Arrested Got the Hype; The Fall Deserves It
Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman
"Maybe a movie" would have been a better option after all for continuing the gloriously twisted saga of the beloved cult comedy classic Arrested Development. Those famous last words, spoken by executive producer/narrator Ron Howard in a cameo in the 2006 series finale on Fox, continue to haunt the show's sprawling and rarely satisfying 15-episode reboot on Netflix.
This time it's Michael Bluth (the wonderfully deadpan Jason Bateman), not his precocious niece Maebe, who's pitching a movie about his bizarre and venal family to Howard and Imagine Entertainment, the studio becoming one of many objects of in-joke satire, here tending to seem more smug than inspired. (It doesn't help that the season plays like a long build-up to a movie sequel, and that Howard's incessant narration becomes so intrusive it begins to feel like a very bad joke.)
Even with an awkward format that focuses each episode (many bloated beyond 30 minutes) on a single character's perspective, often robbing the series of its full-ensemble kick, Arrested remains an incredibly clever concoction. Its tangled subplots and overlapping layers of off-color running gags reveal their punch lines slowly, generally rewarding one's patience. But binging on these episodes, as encouraged by Netflix's all-at-once approach to distribution with the entire season released on the same day, feels less like a joy than a chore. It also amplifies the tiresomely repetitive nature of this season's narrative, with many scenes replayed from multiple angles, a device that ultimately feels less like an ingenious crazy-quilt jigsaw puzzle than a rabbit hole of self-referential self-reverence.
Still, there are many laughs and payoffs amid the chaos, especially in episodes devoted to the most outlandish characters: failed actor Tobias (David Cross), frustrated magician Gob (Will Arnett, whose sexually charged rivalry with Ben Stiller is a highlight), dragon mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) and way too late in the run, pathetic "motherboy" Buster (Tony Hale), who deserves a big hand for his fearless foolishness.
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Arrested got all of the hype this week, but more deserving of praise and attention is The Fall, a riveting and tightly focused British miniseries that Netflix quietly launched two days later. This five-part psychological crime thriller, already renewed for a second season, stars The X-Files's ravishing Gillian Anderson in a stunning performance that reveals an unbridled sexual allure within a cool, guarded professional armor.
She plays London-based detective superintendent Stella Gibson, who takes over a murder investigation in Belfast that she quickly deduces is the work of an uncommonly adept serial killer. The story also follows her fascinating, fearsome prey: Paul Spector, portrayed by the charismatic Jamie Dornan (Once Upon a Time's ill-fated sheriff) as the most human of monsters, a damaged but devoted family man — and, ironically, a professional grief counselor — who successfully hides his monstrous urges. Suspense mounts as Stella's relentless manhunt rattles Paul's meticulous methodology, threatening the domestic façade he holds so dear.
The one trait The Fall shares with Arrested is a frustrating lack of resolution in the final chapter. It's OK to leave us wanting more, but what's the point in not finishing the actual story?
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