Cancelled for 7 years, Arrested Development finally returned to Netflix for its fourth season last Sunday, a day that fans feared would never truly come. We had been promised the return of the Bluths in the form of a movie for a very long time, only to be let down by each bit of new information, due to none of the cast knowing what would happen. This continued up until last year when it was revealed that Mitch Hurwitz had instead written a fourth season as a recap of sorts as to what the characters had been up to for all of these years. It was to serve as act one of a three act story he had in mind. There was huge excitement from fans, although there was also some hesitation, after all would the season actually come to fruition? This continued until we learned that indeed they had started filming and photos from the set were revealed.
There was a ridiculous amount of information that kept leaking as to who was going to cameo in the season, what the episodes were about, images from the set and even trailers towards the end. I did my best to avoid most of this stuff because I wanted to watch it fresh, with no bias as to what may happen. This wasn’t easy, it is my favourite comedy show of all time and so holding back from looking at what was to come proved challenging. I may have even broken and watched a trailer. But ultimately I went into it relatively spoiler free, not knowing the plot or most cameos.
The strategy to release all of the episodes at once via Netflix was a peculiar choice at first glance but when you think about it, a smart move. In a world where an audience now digests their television through binge watching their favourite shows on their laptops and iPads, what better a way to allow the audience to watch it all at once, instead of an episode a week. It also allowed for the show to have a singular story, split up into different episodes and pieced together through flashbacks and a slow understanding as we see each character’s involvement within the overarching story when watching their respective episodes.
There was a slight change though. Initially Hurwitz had written it so that a viewer could pick and choose an episode at random and still understand the story as a whole. However, less than a week before it returned, he announced that the episodes now needed to be watched in order because otherwise some of the jokes wouldn’t make any sense. I had always planned on watching them in order anyway so it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
Being aware that the layout of the show would be somewhat different and that each character would get at least one episode focusing on their singular story was intriguing, but I was worried about how it would work in the grand scheme of things.The show opened with Ron Howard narrating and a flashback scene of Lucille and George Bluth, played in the scene by Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen. Their portrayals, particularly Wiig’s, were fantastic. We learned that Lucille had started a holiday called Cinco de Quatro (a dig at Obama’s slip-up?) many years ago in response to the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo. As soon as this happened I felt right at home with the show that I knew and loved. The ridiculous and clever humour was still there. There were even role reprisals from Liza Minnelli and Christine Taylor. The show was off to a good start and I breathed a sigh of relief.
One noticeable difference is that the episodes are much longer, the shortest being 28 minutes and the longest a whopping 37. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side they are not being held back by any restrictions of length, however this causes some of the episodes to drag. There are a few that could have been trimmed down considerably, most notably “Red Hairing” and “Señoritis”, which having 2-3 minutes cut could wind up being great episodes.
Another issue I had is that while we do get to see characters interact with each other from time to time, a lot of it is spent focusing on the character in the episode. It misses out on the group dynamic that made the show so wonderful. From my understanding the entire main cast spent only 2 days on set filming together. I do get why, after all they are all much busier now than 7 years ago, however it would have been nice to have seen them all together more because those moments have always been some of the funniest – the drunk party with never-nude Tobias dancing, or the family chanting speech to nobody in particular are two examples.
That’s not to say I didn’t love the new season, I really did. There were many, many fantastic new moments for the fans to reference for years to come. One particular recurring gag in which Gob suddenly gets lost in his serious thoughts and “Sound of Silence” plays is perhaps one of the shows most inspired jokes. I don’t know if it’s lost on people who haven’t seen The Graduate and don’t know it’s a reference to those characters realising that they’ve “made a huge mistake” but it’s just fantastic.
Speaking of Gob, I found that his two episodes were among the best ones. Perhaps because Gob works as a character in his own individual story, whereas someone like Lindsay for example, can’t seem to hold an entire 30 minutes by herself.
The show not only brought back classic characters in cameo roles, such as Henry Winkler as Barry Zuckercorn and Carl Weathers as himself, but it also introduced us to a number of new ones too. They worked within the Arrested Development universe for the most part, a particular favourite was Terry Crews doing his best Herman Cain impression as Herbert Love, a sleazy Republican politician who is easily bought and forms a connection with Lindsay upon believing her to be a prostitute. There was also Isla Fisher as Ron Howard’s wild daughter Rebel Alley who was a little hit and miss but overall pretty funny and a great way to show the divide that has grown between Michael and George-Michael as the latter has matured.
It’s very hard to review this show because part of what makes it so great are the little gags, as opposed to the overall storyline. Luckily, this season was full of great ones, that I’m sure will become even funnier as I go back and re-watch episodes.
As for the plot of the season, it is a little muddled at first, however being mixed between everyone’s episodes, it was expected. To put it into the briefest of summaries, since we last saw them, Michael really did leave for good and this seemed to have caused a mess not just in their lives but also his. He can’t stand to be away from his family, as proven when he moves in with George-Michael in his college dorm, leading to the fantastic “FakeBlock”. Elsewhere George tries to get a wall built on the border of California and Mexico in order to raise the value of their properties; Lucille ends up in jail; Tobias and Lindsay have separated and found new partners; Maeby is back in high school; Buster has officially joined the army and is the controller for the drones; and funniest of all is Gob who was supposed to marry Ann (her?) but in true Gob fashion, turned it into an illusion in which he would hide for 2 weeks and emerge – of course this plan failed terribly.
I loved that the end turned the show into a murder-mystery. Lucille 2 has been a longtime friend of the family, despite Lucille Bluth hating her. The Bluths however, have many enemies and so it is definitely interesting to try to figure out who exactly might have done it, if anyone at all. For all we know she may not even be dead.
As for what’s to come, I suspect it will be another season as opposed to a movie, at least act two of the three act idea Hurwitz has anyway. I say this purely because we are left with so many unfinished story-lines that just cannot be finished within a 2 hour movie. Add to that Maeby’s line: “I gotta tell you, I think movies are dead. Maybe it’s a TV show.”, and I think Hurwitz has seen that it works better in this format.
Overall the show definitely lived up to what I had hoped for during this seven year absence, now let’s hope we don’t have another long wait before it returns again.
What were your thoughts on the season? Comment below.