I will preface this by saying there will be NO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS in this review. If you’ve only watched some or none of Season 4, fear not. If you haven’t watched any of the show, GO TO NETFLIX AND START DOING SO RIGHT NOW! Seriously, right now. I’m so insistent, I’ll even link you right there.
If you’re like me, you reached a frenzied level of elation upon hearing the news that the terrific Arrested Development was set to return for a fourth season (and even possibly a fifth!!!!!!), exclusively to Netflix. A show that unfortunately came before its time and was cancelled after a three season run on Fox from 2003-2006, AD captivated the attention of instant streaming viewers and became far more adored after its cancellation than when it was on the air. Perhaps because of this trend, showrunner Mitchell Hurwitz and the entire Bluth gang decided to reunite and give all of us fans what we wanted—a new season of Arrested Development.
I counted down the days until May 26 and then stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch the first three episodes of the season. In the next few days I watched when I could and have now finished up all the episodes. I’m certainly not a professional TV critic (while this is somewhat unrelated, my favorite one out there is Grantland’s Andy Greenwald), but I’ve been searching for quality reviews of the new season and have frankly been underwhelmed. So I figured I’d try my hand at this. There will be no dumb gimmicks like star ratings, just my thoughts on the new season. Off we go.
Something I noticed right away is that Hurwitz and company didn’t shortchange us. There are 15 episodes and all of them vary from 28 to 34 minutes long; the creators were able to work without the constraining 22-minute network cap for each episode due to the season’s home on Netflix. Another thing that pops out immediately is that this is not your
father’s older brother’s Arrested Development. Instead of following the events of the season in the standard, chronological order that the show did on Fox, this new season has each episode focus on one specific character, spanning the time from the end of Season 3 in 2006, to the Bluth family’s celebration of “Cinco de Quatro” in 2013. This produces mixed results, but we’ll get there a little later. Also, the season is heavy on references to the show’s previous plot lines and is not easily accessible without watching the first three seasons; definitely do so before jumping into Season 4.
The main question everyone is asking—and rightfully so—is, “Is Season 4 as good as Seasons 1 through 3?” The short answer: no, not really. However, everyone with reasonable expectations knew we were in for at least a small letdown. Expectations for AD‘s new season were so high, it’s nearly impossible for it to live up to the hype. Even though it can’t quite stand up to its first three critically-acclaimed seasons, the fourth go-around for AD is certainly entertaining and worth your time.
Looking first at the characters, the actors mostly pull off their old roles without a hitch. David Cross’s Tobias Fünke remains my favorite character, as he was when I watched the first three seasons. His completely and utterly blissful ignorance of reality are still perfectly intact and absolutely hilarious. His wife Lindsay, played by Portia de Rossi, is still just as entertainingly out of touch. I was delighted to see Will Arnett’s G.O.B. Bluth retain both his complete disregard for the feelings of the women he courts and his incompetence for the magic he loves so dearly. Even Ron Howard’s narration remains as witty as ever. The other characters are also consistent with their previous performances, aside for one: sadly, Michael Bluth. Jason Bateman’s character was always the calming force of the show, managing to remain in control of himself through the utter chaos of his family’s shenanigans. While he’s still more in control than the others, it’s become a question of degree in this new season. For large portions of the two episodes devoted to him, he loses control of himself and does things like attempt to sleep with Lucille 2 (Lucille Ostero, the woman who lives down the hall from his mother) in an attempt to salvage a large debt he owes her (this is not a spoiler, it happens in the opening minutes of Episode 1). While his erratic behavior does display the desperation that the entire family feels for all of Season 4, it’s simply unlike Michael to act in such a way and it was disappointing to see him turn even a fraction as crazy as his family members. Aside from this, the portrayal of the characters is as brilliant and zany as ever.
The biggest jewel of Arrested Development that made it so great was the show’s use of running jokes and they’re back in droves in the new season. Gene Parmesan, “I blew myself”, Tobias as a never-nude, “Mr. F”, the chicken dance, Steve Holt, “Her?”, Maritime Law, Tony Wonder, the literal doctor, Annyong, “I’ve made a huge mistake”, and the sad Charlie Brown music comprise just a partial list of gags that make their glorious returns. Hurwitz and the writers didn’t just stop there either; a fresh batch of entirely new jokes run through the whole season and deliver hilarious punch lines from Episode 1 to 15.
Let’s get back to the structure of the story line and the decision to have the plot run through such an unorthodox path. At times, this is a terrific tool for telling the story of Season 4 and creating humor. As the episodes get later into the season, we find reveals of the big picture we didn’t truly see in previous episodes. For example, when Lindsay decides she needs to take a journey to India to find herself and get away from Tobias, we find out in the next episode—from the perspective of Tobias—that Tobias actually did the exact same thing and literally sat in the seat behind Lindsay on the plane both there and back, though they never saw each other. In a lot of cases, this is hilarious and effective. In others, it’s just confusing. There are instances where Hurwitz and company expect the viewers to recall intricate details of the “Cinco de Quatro” celebration from the first few episodes of the season while watching the celebration from a different perspective in one of the last few episodes. To further complicate things, the plot of Season 4 is complex. There are a lot of moving parts and international land ordinances that we’re expected to understand; this would be difficult enough in a standard format. It all does come together in the end and the entertainment value is always there, but expect to be lost at times if you don’t want to watch all 7.5 hours of the season at once. And really, who wants to do that? I love AD, but 7.5 hours straight?
Since we’re already above 1,000 words by now and you probably just want a verdict on whether or not you should commit valuable hours of your life to watching the new season of Arrested Development, I’ll wrap this up. If you are a fan of AD—or even just comedy television in general— you should watch the new season. It’s absolutely worth your time. While the first few episodes are slow (for me, the comedy and entertainment value didn’t completely hit their stride until Episode 5, “A New Start”), the second half of the season will absolutely remind you why AD is such a great show. As I said in the title of this post, the new season is certainly a bit uneven and falls short of the brilliance of its predecessors. But in the end, it still provides more than enough to entertain and blows away Fox’s current comedy hit, New Girl.
Seriously, give me the Bluths over Zoey Deschanel any day.