Arrested Development, Season 4

arrested-development-season-4-poster-2In an uncharacteristic change of pace… I think I’m going to be able to pull off this review, Spoiler Free*!

*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.

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.

9 comments on “Arrested Development, Season 4

  1. Yeah, strong season, but not as great as Season 1 & 2 when the show was at its best. I dont understand how they couldnt get these people together to do a show… why the hell are they catering so much to individual schedules and whatnot, it’s a job, shouldnt they have to BE there? Never heard of a show going so far out of its way….

    Anyways, that’s my biggest gripe. Not the obvious doubles (that you mention) but the fact that they individualized all the storylines. One of the huge charms of the show was the fast and furious nature of the jokes. When its only one character per show, that’s harder to do. Plus, a lot of times they’re keeping the funnier characters on the sidelines (Gob, Tobias, Buster) while the less funny characters have an entire ep (Lindsay, Maebe, G.M.) 😦

    Nonetheless, great to have gotten more episodes, it was a funny season, and it could have been a LOT worse 😯

    • Too many of them have other full time work, what with G.O.B., Michael, George Michael and Tobias are busy being in every incoming awful sitcom, comedy, indie and kids movie, respectively. They had to accommodate the ridiculous schedules, because they’re making too much money churning out other steaming crap.

      Obviously everyone involved loved the show… but we’re talking about turning down potentially millions of dollars for some of these actors in order for them to make this season. Without the scheduling magic, the budget for the rest of the show would have been infeasible, I’d imagine.

      I’d like to know what Tony Hale was doing that he couldn’t have been featured more, though. He couldn’t possibly have been that tied up making Veep, could he?

      Individualizing the story lines was a huge gamble, obviously made to cow tow to schedules, and I think they broke even on it. It felt fresh, but not as great as 1 & 2… but what could ever be as great as S1 & 2? Same deal with Community, but that’s another post.

      It was a top 3 comedy show of the year for me. I’m super glad they made it.. and I want more. Hopefully it’s successful enough to warrant a working budget that will be able to bring everyone together more often.

  2. I didn’t read all the review (spoilers), but all the hype about this show has convinced me to go back and watch the show from its beginning. I expect to be incredibly entertained.

  3. I really enjoyed season 4. The way they did it was extremely ballsy. But I thought the first few episodes were the weakest. They were almost like a videogame tutorial level. The rest was great though, not enough Carl Weathers though

    • Glad there are others that liked this. I’ve been reading a lot of “Thanks, but no thanks, guys” comments in regards to the new season.

    • I would not recommend season 4 as a starting point. You’d be far better off starting from the beginning. I would all but demand it, to be honest. The first two seasons are without a doubt the best the show has to offer, with 3–and now 4–being good, but not quite as good. Jumping on at 4 would rob you of experiencing those seasons, because of how many throwbacks jokes, and flashback explanations, you see.

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