First airdate: 10 February, 2006
Written by Dean Lorey & Chuck Tatham
Directed by Lev. L. Spiro
The last four episodes of Arrested Development first aired in a single night, as part of a massive two-hour finale event that Fox was so eager to burn off, it schedule them against the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. By that point, nobody watching the show had any anger left to rouse, so even this clear-cut insult against the show registered; it was just so damn exciting to have that much new AD in one blast. That one blast proved to be a little overwhelming, in fact, and given the extreme narrative density of the quartet (not as much plot per square inch as you get in Deadwood or Game of Thrones, say, but pretty fucking incredible for a half-hour comedy), the whole affair was a bit too tiring to thoroughly enjoy it. That was my response to it, at least, and more than just about anything else in the show, getting to re-watch it one at a time on home video is a relief and a godsend, differentiating the individual stories better and making it easier to appreciate the little background jokes that were always such a very important part of the show.
For three of them, this stretched-out chance to breathe is very much to their benefit, but for the episode that kicked off the final run, “Fakin’ It”, I must confess that I’ve never liked it as much as that first night. Particularly in retrospect, knowing where the rest of the plot was headed, it feels all set-up and very little pay-off, as all of the good, character-driven bits are off in sidelined plots that become far more interesting, while the A-plot simply fizzles out for me. Mr. Reinhold’s Courtroom / Judge Reinhold / Mock Trial with J. Reinhold is a good bit of absurdity, and Reinhold himself is a particularly game and selfless guest star on this episode, but the whole thing feels like a cutaway joke on Family Guy unreasonably extended to several times its natural length (even “Fakin’ It” seems dimly aware of this: the “On the next…” segment includes the glorious one-off “All rise, Bud Cort is now in session”, which by virtue of its brevity is funnier than any of the A-list stuff). Besides, it’s host to the frankly bizarre “William Hung and his Hung Jury” gag, a hugely dated bit of ephemera that even felt wonky in 2006, when it was clear that Hung was destined to be a pop culture footnote, and unworthy of the historical legitimacy conferred by AD going out of its way to construct a lame pun around him. Sure, mocking reality TV is part of this episode’s mission statement, but I have to imagine there were better ways to do it than this.
But then, on the other hand: hooray, everybody, Franklin’s back! And this offensive avatar of everything that makes Gob Bluth a pathetic sad-sack is in outstanding form here – “Fakin’ It” is probably my favorite Franklin episode ever, between the “George Bush Doesn’t Like Black Puppets” shirt, the labored, absolutely brilliant bad joke involving Gob’s awful ventriloquism with the “My name is Judge” audio, and the left-field Blue Velvet reference, “Why do there have to be puppets like Frank?”. And the barely audible background joke, as Gob excitedly tells Franklin the good news about testifying in court.
And that’s on top of quite a lot of excellent character moments; for again, “Fakin’ It” is as rich in tossed-off side moments as it is flimsy on the A-plot. Michael Cera is in extraordinarily good form (as he will remain for the entirety of the series’ end-game), with the roaring return of the cousin incest plot having rejuvenated a character and performer who at his worst was never outside of the top three or four actors in a robust ensemble; still and all, “It’s a great day! For being sad.”, and the babbling speech that precedes it, is a highlight even by George-Michael’s exalted standards. Not much else can stand at that level, but it’s not fair to expect it to: Lucille’s cajoling of a “comatose” Buster (“…when it’s over, he wakes up, and gets a big toy!”), Tobias’s strained attempts to describe sex with Lindsay on the witness stand, Buster’s ecstatic soup flashback, with the non sequitur punchline “Never let me die”. I have also grown to love the subtle jab at Michael’s self-absorbtion that he is shocked by a “secret room” that has a normal passage door off the hallway, and is used by, apparently, everybody else in family.
Yet… “Fakin’ It” has its share of great moments, but more than its share of poor ones. The stock footage of Michael as a singing Peter Pan from “Altar Egos” all the way back in Season 1 is a disappointing example of the show repeating a joke rather than effectively calling it back, and while I could forgive that (two years is a long time for an audience to remember a cutaway, even the AD audience), the fact that the show then immediately underlines the hook jokes that were such brilliant, possibly accidental, foreshadowing back in the original, thus acting like both the show and the viewer are too dumb to have made even the simplest connection between A and B.
Over-explaining might be the commonest of AD‘s sins, and “Fakin’ It” has a bad case: in an attempt to give the narrator more funny things to say (in keeping with the season’s evolution of his character), he’s foisted with far too many crushing, joke-explaining moments: “Guess who liked that idea”, “Maeby was still a child in many ways”, “Buster was nervous. That’s what all the rocking and humming was about” (how much funnier would a simple “Buster was nervous” against Tony Hale’s hammy twitching have been? Damn funnier, I say). The episode ending, “And that’s how the kids got married” does a great deal to salvage him, but this is a low ebb for the narrator, a figure I tend to defend more than a lot of fans. And then there’s the whole “N. Bluth” matter, which too transparently sets itself up as a plot arc, lending one the impression that the writers were spooked about having to compress 22 episodes into 13, and didn’t care if they had to be a little bit messy to get all the plot they wanted down by the time the show went off the air. There’s a lot to love in “Fakin’ It”, but it’s clumsily written in a way that AD really should not be, and with so much better, busier, more creative stuff right in the offing, it’s hard for me to not regard this as something of a placeholder.