If the second season of Arrested Development isn't as funny as the first, it's only by virtue of the fact that there are 18 episodes this time around instead of 22 (the reduced order is slyly referenced in the show, too), so there's measurably less to laugh at this season. Otherwise, season two is really more of the same, and I mean that in a good way. Everything about the first season of Arrested Development that deservedly attracted such a fiercely loyal fanbase is present and accounted for in season two. I guess that means there's no real point in recapping the plot or mentioning why I love the series as much as I do -- there are already two reviews on DVD Talk that cover that, so anything I'd say would be completely redundant. Of course, I'm going to say it anyway, but I won't be offended if you opt to skip past it. I mean, I'm sure you already know that Arrested Development is a faux-documentary series about the Bluths, a deeply dysfunctional family who made millions in real estate and lost their money, their social status, and their father when George Sr.'s shady business dealings inevitably caught up to him. Never having had to fend for themselves, the Bluths are stunted little creatures, and...well, remain stunted little creatures since they can rely on their brother Michael to bail them out time and time again.
Every write-up of Arrested Development makes it a point to mention how smart the series is. Seriously. I don't think it's that Arrested Development is smart so much as that it's not dumb. I mean, the gags don't require an intimate knowledge of the works of Proust, and they don't use 'obtuse' as a homonym or anything. It does demand a lot from the viewer, though. Arrested Development is a densely plotted series, cramming more into one act than most hour-long dramas do in an entire episode. It's not the type of show where you can leave for six minutes, make a sandwich, sit back down on the couch, and effortlessly pick back up from where you left off. The comedy is a heavily serialized snowball, constantly referencing previous episodes and bringing back characters from its enormous supporting cast. Part of the brilliance of the show is how it'll take something that seems like a throwaway gag from the first few minutes of an episode and make it a pivotal plot point near the end. Arrested Development is so densely layered that even my third time through, I'll still pick up on jokes or visual winks in the background that I'd missed before, and some of the gags are subtly hinted at so far in advance that watching the season a second time casts them in a different light. And David Cross. David Cross elevates the double entendre to the type of art that should be in a museum, encased in plexiglass, and surrounded by those little security lasers you can only see if you spray aerosol near them or whatever.
It shrugs off the traditional, lazy sitcom formulas. Instead of trying to figure out how to hide a kitty from their landlord or relying on some overly elaborate, Frasier-esque misunderstanding, Arrested Development will have the Bluths trying to sweet-talk money from their lecherous, 90 year old fake uncle, a former movie serial star who'd rather be toted around by a deaf giant than putter around in a wheelchair. Tobias spends most of the season dipped in blue paint, waiting for a phone call from the Blue Man Group after attending one of their concerts under the mistaken assumption that they're a support group, leaving blue handprints smeared all over the Bluth's model home-home. One recurring character is a wealthy real estate developer who compensates for his body's complete lack of hair by pasting on whatever set of unreliable fake eyebrows the occasion calls for. Maeby tries to pawn off a book report on someone...anyone...else and inadvertently cons her way into a high-paying job as a movie executive in the process. There's a kidnapping plot motivated by a search for a cooler full of sperm. I'm not even scratching the surface, either. Arrested Development is the type of show that'll introduce a life-changing event for one of its characters almost in passing in the "next on..." clip at the end of one episode and then make that one of the most endlessly hysterical recurring jokes for the rest of the season.
The cast is perfect. The pacing
If you haven't caught season one already, you'll want to grab that DVD set first -- the second season is accessible enough that new viewers could use this as a starting point (I hadn't seen an episode of Arrested Development before season two premiered on Fox, f'r instance), but you'll have a much greater appreciation for it if you have that first season-y foundation laid out before you.
Video: This box set is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the same way viewers who could pick up their local Fox affiliates in high-definition caught these episodes last season. Well, aside from the "high-definition" part. It's hard to find much to gripe about this DVD set: It's sharp. It's detailed. It's colorful. It's shot on HD video, so there aren't any nicks, tears, or specks. It's authored well, so there aren't any thick electronic haloes, artifacting, or mosquito noise. I rate it with a larger-than-usual number of stars.
Audio: I'll save the rambling description for the extras and keep this short and in choppy, incomplete sentences: Typically robust Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio. Dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly without a flicker of distortion, and the music sounds great, which is especially important since two of the funniest running gags this season are both musical. Nothing jaw-dropping or astonishing, but it's really not trying to be. All 18 episodes are closed captioned and include subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: Creator Mitchell Hurwitz and actors Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, and Jessica Walter pile into the commentary booth for three episodes in this set: "Good Grief", "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!", and the season finale, "The Righteous Brothers". If you're looking for deep insight into the creative process or...well, much of anything beyond the seven of them laughing at their favorite bits or poking fun at each other, you might come away underwhelmed. Okay, there's a little more to 'em than that, such as a bit of chatter about the not-entirely-enthusiastic fan reaction to Uncle Jack's backstory in "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!", Fox demanding a fully opaque blur over a couple sets of nipples, and the fact that there is a John Wayne Airport. It's a fun set of tracks, but it's kind of like eavesdropping on the group at the table next to you at a restaurant: it's their conversation, they're having a much better time than you are, and the fact that you're listening in is incidental.
Fox may have cut this season of Arrested Development back by four episodes, but there are enough deleted scenes to piece together a nineteenth episode and get almost halfway through a twentieth. That's a really long-winded way of saying "just under thirty minutes", by the way. The deleted scenes are spread across all three discs, and nearly every episode is represented -- "The One Where Michael Leaves", "Ready, Aim, Marry Me!", and "Sword of Destiny" are the only ones without any extra snippets.
A bunch are extended versions of scenes that made it into the final cut, a lot of 'em pay off jokes set up earlier in the episode, a couple are lame (particularly Buster struggling with hunger...and thirst...in a car trunk in "¡Amigos!") or kinda superfluous, and...yeah, I'll stop with the generalities. Too bad commercial breaks are so agonizingly long these days -- I would've loved to have seen a lot of the clips incorporated into these episodes, especially Michael not being able to compete with Ann making George Michael's banana stand in "Good Grief", Tobias' optimism towards his acting prospects in "Switch Hitter" ("Once I get the part, I'll be beating them off!"), Gob discovering why seals are so expensive, a lengthier ride with Mrs. Featherbottom and a third marriage-ish subplot in "Meat the Veals", and a brilliant gag about delivered flowers as Michael visits his mother in the 'spa' in "Spring Breakout". "Queen for a Day" has more deleted scenes than any other episode, including a flashback to Michael's potassium-rich first car and Michael prematurely telling Ann and George Michael about the imminent arrival of his new convertible. "The Righteous Brothers" is also extended in a lot of places, all the way down to a much lengthier climax. There's a lot of really good stuff in here, and all of this footage is in anamorphic widescreen, by the way.
Also in anamorphic widescreen is a pretty lengthy blooper reel, clocking in a little under nine minutes. Most blooper reels have a bunch of spontaneous laughter, a couple flubbed lines, and maybe someone stumbling over a prop or something, but this one's a lot meatier than that. My favorite chunk was Jason Bateman's artistry with profanity when he'd forget a line. "And yet you missed...noticing her fucking...tits. What's that line?" "Not that." If you're diving headfirst into Arrested Development for the first time with this set, there's a three minute promo...I mean, recap...covering what you missed in season one.
Oh, and the campaign videos from "The Immaculate Election" are tossed on as Easter Eggs. On the episode selection menu on disc three, highlight the episode and whack the left button on your remote to enter a submenu with all three videos. Steve Holt!
Each disc sports a set of animated 16x9 menus with six episodes a pop, and those episodes can be viewed individually or consecutively. There isn't a scene selection menu, but each episode is divided into five chapters, including a handy one immediately following the opening credits in case you don't want to keep hearing that this is the story of a wealthy family who lost everything. The packaging is mostly the same as the first season -- three discs in slimline keepcases and a cardboard sleeve -- but this one comes with a slick looking, partially transparent overlay. That's probably not the proper technical term, but if you see it, you'll know what I mean.
Conclusion: I don't know anyone who likes Arrested Development. I only know people who watch it with a borderline-psychotic fervor -- zealots who make it their mission in life to make a regular viewer out of everyone they meet -- and I'm one of 'em. Yeah, I'm sure you've heard this from the legions of other converts who have said the same, but I'll spout it off one more time anyway: Arrested Development is the best comedy...and arguably one of the best shows, period...on television right now. That incandescent brilliance, coupled with the quality of the presentation, a slew of truly great deleted scenes, and the fact that the show is so ridiculously rewatchable make the second season of Arrested Development a pretty much essential purchase. Highly Recommended.