Arrested Development returns this Sunday for a fourth season after a seven-year absence. Ever since the announcement of season four (and a possible movie), I’ve felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. Season 3 ends on a great note. It brings the series full-circle, and has Michael (Jason Bateman) realizing that there’s really no saving his family, and it’s time to start the Bluth legacy anew with the timid but good-hearted George Michael (Michael Cera). Will Season 4 find a way to reopen this story? Will it find a way to at least meet the thematic strength of the final episode? And most importantly, will it possess the same qualities that made the show such a hit? We know these characters, and we can all quote our favorite lines, but Arrested Development is so much more.
Hit the jump for six things we might expect from the upcoming season of Arrested Development, which will air all 15 episodes at once on Netflix starting at midnight on Sunday.
We’ve already seen a bit of the wordplay in the trailer with the line, “You’re going to get some stares/stairs”, and this has always been one of the best aspects of the show. No comedy series in recent memory (or perhaps ever) has mastered wordplay like Arrested Development. Sometimes it’s overt like “Loose seal/Lucille” and then other times it takes a few seconds to realize that the boat is referred to as the “Seaward” and why Lucille (Jessica Walter) then responds, “I’ll leave when I’m good and ready,” when Gob (Will Arnett) says he’ll get rid of the boat (which then turns out to actually be called “The C-Word”. It’s one of the things that makes the show so good on repeat viewings. If we can expect anything from Arrested Development: Season 4, it’s going to be the quick-witted, clever writing.
Arrested Development was a little too ahead of its time when it came to the way we watch television. Digital distribution saved a show like the U.S. version of The Office because it could build buzz through iTunes downloads. DVD sales helped AD, but those could only go so far. DVDs are more for the fans since the uninitiated are unlikely to buy a box set sight-unseen. Arrested Development needed that VOD platform because of the show’s serialized nature and constant callbacks. It was deeply rewarding to devoted fans and alienating to those who tried to pick up the series midway through. Now that the show has reached the age of VOD, it would only seem natural that Arrested Development will become even more insular in its references. The new season almost reached the point of being able to watch the episodes in any order to see the connections, although creator Mitch Hurwitz says that you’ll probably need to watch them in order. But the larger question remains: will they go all the way back to previous seasons with more than just quotes?
This almost seems like a no-brainer. Back in season 3, there was an episode called “S.O.B.s” (Save Our Bluths), which joked about networks the series could migrate to such as Showtime or HBO. Fan petitions are nothing new, and sometimes they work. But it’s still kind of a ballsy move to basically call out your own network for failing to keep one of its most highly acclaimed programs. Now the series has returned in a unique fashion, and not commenting on it would seem like a missed opportunity. However, it’s much easier to drop “HBO” and “Showtime” into sentence than “Netflix”. But I’m sure Hurwitz and his writers can find some way to comment on the show’s resurrection.
Few comedies, especially network comedies, were as topical as Arrested Development. The series came along right at the outset of the Iraq War, and the show happily jumped in with jokes about recruiting quotas, sending Buster (Tony Hale) into the army, and “Solid as a Rock”. In season 2, the writers decided to make George Sr.’s (Jeffrey Tambor) crime “light treason” instead of embezzlement and fraud. This allowed them to ultimately send characters all the way over to Iraq in season 3 and make other assorted jokes about the war.
But now the show may be even more relevant. “This is the story of a family who lost everything,” is the opening line of the opening titles, and it’s the perfect intro for an America that suffered (and still suffers) in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. And what caused that collapse? Primarily, the housing bubble burst. That’s horrible for the country, and pretty much perfect for Arrested Development where the Bluth company builds houses. The media’s focus on economic matters may have taken a backseat to other issues, but it’s still relevant, and hopefully the show will find a way to make light of another defining event of the 21st century.
Pop Culture References
The big danger of referencing pop culture is that the jokes can become dated very quickly. The hot pop music star of today is the desperate reality show star of tomorrow. The ephemeral nature of our entertainment landscape has only accelerated with the rapid pace of memes dominating social networks for a week (if they’re lucky). When I was re-watching the series, I had forgotten that the show poked fun at an early Internet meme, “Star Wars Kid“, in the episode “The Immaculate Election”. If there was a “Harlem Shake” reference in one of the new episodes, would it be cringeworthy, or could the writers find a way to make it work? Or will they forego pop culture references in an attempt to keep the season evergreen?
Cutting Around the Cursing
A minor observation, but one of the many clever ways Arrested Development approached its documentary framework. The show not only had a narrator (Ron Howard) practically be another character (to the point of criticizing the narration of a Scandalmakers episode in “Motherboy XXX”), but the series was also aware of being on network television. When characters cursed, they were not only bleeped, but they either turned away from the camera or were off screen so the actors’ mouths weren’t blurred or pixelated. And as you can see from the image above, there was some other censorship as well. Since pretty much anything goes on Netflix, will the show stick to tradition or take full advantage of its newfound freedom?
We’ll find out the answers to all of these questions on May 26th.