Arrested Development is back! After ending its award-winning, low-rated three seasons on FOX in 2006, the show has resurfaced with a fourth season on Netflix. All 15 new episodes are currently available.
Like many Arrested Development fans, I gorged myself on all 15 episodes Sunday. It’s a different, far more complicated tale that is neither the total genius some might have hoped for nor the colossal letdown others feared. Arrested Development season 4 is ambitious, complex and fun to watch for hardcore fans, but not without its flaws.
The show picks up about five years after the series ended, though to give any specific time frame is wildly misleading. Each episode bounces around the timeline with reckless abandon, filling in the missing time and leaving viewers with the unenviable task of trying to follow the action. Anyone who claims they can completely understand the actual chronology of events after one viewing is a liar.
Arrested Development also has a radically different format from anything I’ve seen on TV. It’s a bit like Lost in that each episode is told from the perspective of a different character (two episodes each for Michael, George Michael, George Sr., GOB, Lindsay and Tobias, one apiece for Lucille, Buster and Maeby). However, every episode also overlaps with the others, frequently telling the same story from different perspectives.
The result of this structure is that a set-up in the first episode may not get paid off until 10 episodes later. I plan on watching the season a second time (as I’m sure many others will) to fully grasp everything, though I suspect even that won’t be enough. This is the most complicated TV series I’ve ever experienced.
This is both a positive and a negative. It’s admirable how the writers wove together this tapestry, but it makes watching it difficult. You almost HAVE to watch the entire season in a single sitting to appreciate it.
The plot, as best I can describe it, all leads to the Cinco de Quatro Festival, an annual holiday held on the fourth of May. The show sets up this premise at the beginning and all storylines ultimately lead to the hilariously-named event. Various threads include the mounting of a musical, building a wall between the U.S. and a Mexico, a political campaign where Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) is one of the candidates and more.
To explain more of the plot in any detail would be pointless (and nearly impossible). All of the original stars are back, as are countless guest stars: Minnelli as Lucille 2, Henry Winkler as disastrous lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn, Carl Weathers as himself, Mae Whitman as Ann Veal (her?), Andy Richter as himself and his four identical quintuplet brothers, Ben Stiller as GOB’s magician rival Tony Wonder, etc. It’s an absolute smorgasbord of talent, with new characters played by Isla Fisher, Terry Crews, Tommy Tune, John Slattery, etc. It would probably be easier to list the people who AREN’T in Arrested Development season 4.
For fans, it’s great to have the old gang back together and every episode is full of moments that they will undoubtedly love. The show hasn’t lost a step in terms of the clever writing, characters and running jokes. And fans are bound to have their favorite episodes based on their favorite characters. It quickly became apparent to me that GOB is the best, especially since he’s largely absent until the seventh episode. And, despite Jeffrey Tambor’s skill at playing George Sr. and his twin brother Oscar, his episodes seemed to drag for me.
If there’s a major flaw in the new episodes of Arrested Development, it’s the rather surprising lack of closure. For some reason I expected these 15 episodes to tell a complete story, and the truth is that they doesn’t. It’s obvious that they’re setting up for a movie. In fact, one storyline actually involves Michael Bluth working for Ron Howard to turn his family’s story into a film.
Without giving away any major plot developments, I will say that Lucille 2, the political campaign and a few very complicated romantic entanglements all end with loose ends. I feel like the movie (which will hopefully definitely happen) is the missing 16th episode to the story.
Still, even when it’s not at its best, Arrested Development is so wonderfully, wickedly funny that it’s better than most of the comedies currently on TV. Sure, you might complain about the almost complete lack of Buster outside of his one episode or the mystery of Annyong. But then you have to remember Lucille’s reaction to Genre Parmesan or references to “Mr. F” and the Charlie Brown theme song or Tobias’ new vanity license plate, a joke that makes his profession as an Analrapist seem mild.
Any Arrested Development is better than no Arrested Development, and the new season might be hard to follow and lacking a decent conclusion, but it’s still the same show with the same sense of humor. Plus, there are ostriches.
(Image courtesy of Netflix)