Although Arrested Development’s scheduling-manded format change has been the most noticeable thing that sets this season apart from its predecessors (well, the cast also gained a few years, but that wasn’t really an aesthetic choice), it’s also developed a much greater interest in politics. Of course politics have always been part of Arrested Development, but previously the subject was a relatively small aspect of the show, easily sidelined by whatever wacky nonsense Gob or Tobias or whoever was up to. The huge political reveals that periodically took over its plotting felt like some of the show’s less-earned moments, and while Hurwitz and his collaborators’ left-wing sensibilities could be felt, they were mostly muted.
That being said, I would hazard a guess that the foregrounding of Arrested Development’s political dimensions happened organically, simply because they never completely steal the focus of the show. The border wall that’s central to episode six and all of the George Sr./Oscar plotline offers constant commentary on immigrant’s rights, but it’s also a big goofy story about another untenable business plan. For all the obviousness of what Hurwitz is trying to say with the wall, there’s never any grandstanding. This is a show where a politician has up-front fees about how much it costs for them to flip-flop on an issue, and it’s not so much the issue at stake that’s important, it’s the attitude of the man asking for a kickback.
Because of this, so far the newly politicized Arrested Development is a good thing, even if “Double Crossers” is unfortunately a bit of a mess. It’s still good, but coming after a pair of truly great episodes makes its flaws shine a little brighter. Part of the problem is just that George Sr. isn’t nearly as fun of a character as, really, any of his children, and he’s not that complex. This is abated somewhat by all of the doubling with Oscar, but this is also one of the few aspects of Arrested Development that’s feels played out. The writing here is crisp, but the sweat lodge material’s probably the fourth season’s weakest storyline.
Midway through the episode, both George Sr. and Oscar are even gone for a great period of time while the show wanders off to what Michael and Gob are up to. One of the limitations of focusing each episode on a protagonist is that it makes this otherwise very entertaining vignette feel out of place. It causes a weird rupture that makes the episode feel strangely disorganized for such a meticulously structured show.
It was still an enjoyable half hour of comedy, and John Slattery’s addition to the cast has been excellent all the way through. I suspect, though, that it will end up one of the weakest links of the season, and unlike the previous episodes the gears of Arrested Development’s plot turning were too much on display. George Sr.’s story seemed at times to rush through story points in order to get in all the material needed to set up the rest of the season. It also seemed a little early for another George Sr. episode, and while this is almost certainly a result of the difficult working conditions the season was under, having a pair of George Sr. episodes already while half the cast has barely appeared felt a little disappointing. I laughed out loud several times, but for once there were more than a few minutes where it felt like Arrested Development was focused less on the jokes and more on getting through a series of pre-determined situations.