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Arrested Development Season 4 Review
In 2006, Arrested Development was cut off far too soon. Even though it looked like the end, rumors ran rampant about its potential resurrection: Would it be on Showtime? HBO? Maybe there would be a movie. Fans waited… and waited… They took it on faith, they took it to the heart… And this year, the fans finally received their wish. Granted, it was seven years after the show was originally cancelled, but better late than never, right?
Show comebacks – at least the recent ones – have a bit of a spotty history. Ratings may be good, but I have not liked the new edition of Family Guy. The rehashed jokes and overt mean-spirited nature are among the reasons I have gone sour on that show to the point where I can no longer watch the old episodes. Futurama’s comeback came with a resounding thud. Yeah, there were some good jokes and a few episodes I liked, but overall, the Futurama comeback felt like the creative team really lost the rhythm after being cancelled. So the question remained: How would Arrested Development fair in its comeback? Would it be a phoenix rising from the ashes? Or would be it another show that should have stayed down?
In order to understand the story, it may help to pick up where the show left off: The last episode was a series finale I would rank up there with “All Good Things…” or “The Last Newhart.” Lucile was headed to the grey bar motel after George Sr. turned her in to save his skin, the Bluth company was now in the hands of Sitwell, and Michael was finally ready to separate himself from his family. It was an interesting case. On one hand, it was a great finale that cleverly bookended the series. But it was also open enough for more episodes… or a movie.
In its all too brief run, Arrested Development had a lot of things going for it. It had sharp, biting humor that came from multiple sources including meta-references, political satire, and social commentary. The show had an amazing cast of lead characters supplemented by an eclectic cast of supporting and recurring characters. Last, and certainly not least, Arrested Development had a great plot. For an episodic sitcom, the overarching plot was surprisingly intricate with clever foreshadowing, intertwined plots, and unique twists.
The first concern is whether or not the show would be funny. First things first, Arrested Development is a comedy. The good news is that these new episodes are really funny. I will not give too much away, but the humor feels like it is in the same tone as the original series: Sharp dialogue, social commentary, pop culture references. Surprisingly, there are fewer fourth wall jokes. The writers took frequent jabs at their behind-the-scenes troubles – especially in its third season. Though the new episodes do unfortunately have one shortcoming in the laughs department. Episodes are longer, which one would think would be a good thing, but since they are longer (some hover around the 40 minute mark), it feels like there is more filler. Most episodes had gaps where I simply did not laugh. But the good news is that there were definitely enough laughs. And trust me, I was roaring with laughter in some sections. True, not every joke elicited a laugh, but the hits more than make up for… I don’t want to say “misses.” That’s the other thing, even if not every joke earned a big laugh, very few of them rubbed me the wrong way. Besides, unlike most TV shows, Arrested Development at least has an engaging story to fall back on.
Speaking of the story, one major change fans will notice is that episodes are structured a little differently. In the past, episodes juggled multiple storylines that all somehow came together in the end. However, every episode of the new season focuses on individual characters. When rumors floated around about the comeback, I really wondered how they were going to put everyone together again. Most of the main cast had remained pretty busy in the last seven years. And it became a little clearer how they worked around the actors’ no-doubt busy schedules. With episodes focusing on individual characters, it is not uncommon for certain characters to be missing in some episodes.
This change has its ups and downs. On one hand, it does kind of stink not seeing some of the main cast for certain stretches, and there are not as many interactions between the main characters. On the positive side, it is nice to see characters on their own. And even though the episode count seems slanted toward the likes of Michael, it is nice to see Buster and Tobias in the spotlight instead of just some B-story. Even if they are out of their comfort zone, the characters are as funny and entertaining as ever. It is a new direction and it pays off well.
So what have the Bluths been up to? Since I am writing an article, not a book, I will do my best to give the abridged version: (Draws breath) Michael is working with Imagine Entertainment to produce a movie based on the family’s story and strikes up a relationship with a feisty redhead. George Michael is working on ad block software. GOB is reigniting his feud with Tony Wonder. George Sr. is working on a wall to keep immigrants out of the US. Lucile is on trial - and one of the overarching storylines of the season is how every family member misses her trial. Lindsay goes from dating a hippy to dating a conservative senator who supports George Sr.’s wall. And my personal favorite is Tobias’s attempt to produce a Broadway musical based on The Fantastic Four. Though, like I said, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from making this article too long, there are too many twists and turns to spoil.
Although I enjoyed the way Arrested Development juggled storylines and tied them all together, I have to admit I enjoy seeing episodes stick to one story. In a day and age where most sitcoms try to cram seven stories into twenty-two minutes, it is refreshing to see a show actually stick to a one story per episode format. However, there is some overlap in stories. In fact, one of the true highlights of the season is the way the stories do intersect between episodes. Specifically, tiny details in one episode pay off in other episodes. One of the earliest examples is how in one episode, Lindsay is annoyed by a passenger on a plane who keeps kicking her back. Later the passenger is revealed to be Tobias. That may sound like a small detail, but that is one of the few reveals that is not a major league spoiler.
Overall, the new format changes actually compliment the fact that the show is now on Netflix. Most viewers can - and probably will - watch these new episodes at their leisure. So instead of waiting weeks to see episodes with their favorite characters’ stories or waiting weeks to see the plot and many of the twists unfold, they can see these events unfold at the click of a mouse. One of the few criticisms often levied against Arrested Development was that the continuity and the frequent running jokes made it difficult for newcomers to enter the show (Personally, I wonder what show does not have this problem these days). Although the argument could be made that the new episodes are made more for the fans than anyone else, the good news is that newcomers can catch up on the first three seasons so they will not be in the dark.
Watching these episodes made me wonder what kind of money Netflix is putting behind these episodes. No corners were cut, and there are even several guest appearances. Familiar faces like Ben Stiller, Henry Winkler (who was largely MIA in season 3), and Jeff Garlin make triumphant returns while there are newcomers such as Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig (who do a hilarious job as George Sr. and Lucile respectively), Terry Crews, Isla Fisher and, yes, even Ron Howard join in on the fun. There are only 15 episodes, but that is more than what Fox’s dwindling seasons offered: 22 to 18 to 13 to zero. Besides, quality over quantity, and these are quality episodes. If I had one complaint about the new season it would be that the season finale “Blockheads” is a bit underwhelming. In the past, the writers knew how to write great finales that perfectly summed up the season and made viewers excited for the coming season. “Blockheads” was a good episode on its own merits, but as a season finale, it does not have the epic conclusion that has me craving more like the others did.
However, the good news is that I am excited about more episodes for the right reasons. The fourth season of Arrested Development on Netflix is a smash. The Bluths are back and they all have their moments in the sun. The same biting, satirical humor is back as if the writers have never missed a beat. The plots have enough twists and turns to keep viewers not only entertained and wanting more. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another seven years.