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What to do with Jason Bateman’s apology for that “Arrested” interview

After a disastrous New York Times story, he apologizes. But why don’t he and the other male cast members of Arrested Development know better by now?

What to do with Jason Bateman’s apology for that “Arrested” interview
[Photo: courtesy of Saeed Adyani/Netflix]

Obviously, not all publicity is good publicity. But rarely in the course of promoting a movie or TV show does the cast manage to make the idea of watching that movie or show sound physically unbearable. Such was the case on Wednesday, though, when the New York Times released a disastrous interview with most of the main cast of Arrested Development and ignited a firestorm of online condemnation.

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Even though one of the principals of the show and the interview, Jason Bateman, promptly apologized on Thursday morning, it feels too late. The damage is already done–to the show, to Bateman’s reputation, and more importantly, to women’s expectations of how men have internalized the lessons of the #MeToo movement.

The interview kicked off convivially enough, with cast members Bateman, Will Arnett, David Cross, Tony Hale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alia Shawkat, and Jessica Walter kibitzing in a familial way. Before interviewer Sopan Deb brought up the dark cloud hanging over the proceedings, Tambor’s dismissal from Transparent for alleged sexual misconduct, there was only a hint of what was to come. After Deb asked whether it was easy to slip back into character for Arrested Development’s Netflix revival, the below exchange occurs.

WALTER: You know Lucille is in my DNA now.

ARNETT: [Sarcastic] No!

WALTER: I want you to say in the article, there’s so much testosterone in this room.

The interview then continues on to other topics, such as the similarities between the show’s Bluth family and the Trumps, before wading into darker waters. When Deb finally gets around to addressing the accusations against Tambor, he carefully mentions that the cast has been “publicly supportive” so far. He’s referring to instances like David Cross’s February interview with amNew York, in which the comedian says that he and “a number of us” from the show support Tambor. Of course, Cross said this before Tambor’s recent interview with Hollywood Reporter–his first since facing accusations of inappropriate behavior on the set of Transparent. In that piece, Tambor denies the sexual allegations against him, but confirms that he’d been abusive on set in other ways.

The Hollywood Reporter also dropped this bombshell:

Tambor acknowledges the occasional outburst on previous shows—he references one “blowup” with actress Jessica Walter on Arrested Development for which he later “profusely apologized” (a rep for Walter says, “Jessica does not wish to talk about Jeffrey Tambor”)—but that something about [his Transparent character] Maura, his obsessive determination to make her as authentic as possible, brought out the worst in him.

With all this information out in the open, and both Tambor and Walter present, it was a charged environment to bring up the reported on-set blowup. When it finally happened, Bateman set the tone for how to respond. He immediately rushed to defend Tambor’s behavior as normal, the side effect of a high-intensity industry like no other. At three points during the rest of the interview, Bateman uses the phrase “not to belittle what happened,” immediately after reducing Tambor’s behavior to the level of a job site mishap. His male costars all follow suit. Even as Walter seems thankful for the space to openly address a grievance in public, Cross and Hale work toward minimizing her pain. Arnett tells one innocuous joke during this section of the interview and steps aside. Only Alia Shawkat rejects Bateman’s excuses about bad behavior like Tambor’s being common: “But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.”

Whether it’s the tenor of the room, the events discussed, or both, Walter eventually begins to cry, leading to the most pivotal moment in the interview. The Times eventually released audio from the exchange, making this moment particularly devastating.

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WALTER [THROUGH TEARS]: Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation. I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. [Turns to Tambor.] And I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.

TAMBOR: Absolutely.

WALTER: But it’s hard because honestly—Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times.

After so many months of women unearthing horror stories about abusive workplace behavior, here, unfolding before our eyes, was a case study in why so many of these stories get suppressed in the first place. During the interview, a man who has admitted to behaving reprehensibly on the set of multiple TV shows is confronted by a woman he behaved reprehensibly toward–and the other men in the room rush to protect and defend the wrong person.

Respect for venerated scene-stealer Jessica Walter comes in the form of Tambor calling her “a walking acting lesson.” Respect for Tambor, who has indeed cultivated a legendary set of roles, comes in the form of ignoring another hero’s visible pain and insisting it’s just part of the job. Whether it’s out of reverence for Tambor or adherence to some sort of primordial protocol, the priorities break down clearly along gender lines. As many times as they insist this cast is “a family,” Bateman and the other men prove unwilling to possibly trade an ounce of Tambor’s remaining good standing for an unfiltered acknowledgment of what Walter went through.

The NYT interview reverberated around the internet throughout Wednesday night, giving Bateman a chance to see the error of his ways. He tweeted out the following apology early Thursday morning:

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It’s a fine apology. It’s not the worst one we’ve heard this week, that’s for sure. But honestly, what are we supposed to do with this? Forgive him? Probably. Maybe not in time to rejoice that there’s a new season of a beloved show available, but eventually. What are we supposed to do with the deeper implications; the ones that go far beyond this particular set of Hollywood men?

“This is a big learning moment for me,” Bateman says in his apology. But the last seven months were supposed to have been the big learning moment. It’s been a continuous loop of stories about men we thought we collectively liked being revealed as dirtbags, and women we collectively like revealed to have been suffering in silence. It seems the main thing some men have learned from this moment is that men are now more vulnerable to consequences than before, and sometimes it’s men we like. The real takeaway from all this should instead be that men absolutely cannot keep doing what they’ve always done, across the board–and that includes automatically standing up for friends and heroes just because we like them.

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