I hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend; like all three day weekends, mine went by much too quickly and my ambitious list of things to do had nary a thing crossed off by the time it was back to work this morning. Of course, when you hole yourself up in your home to watch an entire season of a TV show, it is not surprising that very little got accomplished. Yes, as predicted, I spent my cold and rainy Memorial Day eve burning through all 15 new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix (I’m not complaining about the weather – two and a half hours north of me got 3 feet of SNOW over the weekend. I would have killed myself). I really wanted to try and show some restraint and only watch a few episodes to prolong the experience, but I am just not a girl that does delayed gratification. Once I started watching, there was just no stopping me. So next thing I knew, Sunday was basically over.
Now I had planned on getting up early to start watching the episodes so it wouldn’t consume my entire day; I actually set my alarm for 5 am, which was two hours after the episodes went live. However, some vanilla vodka and Pepsi and a spirited game of Cards Against Humanity the night prior meant that the snooze button was my friend and even Arrested Development could wait a few hours. But by 9 am, I was firmly planted on the couch, ready to being my viewing adventure. I re-watched the season 3 finale, despite the fact that I’ve seen it many, many times prior to diving in, partially to just refresh my memory and orient myself and partially because I was really nervous that the new episodes were not going to be good. I may not be able to delay gratification, but I have absolutely no problem avoiding possible disappointment.
Season 4 of Arrested Development is not as good as the first original seasons, but it is still immensely enjoyable. I don’t think it would be possible to totally recreate that special something that made the first season so outstanding. Season 4 is not a pale imitation of the earlier season; it takes a few episodes to warm up, but once it gets going it is a thrilling ride and I laughed out loud several times. I do not regret one minute of the 9 hours that I spent with the Bluth family and I will absolutely re-watch all of the new episodes, though undoubtedly in a more sporadic manner.
I think the biggest factor contributing to the fact that the new episodes are a half-step off or so from the originals is the structure. Because of the limited availability of this talented cast, the new episodes each focus on one of the characters individually. They may interact with a few of the other characters within that story, but rarely is the entire Bluth family in the same room. The structure in and of itself didn’t bother me, but one of the strengths of Arrested Development is its ensemble cast. They work of each other so nicely and the characters fit together so well that some of that magic is lost when the actors are kept apart. Watching their collective insanity is half the fun.
It is also apparent that some of these characters are more capable of carrying their own episode than others. I love Jeffrey Tambor and think he is amazing on this show, but I don’t know that I needed a whole episode focused on George, Sr., let alone two that were relatively close together. The same goes for Lindsay – Portia de Rossi is great, but I prefer Lindsay more in the context of her family than when she is off on her own.
The storylines in the 4th season are much darker than they were in the previous three; time has not been good to the Bluths and these new episodes certainly highlight how unlikable these characters are. The original seasons certainly didn’t hide the fact that these were terrible people, but there was a distant undercurrent that underneath it all these people cared for each other in a least some capacity. That’s pretty much gone in this season which I don’t necessarily have a problem with. It just took some getting used to the tonal differences.
One of the great things about the Netflix deal is that Mitch Hurwitz and company were given creative freedom – they didn’t have to fit each episode into the commercial constraints of network television. The episodes vary in length, with the longest episode clocking in at almost 40 minutes, sans commercials. However, while I’m glad that they could tell their stories how they want to, I think most episodes would have benefited from a little editing. Almost every story could stand to have a minute or two cropped off; this is especially apparent in the Gob episode where there are some really funny bits that last just a beat or two too long.
What isn’t missing from these episodes is the smart humor that was a hallmark of the series. The new episodes definitely reward loyal viewers with callbacks and subtle background gags, but they aren’t content to just unveil their greatest hits; the new episodes introduce new running gags that are just as funny as the old ones. Nods to the original series are incorporated in a way that feels organic and not like they were just trying to shoehorn in as many references as they could. Arrested Development is a complicated show and they still have their knack for interweaving stories in such a way that it all comes together beautifully. I had a smile on my face through most of the episodes and loved these new episodes as they were, warts and all.
When Community returned for its fourth season with new showrunners, it became a hollow imitation of its former self. This is not the case with Arrested Development; it might have lost a little speed off its fast ball, but it is still better than most of what is on TV. It was impossible that it was going to live up to expectations; the return of this show was just too hyped and the wait was too long. But if you go into the new episodes with slightly tempered expectations and adjust to the new structure and pacing, I don’t think you will be disappointed. The first episode is a little jarring, but stick with it and it all pays off in the end. In reality, most shows start to slow down by their 4th season, so this might have happened even if the show had remained on the air. Considering how hamstrung they were by the actors’ availability, I think that they did a better job than they had any right to.
- Kristin Wiig and Seth Rogan as the young Lucille and George, Sr. were a revelation. That was absolutely perfect casting; they hit it way out of the park.
- There are so many fantastic guest stars this season, but I was particularly thrilled to have John Krasinski and John Slattery become a part of this world.
- Ron Howard has an expanded role in these episodes and it’s nice to see him in front of a camera. He’s more than willing to poke fun at himself, which is great. The only downside is it is sometimes a little weird to go from him acting to him narrating.
- Henry Winkler’s real life son Max plays the younger version of Barry Zuckerkorn and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They look a lot alike.
- There was a callback to the neglected storyline from the original series that Tobias is actually an albino African-American.
- I don’t know how many people noticed it, but Lucille prison number (07734) spells out “hello” when turned upside down, a nod to Annyong.
- I got my Motherboy reference so I was happy.
- I thought the watermark on the footage from the original seasons was really funny, but apparently it confused a lot of people. I’m guessing these are newer Arrested Development fans; the seasoned vets like me knew better.
- “Law bomb!” “That’s a low blow, Loblaw.”
- Steve Holt (Justin Grant Wade) aged so much since the series ended that he is almost unrecognizable.
- Portia de Rossi also looks noticeably different than she did in the original run, but I’m guessing that is from attempts to NOT look like she has aged.
- I know they couldn’t include everything from the original show and they actually incorporated a dizzying number of references, but WHERE’S FRANKLIN???????
- No banana stand?
- I’m not sure I buy the free fall that Michael finds himself in – was he always this self-centered?
- We need more Ann Veal (Her?). Mae Whitman makes everything better.
- The George Sr. episodes had a lot of plot to unpack; I had to rewind that episode a few times just to make sure I got it all.