First airdate: 17 April, 2005
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz & Jim Vallely
Directed by Chuck Martin
As I mentioned back in reviewing “Let ‘Em Eat Cake”, there’s an unfortunate tendency for Arrested Development to wrap up its seasons with a run of truly outstanding episodes that culiminate in a finale that is good, but not, like, great. And so it is with “Righteous Brothers”, which brought the second season to its conclusion in a funny, allusive episode that’s neither as dense nor consistently hilarious as either “Meat the Veals” or “Spring Breakout”, and even beyond the unfair disadvantage it has coming right after such an immaculate pair of episodes, still suffers from a bit too much self-conscious plottiness, attempting to wrap up the whole of Season 2 in a grand bow while leaving space open for Season 3 (at this remove, I can’t recall if the perpetually endangered show had its third season confirmed by the time this episode was completed or not), and providing a look back over the marvelous sprawl that AD had achieved by this point in its run, with one of the most callback-heavy episodes in quite a while.
And we’ll get to all that, but first, I want to be a gushing fanboy: Franklin, everybody! It’s here in “Righteous Brothers” that Gob’s unfortunate African-American puppet (who, I’ve accidentally learned, was apparently a reference to an equally-unfortunate Sesame Street character named Roosevelt Franklin that I’ve either forgotten about or never encountered in the first place) gets his deeply problematic theme song, “It Ain’t Easy Being White”, a breathlessly offensive duet that Gob hopes might, just maybe, heal this country a little bit. If Franklin represents the show’s most overt satire of well-meaning rich white activists who actually have no damn idea what they’re going on about (a role previous assigned to Lindsay), “It Ain’t Easy Being White” is the most overt of all Franklinisms, and it is unbelievably funny – one of those gags that blindsided me so much the first time I ever saw it that it took a good 10 seconds or more before I was recovered. Luckily, the writers and director anticipate this kind of response, and build an exceptionally long recovery time after that joke, though at the rate that AD buzzes by “exceptionally long” is still a bit on the short side.
The point being, a worse episode that “Righteous Brothers” would go a long way to redeeming itself just for that song (also Gob’s shrill cover of “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You”, which in good AD logic ends up melting Michael’s heart), and it’s hardly the only great moment in the episode. Everything surrounding the defanged American remake of Les cousins dangereux, the French erotic thriller introduced way back in “My Mother, the Car”, is priceless, from the way that the running time keeps shrinking as movie executive Maeby has to find a way to make it marketable, to the meta-joke about companies that cravenly try to soft-pedal edgy content for an American audience, leading the narrator to hastily assure us that a kissing George-Michael and Maeby might not be blood relatives, in episode not so squeamish about incest that it skips over Gob’s attempt to kiss his comatose father, or Michael’s nice hard cot. Or, best of all, George-Michael’s unseen protest sign, “This is a tricky gray area”. And I’m certainly not sad that AD finally, after a whole season away, recommitted to the cousin crush subplot, which pays off in some of the very best gags of Season 3.
Undoubtedly, I could go on and on: “Righteous Brothers” might not be perfect, but it’s damn funny. It’s also, by the standards of Arrested Development, and only by those standards, bogged down by too much plot: between the collapsing house, Tobias’s interview opportunity in Las Vegas, Buster finally putting two and two together about Oscar’s many innuendos, Dangerous Cousins, and the reformation of Kitty (replete with a very sad, gentle, “Say goodbye to these…”), there’s a whole lot of material that feels like it’s being tossed in without actual development (the collapsing foundation subplot especially; that could have been an A-plot all by itself, but it barely registers here), in favor of a solid but, by this point, not particularly original conflict between Michael and Gob about how brothers should treat each other.
Arrested Development is virtually never more interested in the stories it tells than the jokes and characters involved, and the problem with “Righteous Brothers” is thus pretty rare for the show: it’s too mechanical and clunky about its plot development, too visibly straining to get all the pieces swept off the board and then set up some new ones. Sure, it’s straining by AD standards, not normal TV standards, so it’s hardly bad TV by any imaginable stretch, but it lacks the felicity and ease of the show at its best, and after a season that kept hitting that height episode after episode, a wrap-up that’s this stiff is, honestly, a disappointment, no matter how funny.
16 April: “The Cabin Show”
18 April: “For British Eyes Only”
20 April: “Forget-Me-Now”