Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Uber Geek's perspective on The Arrested Development Reunion

Ever since the New Yorker announced the Bluth Family reunion, my excitement level reached the unhealthy stratosphere of obsession. But who can blame me. Anyone who knows the brilliance of a show in which a stunted, neurotic, mother-obsessed son says to that same aging mother, while holding her rape horn, “As if anyone would ever R you mother,” knows the type of devotion this show engenders. Consequently, by now, either you know the news and fun tidbits about Arrested Development or you do not care. The interweb, atwitter with the real prospect of an eventual return to TV and a cinematic debut, has all but taken care of the reportorial aspect of the event. Here, I hope to describe what it felt like as an uber-geek to sit in a room with some of my most beloved fictional characters. 
My friends and I arrived about 90 minutes early to find a line of people straight out of the book Stuff White People Like, or straight from an Urban Outifitters ad campaign: Skinny jeans, plaid shirts, thick rimmed glasses, right down to the token black person. Eventually, our collective dorkiness leaked through: The person who bought GOB’s actual segway arrived, helmet in hand, clumsily maneuvering through the crowd, his slightly embarrassed wife walking next to him. Next came the man who bought one of Buster’s fake hands for $350 on the Internet. Lastly, a bunch of teenagers confusingly put never nude cut offs on their heads. Most people did not seem to make new friends, because despite the fact that we congregated to celebrate a shared love, let’s face it, like a crowd for David Foster Wallace we gravitate to Arrested Development not only for it’s humor, but for its ability to bestow that sense of community, of familial connection with a dysfunctional family upon us introverted lonely-type people. 
Inside the room, a darkened factory turned into an auditorium that felt like a place to watch an elementary school play, most of us stood, or sat impatiently, thumbing our smart phones until the lights went dim and a short 3 minutes of highlights from the show played to the uproarious laughter of a crowd that knew each line by heart. The stars of the show sauntered on stage to screams, shouts, and an endless symphony of claps. It actually felt like reuniting with long-lost family members, which the critical side of me feels all sorts of ambivalent generational worries towards. The most disconcerting aspect of this obsession lies in the fact that, deep down, I still truly believe that the ability to do all of the different chicken dances serves as a great gauge of a person's taste, coolness, and ultimate moral value.
Nancy Franklin, TV critic for the New Yorker, started the conversation but Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of the show, served as the true moderator. Hurwitz stood out as both the surprise comedic presence, surpassing the actual comedians on stage, the anchor, and the center of this highly intelligent, warm, familial, and electric conversation. Usually, these type of “informal get togethers” of actors turn into shameless self-promotion, but as a group, the cast had not gathered together for six years. You could feel their palpable excitement to reunite. 
The conversation mostly centered as on both the creation of the show and the creative process. In that sense, besides the emotional high, we found out some very forward, but still slightly shocking bite size facts about the show. Hurwitz issued a cover letter in which he wrote, especially for the shockingly gorgeous Portia De Rossi: No Divas. Even more shocking, the stellar Jeffrey Tambor, the patriarch of the family, was only slated to play the pilot, but decided to stay after he realized the potential of the show. Also, and this should come as a shock to no one, the show used much improvisation, the actors found out about the twists and seal bites only days before shooting, and our beloved Oscar Bluth, George’s doppelganger, was an ad hoc creation. Even more surprising, despite the creative vision of Hurwitz and his writers, Tambor initially set the tone for the show. Tambor’s opening monologue in the pilot, as many of the actors attested to, served as a revelation for the type of humor, even zaniness possible on this ground-breaking show.  
Now, just a quick rundown of my first impression of these real people. Portia De Rossi, though happy to be there looked sad, and almost bored, if not tired. David Cross, ever the consummate comedian, delivered plenty of laughs, but too few insights into the insanity of his character Dr. Funke. Michael Cera: I’m sorry. I really want to like you. But you come off, even if purposefully a la Andy Kaufman, as an arrogant asshole. Also your hair wasn’t helping. It was great to hear that you made up the whole news story of you holding back the movie, but still, chill out dude. Jason Bateman: self-effacing, hilarious, warm and effusive. More Jason Bateman please. Same should be said for Will Arnett. Both of them evinced serious insight into the ingenuity of the show, their characters, and felt no shame in discussing their numerous TV or movie failures. Bravo. You almost forget how funny Jeffrey Tambor actually is, but he can kill you with a subtle shake of his head, and today felt no different. Jessica Walters, though humorous, she stood out less for her hilarity and more for her genuine excitement to be in this room, with this cast, discussing this show. The shock of the night came from Tony Hale. True to his Milford Man background, he was seen, but rarely heard, sadly. Although, he did provide insight into Buster’s main motivation: All Buster desired was safety, and juice.
After the conversation, the crowd asked questions. Best questions of the day: One woman said, “I actually don’t have a question, I just wanted you all to look at me,” to which Ron Howard, from the phone responded, “Even our fans our smart.” How true. Second best, “Would it be too much that the cast all perform their chicken dances,” to which they responded with such insouciance, “Yea, sure.” 
Walking out, everyone wore a Christmas morning smile. We all felt the connection, the warmth, the intelligence, despite the fact that we all knew these are just people, actors. It didn’t matter. For a few hours, we had our family back.

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