*Freedom isn’t free. There is one spoiler in this review… and it’s not really a spoiler, so much as a mention of the fact that a specific running gag that does not show up in the new season.
Arrested Development‘s long, long, long, awaited fourth season was released as an exclusive title to Netflix’s streaming service Sunday. 15 all new episodes, varying in length from 30-40 minutes. If you haven’t heard of Arrested Development, stop what you’re doing right now… right now… and go watch it. Start at the beginning.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you.
Season 4 starts off showing us “today”, and promptly rewinds back to where Season 3 left off. Over the course of 15 episodes, we gradually get brought up to speed on all the major happenings in the lives surrounding the Bluth Family. All the title characters have at least one episode centred around their exploits.
The season comes out of the corner swinging. The first handful of episodes are strong. We see that the characters have grown in the interim, but have also managed to stay spectacularly the same. More importantly to me, the show itself had the same character. Subtle jokes, inside jokes, self-referential jokes, easter eggs… everything that made Arrested Development what it was, is still here.
This style is usually a double edged sword, and probably the biggest reason (outside of Fox) that the show initially failed. It always seems a bit forced when you notice a “meta” joke right away… but if you slowly catch on to a running gag, or something like that, after seeing it a couple of times over a few episodes, it works great. Ready to find references, I was able to catch several the first time around. I’m not going to hold that against the season. It’s what I wanted to see, and I’m going to assume that for every nod I saw, there were 2 more things going on in the background I missed.
I should probably go back and watch the season again, to make sure there were some I actually did miss the first time, but I think the show deserves a my trust on the issue.
Here’s where I get Spoilerish. Highlight this section with your mouse. One thing I definitely did miss was a specific running gag that was used pretty sparingly throughout the show’s original run. The Bluth Family is notoriously bad at impersonating a chicken… and there is no reference to that joke anywhere that I saw this season. It was disappointing, because I really figured someone else would get added to the list of terrible chicken impressions.
End Spoilerish Section.
Pretty ridiculous means for something that wasn’t much of a spoiler, I know… but if someone had spoiled an AD joke for me this week…. any AD joke… I might very well have punched them in the genitals.
Anyway… Another double edged sword wielded by Arrested Development is its guest stars. The original run had some small ones, and some huge ones. The same happens here. Several guests return. Several new guests appear. Every episode features one or more. This particular feature is double-edged because sometimes (often) guest stars feel tacked on and/or annoying, and whether or not you’re glad to see them really depends on your feelings about them. Some guests I recognized, even though I’m not familiar with any of their work outside of promos. Others I would never wish having to watch their body of work upon my worst enemy. Of course, some people I was glad to see again. Others, catching them for the first time interested me in their other work. So even though I’d rather watch vomit swirl stick to the sides of a flushing toilet than some of the movies or TV shows some of the guests are responsible for, I can’t hold it against AD that they were allowed on screen.
Something I can hold against AD is that the story this time around is much harder to follow than previous outings. At least, I found it to be. Most of the main points are pretty simple, but as plots begin to entwine, the main events remain easy to keep straight, but the little details of the stuff that happens–and the order it happened in–got a little muddled. This is just a minor gripe, and it only bothers me because at no point in the tangled mess of some of the earlier seasons did I ever get confused about when something happened.
As the season goes on, it did seem to get a little bit weaker in the mid point. I felt it started very strong, and ended well… but it chugged a little in the middle. This is when I started to notice myself losing track of the whens and whys. But what really broke my immersion in the season was when I started noticing who was or wasn’t on set that day. Obviously, these people are extremely busy actors, producers, directors, etc. and having them all on the same set on the same day would be difficult–nearly impossible, in all likelyhood.
This scheduling problem was seemingly solved by single takes, and using doubles. There are several scenes where over the shoulder shots are used of obvious doubles, who aren’t even coming close to syncing their movements and actions to the actors’ performances. There are more than a few conversations that take place where we can only see the legs, or back, or hair of one of the participants. It seems pretty clear that they thought they could hide this with editing… but when your show is basically a hilarious Where’s Waldo of Easter Eggs… you can’t hide anything in editing.
But those two complaints aside… The season is still very strong. I laughed harder at it than anything I’ve watched on TV in the last year (and I still laughed regularly at both Parks & Recreation and Community, no matter what others might’ve thought of them) The inside jokes are still there, with new ones added. The characters still feel the same, without being exactly the same. The show is still well put together, and despite a few hiccups, it still hits its mark on the same funny, subtle, awkward humour the first three seasons were known for. I’m very anxious for more. Be it a movie, or a season 5, or anything else the Bluth family is willing to let me have.