Apart from GOB Bluth, Arrested Development has perhaps no better onscreen conveyance for delivering the undistilled wit of Hurwitz and the writers than Tobias Fünke. In the case of Tobias, they’re able to flex their stuff crafting double-entendres and physical comedy, as opposed to GOB’s absurd schemes fueled by nonsensical leaps in logic. These two rarely fail to bring the laughs, but compared to the other members of the family, it tends to make them more caricatures than characters. But then, suddenly, here we have evidence the writers might be grafting a third-dimension of self-awareness to his joke factory scalp in a way that doesn’t reject its host.
Is Tobias actually able to recognize there might be good reason behind the rejection he faces every day? Does, despite having the heart of an angel and the hide of an elephant, mean that even the self-described Alfred Lunt (or Lynn?) of the family can turn his back on the destiny he was so certain the Universe prods him ever toward? Now that the Bluths are “out” to him on the running joke that he comes across as gay, it’s looking as though his innocence/obliviousness is indeed capable of chipping. In the first nine episodes of the season, this is the second Tobias Annyongo (?!) Fünke episode, and thus far, the audience is catching signs of growth for the character. (There may or may not be more, but this reviewer hasn’t yet watched past this episode. So… Shh!).
After his disastrous attempt to connect with Maeby sees him in prison yet again, Tobias finally relents and accepts Lucille 2’s generous offer to employ him in her rehab clinic (“Austerity”). He makes what is possibly the most self-aware adjustment to his blowhard lexicon thus far: he’s ditched his damning combination therapist/analyst title of “analrapist” for the merely silly title of “theralyst.” Reuniting with DeBrie—who’d presumably arrived with GOB’s Justin Bieber-esque former entourage leader, Mark Cherry—after their frenzied night of partying and being on the receiving end of angry bee stingers, Tobias wastes little time with treating the addicts after learning from Argyle Austero (Lucille 2’s brother and Austerity’s director), that it is, of course, a huge conflict of interest for him to be romantically involved with DeBrie while he’s a doctor at the facility. Austerity’s director? Yep, that’s Tommy Tune. Tap-dancing at his desk in an argyle sweater. He was in The Fantasticks. He tells Tobias they used to call him Mr. Fantastic. Mister F…
Although Tobias is ostensibly motivated less by his desire to fulfill his own dream to be an actor than he is to remain close to DeBrie, his brilliant solution is to have the Argyle reassign him to direct the patients in a musical version of The Fantastic Four. It quickly becomes obvious she’s acting as a proxy for him as he impatiently pushes her toward a life in show business, even as she so thoroughly demonstrates terror and withdrawal at the prospect. “You can do anything I want you to do!” he forcefully encourages. Tobias does eventually come around to the realization that by pushing DeBrie into acting again, he’s also pushing her into the livelihood that drove her to substance abuse in the first place. Though this bit of maturity is almost immediately undercut by his insistence the show must go on (at Cinco de Quatro), and concludes her replacement must be himself. Lacking the proper costuming—and being again slapped with a cease-and-desist from Marvel/Disney (loving these digs at the bitter 20th Century FOX/Disney rivalry for the soul of Marvel movie properties, by the way)—Tobias finds his muscle memory works just as Lindsey’s doesn’t—(“That red haired lady can’t throw her wad!”) and, lo and behold, he’s back in the blue body paint.
Before that, however, Tobias and Michael Bluth commiserate over their shared problem: Michael and Tobias both need $700,000. Tobias to mount his musical on Broadway, and Michael to pay off Lucille 2 after being threatened with both words and tap dancing by Argyle. Tobias again exhibits a serious measure of self-awareness not seen before this episode. “We are f**ked,” he flatly intones to Michael. Though he instantly changes his tune when Michael tells him he has a meeting with Ron Howard. He invites himself along with Michael to the meeting, of course, and things go horribly when Michael clumsily tries to explain he’d like to date Howard’s daughter, under the mistaken assumption Howard and his daughter are an item. Tobias wastes no time making matters worse attempting to pitch his musical to him, then choking Howard as his callous refusal to participate.
It’s a densely packed episode, to be sure. We’re treated to plenty of vintage Fünke. Self-delusion and lines such as, “We will just walk away and lick each others’ wounds,” abound. But beginning here will forever remain the few fleeting moments the audience witnesses the character grounded in the same reality in which the Michael Bluths of the world must every day cope.
- David Cross perfectly sold his repeated readings attempting to make his legally mandatory “I’m a convicted sex offender” part of normal dialog.
- The Fantastic Four’s script cover reads, “Tobias Fünke, M.D., S.O.”
- Poor Emmet Richter. Turns out he’s a hoarder. No wonder he insists they never show his face.
- The Image Generic Films cutaways with the gang from MST3K were an absolute joy.
- The cavalcade of returning guest stars has been the delight we know, but this season’s new guest stars are delight and a surprise. Maria Bamford, as DeBrie, is an especially rich vein of comedy added to the lineup.
- Tobias just learned he’s able to whistle. Clearly something his show needed.
- Tobias’s sizzle reel tends to include other actors’ scenes, including Carl Weathers having his arm blown off in Predator. I wonder if Carl signed off on that in exchange for another $5.00 on the check for his acting class?