Seven years after it’s untimely cancellation, “Arrested Development” has become a household name in the comedy world that is synonymous with debates on quality television and active criticisms of the Nielsen rating system. Often lauded as a show to which other must be compared, and remembered fondly by fans as the show that gave us such wisdom as “there’s always money in the banana stand,” as well as the always memorable chicken dance, it was with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement that many settled in for pre-planned 24 hour marathons upon the new season’s entire release on May 26th. Despite an awkward introduction, problems with aligning schedules, and a few episodes that just don’t hit the mark, as a whole, season four successfully lives up to the “Arrested Development” name and welcomes viewers back to a Bluth family whose future had ended so abruptly.
Following the events of the final episode in season three, Michael (Jason Bateman) finally follows through on his threats and separates himself from the rest of the family, leaving them to sort out their own legal and personal issues. With nothing to hold the family together, each member goes on to pursue a life that isn’t so closely tied to the Bluth name. George-Michael (Michael Cera) is off to college, Gob (Will Arnett) embarks on a scheme that will establish him as a well known magician and bring down his rival, Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller), Tobias (David Cross) and Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) continue to put as much space as possible between themselves, all while George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) and Lucille (Jessica Walter) attempt to have a wall built on the border of Mexico, and Michael attempts to get a movie based off the Bluth family put into production. Each episode follows one family member as they’re slowly brought back together and their individual stories overlap.
“Boom! And that’s what we call only being behind by three.”
Although the decision was made to release all fifteen episodes in one go, and present them in a way that would allow viewers to watch any episode in the order that best suited them, Netflix also provides an official order that eases audiences back into the Bluth family dynamic and the overlapping storylines revealed throughout the season. While following the Netflix order does make for an enjoyable watch and leads to a lot of “Oh, I get it!” moments as details become more clear, the first three episodes may leave you with a genuine concern for the Bluth family and their future.
These early episodes, which focus primarily on Michael, George Sr., and Lindsay, feel entirely different from any previous Arrested Development storyline. With Ron Howard’s familiar voice narrating it all, we’re pretty much smacked in the face by heavy bouts of exposition, drawn out flashbacks whenever an old gag is recalled, and events that feel disjointed without any context. Even though I can understand the need to remind old fans of anything they may have forgotten during the long wait between seasons, as well as the need to not alienate any potential new fans, as a show with a ridiculously devoted fanbase who have tirelessly created whole wiki pages devoted to gags that could only be caught after multiple viewings, the introduction feels heavy handed and unnecessary.
“It’s good, by God!”
Once you make it past the first three episodes, however, the season quickly picks up and soon begins to ride on the level of quality that has come to be expected of the series. Jokes, new and old, fly at a quicker pace as each member of the cast steps back into their old roles with an ease that almost feels as though no time has passed at all. The season develops its own brand of humour that is a little different from what we’ve seen before, but still manages to utilize the same brilliant timing, use of word play, and riffing of outlandish situations to creative and hilarious ends. In their respective episodes, Gob, Tobias, and Maeby nearly steal the season with their shared ability to fuse older, more familiar aspects of their characters into gags that delight and also provide additional insight into changes undergone since season three.
With the number of scheduling difficulties that sideswiped efforts to get the cast to share more scenes together, the season does suffer somewhat from a lack of family interaction. While the quality generally remains strong throughout, there are a few lulls in the middle as some characters fail to carry their own episodes without the help of supporting members. Particularly, I found the episodes dedicated to Lucille and George Sr. a little slow as their conniving ways end up feeling somewhat exhausted when stretched out over thirty minutes of screen time. The moments where we do get to see members of the old cast sharing scenes together, however, make for some of the best scenes in the whole string of episodes. These characters have always been at their best when playing off one another and, thankfully, the season does its best to recreate these moments as often as possible.
“I think movies are dead. Maybe it’s a TV show!”
After so long, the Bluth family’s return to television has proven to be well worth the wait. While the season definitely has some episodes that are much better than others, as well as a plot line that sometimes feels a bit too transitory, there are plenty of jokes and gags that will keep fans coming back to the dysfunctional family that has yet to grow stale. As additional seasons, and perhaps maybe a movie, continue to be discussed, it seems that the Bluth family stands a good chance of sticking around for a while longer this time around.