who sort of surprised me by exhibiting some actually keen comic timing, which is somehow all the more effective paired with the shock of how much she looks and sounds like Judy Garland. She certainly can't sing, as her recent Tony Awards appearance demonstrated, or her cringe inducing appearance in a Sex in the City movie, but I can see from the Arrested Development appearance that her acting chops are alive and kicking.

The main cast includes Jason Bateman as the lead and straight man to his screwy family, which includes his sister played by the very hot Portia de Rossi, who doesn't appear to have aged at all since her first appearance on Ally McBeal over ten years ago.

Her husband's played by David Cross, who's effective as usual, but my favourite is Jeffrey Tambor as the father of the misfit Bluth family and corrupt founder of the company apparently built on a beach frozen banana stand. Something about Tambor's face implies bananas.

But it's his ability to calculate how to deliver lines that really works about him. I always think of a rubber band representing the audience's attention to the premise of a joke or bit being stretched as the performer or performers begin to layer on absurdities. The good comic actor turns the tone before the rubber band snaps, either by getting to the punchline, or, if there's no punchline, hitting an unexpected new emotional note that casts the setup in a new light. In this sense, a good comic actor can make material funny that wasn't necessarily funny in the first place, and Jeffrey Tambor's brilliant at this. There's a scene in the fourth episode where Tambor's character, imprisoned due to corporate fraud, finds himself in a cell with his magician son Gob (pronounced like the biblical Job) who's there as part of an escape act. Gob is desperate for privacy so that he can pass the key he's swallowed to escape with, but somehow he didn't plan on the fact that the toilet would be in an exposed place in the prison cell. Tambor tells him he could go look for a restroom but, "they've been locking the doors lately, so . . ." And cuts himself off to look down. His instinct found just the right beat to end the sarcasm--it's not a particularly funny line without what Tambor brings to it.

So performances alone are enough to keep me watching the show.

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