ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: Season 4 Review

by     Posted 1 year, 112 days ago

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Was it six years of anticipation for a fourth season of Arrested Development or was it desire?  If it was the former, we saw possibilities beyond the show’s ending.  If it was the latter, we simply didn’t want the show to end, and we would accept it any form.  “Maybe a movie,” Ron Howard suggests at the close of the third season when Maeby (Alia Shawkat) pitches her family’s story as a TV series.  Now the show has returned for a fourth season that is radically different from anything we’ve seen on television (perhaps the closest cousin being the time-travel season on Lost).  What begins as a brilliant new approach to storytelling on television becomes a season that demands a chart to follow the crisscrossing plotlines that begin to get in the way of enjoying the show’s humor.  Thankfully, despite the heavy weight of the show’s ambition, Arrested Development is as funny and clever as past seasons.  But this time, it may be too clever for its own good.

The fourth season of Arrested Development basically functions as one mammoth episode told from the perspective of each character.  Michael (Jason Bateman), George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Tobias (David Cross), George Michael (Michael Cera), and GOB (Will Arnett) each get two episodes, while Lucille (Jessica Walter), Maeby, and Buster (Tony Hale) each get one.  There’s a little bit of prologue involving a young George Sr. (Seth Rogen) and young Lucille (Kristen Wiig), and a little bit of post-script, but the fourth season pretty much picks up right after season three and ends at “Cinco de Quatro”, an event created by young George and Lucille to deplete the party supplies from Cinco de Mayo, and thus retaliate against the Hispanic community (i.e. their servants).  In between, we have to cover seven years of history for each character to the point where it’s very easy to lose them in the chronology beyond how they relate to other characters.

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Matters are made even more complex by how convoluted some of the plotlines are.  Some are relatively simple such as Michael trying to track down signatures of his family so that Ron Howard can make a movie out their lives.  But there’s also a plotline of Lucille and George trying to build a wall along the U.S./Mexican border in order to swindle the U.S. government that is a total mess, not only because of mix-ups involving the placement of the wall, but the confusion created by Tambor pulling double-duty as George Sr. and his twin brother Oscar, and those two characters swapping personalities.  It’s not surprising that George Sr.’s two episodes are the least funny of the season.

This conflict between plot and humor is the struggle of the fourth season.  Arrested Development has always been a comedy of errors, but season four is a seven-and-a-half comedy of errors.  In order to keep the fire going, the show can’t run on only its main characters, so it has to rely heavily on both old faces, such as (no pun intended) Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli), and new faces such as the drug-addicted DeBrie (Maria Bamford), the liberal and face-blind activist Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopoulos), Ron Howard’s fictional daughter Rebel Alley (Isla Fisher), and the philandering and corrupt Republican politician Herbert Love (Terry Crews) whose last name leads to puns and “merry mix-ups” galore.

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With an expanded cast and expanded runtimes (most of the episodes are over 30 minutes as opposed to the 22 minutes of episodes from the first three seasons), these “merry mix-ups” can lose their merriness and become a drag.  It’s understandable why creator Mitch Hurwitz said earlier in the production that these episodes could be watched in any order, and then reversed his stance to say that they had to be watched in the order presented.  He also cautioned that the episodes shouldn’t be binge-watched because humor loses its appeal in that format.  I tried to follow his instructions and take breaks between watching episodes.  But if I attempted to watch AD: Season 4 like the first three seasons—one episode per week—I would be even more lost.  There’s simply too much to remember.

It eventually reached the point where I just gave up on certain aspects.  I stopped caring about George and Lucille’s plot about the wall.  I didn’t try to figure out where GOB’s marriage fell in the timeline.  I simply had to give myself over to the larger plot points and the strength of the humor.  For all of the plot’s problems, it’s still impressive when you see how certain moments are repurposed depending on the point-of-view.  The show starts out with set-ups moving to pay-offs but as we near the end of the season, we see how pay-offs came from unseen set-ups.  If nothing else, the ambition of the season is overpowering, but perhaps better suited to a mystery series rather than a comedy.

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The only way to keep it organized is to go by character.  While it keeps the paths straighter than a plot-centric narrative, it also serves to make each character slightly more unlikable by giving more attention to their duplicity and selfishness. It also gives the actors less freedom to play off each other.  The character-based episodes aren’t just a matter of the writers trying to be clever, but a production necessity when it came to working around the actors’ schedules.  You can tell in many scenes how body-doubles were used, and it removes the fun of letting the actors play off their co-stars reactions.  But for those who desired a fourth season, these are some of the costs.

Because each episode focuses on one character, our devotion to the individual characters becomes crystallized.  It’s like watching a series of spinoffs, and figuring out which one should become a series. The clear winners are Tobias and GOB.  Tobias’ malapropisms and poor word choice coupled with bad luck can sustain at least two episodes.  When we reach the first GOB episode, we’re shown something beyond Arrested Development‘s new format.  We see an episode that they possibly couldn’t have gotten on Fox due to a series of jokes that deliver a severe uppercut towards religion.  Granted, there are plenty of jokes scattered throughout the season that are jaw-dropping in their offensiveness (but also painfully hilarious), but GOB’s first episode is something that would have been deemed “controversial” had it played on Fox during the show’s regular run.

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Arrested Development‘s humor is what saves the season.  For all of the problems the show’s plotting presents, it also provides some ingenious jokes along with all of the other comedy we came to expect from the first three seasons.  Everything I expected to see in the fourth season is present.  At its heart, this is still the same Arrested Development that made us hurt from laughing so hard.  If it seems like I’ve been overly harsh on the plot, it’s partially because I’m trying to avoid mentioning specific jokes.  I have to praise everyone I follow on Twitter for showing restraint when it came to quoting and referencing certain moments in the new season because there’s plenty to quote and plenty to reference.  Arrested Development: Season 4 isn’t just making up for lost time when it comes to explaining each character’s back-story.  It’s also unrelenting in how many jokes it tries to squeeze in to every moment.  The season isn’t just exhausting from trying to follow the plot.  It’s exhausting from laughing so hard.

As funny as the show can be, the fourth season ends on a sour note.  My biggest concern about bringing Arrested Development back was that it could ruin the perfectly good send-off from the Season 3 finale.  And that ending is ruined because season four isn’t really a season.  It’s what Hurwitz said back when the project was first announced: it’s a gigantic first act to a planned movie.  Hurwitz felt that it would take too long to explain what every character has been up to, so the series would provide the lead-in to the plot of a film that is still only hypothetical.  Nevertheless, season four leaves multiple plotlines dangling, and the final scene feels like a punch in the face rather than comfortably sailing off into the sunset.  Fans demanded a fourth season and now the fourth season demands a movie; a movie that isn’t even close to a guarantee.  Fan support resurrected Arrested Development, and now the fans are being held hostage by an incomplete story.  And that’s no laughing matter.

Rating: C+

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  • Jello

    Agreed with everything you said. Too many blind AD fans that will fail to see its shortcomings.

    • Nogli

      Or see them and refuse to admit they were there. That’s how I felt for the first few episodes. Then it got awesome. Then towards the end it got a little tedious. Oh well. It was still funny.

    • Wade Wilson

      Yeah, this was faaaaar from being anything other than mediocre.

  • DoobieDave

    Whatever, anus tart.

  • http://www.hiddenchaos.com Matt_Bacon

    Mitch really is trying to take his fans hostage, isn’t he… that was a horrible season closer. No resolutions.

  • Gadzookys

    I’m only about halfway through right now, but I think moreso than the complicated plot (I can understand what’s going on perfectly well, except for the whole George/Oscar/Lucille scheme), the problem with this season is simply the way it was made. Having to deal with all of these actors’ busy schedules really screwed-up the family dynamic that made AD so great. Since there are less characters in each episode, there are less plot threads to handle, and so each shot lingers alot longer than it should. I can kinda understand Mitch wanting to make this about catching up with what the Bluths have been doing over the years, but it turns out it’s not really that fun. It turns out it’s much more enjoyable to watch an unrealistic TV family that is always doing stuff together rather than a real family who only meet with each other on occasion.

    That said, the humor is still spot-on. I’ve been laughing alot while watching this, although it sounds like I’m in for disappointment at the end. I’m sure someone out there can take these 15 (more like 20 with the additional running time) episodes and trim it down into an EXCELLENT 2.5 hour movie.

  • Cedhollywood

    I agree that that the George Sr. episodes were the weakest and probably could’ve been left out but I enjoyed the Geore Michael and Maybe episodes. Particularly because how it was set up to made you believe how at first you was led to believe that they have grown to be successful only to be broken down how they really weren’t. To binge watch was the only way to comprehend but at the same time it was too much to digest. A first for me. Plus it was the pset guest appearances that really helped the binge watch. Tony Wonder and wifey? Hilarious! “I don’t shave my legs”. That pause was priceless.

  • Mo

    So true! I miss Michael and the entire family bickering with each other and fighting to get what they want. In fact Michael was really the only “likeable” character but in the first episode of season four they seem to completely deconstruct that everyman quality of him. The humor and feeling of Arrested Development is there, I just wish the family would be in the same room together for a bit and without Ron Howard having to tell me everything that’s happening.

    • Harry Palm

      George Michael was also likeable, but they also made him an unlikable twerp. There’s only so much time you can spend with unlikable characters before it stops being funny. That’s one of the reasons why I think the show getting cancelled was a good thing. It hadn’t worn out it’s welcome. Well, now they’ve renewed it and given us more and I think they passed that point, particularly by making the few likable characters (Michael, George Michael, and Maebe) into horribly unlikable characters along with the rest of them group.

  • AnusTart

    He gave it a Crocodile

  • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

    Besides the rating, this might the Goldberg review I agree with the most. As a single sit through experience, his criticisms are spot on.

    However, Arrested Development fans re-watch episodes repeatedly. This is a show which has always been convoluted and confusing which rewards the viewer for repeat viewings. Season 4 takes full advantage of it’s home on NetFlix and takes it’s story telling to a new level. I was mid-way through the season thinking to myself, “I can’t wait until I’m finished so I can re-watch it.”

    Likewise, where I see an ambitious (though flawed) season which should be rewarded for it’s ambition. Goldberg holds the ambition against the creators for not being perfect.

    • grapes9h5

      I can tell you, re-watching it is even more awesome. Goldberg probably doesn’t have the time to do that, nor does he seem to want to.

      • brNdon

        Goldberg can barely pay attention to a movie, let alone an entire season of one show he watched in a single sit-down.

      • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

        I re-watched the first few episodes with my wife, and I would agree with you.

    • Snarky

      I agree. People seem to be too hung up on catching everything; both jokes and plot elements. My advice is to enjoy the ride. There will be a ton more things to catch when you rewatch it for the second (or third) time.

  • Harry Palm

    The telling of a story from multiple points of view can work when it’s done with two or three perspectives, but nine was way too many, particularly spread out over fifteen episodes. Like the reviewer, I was struggling to keep track of everything for a while, but then I just ended up not caring. Also, after 7 and a half hours, ending on a cliffhanger was REALLY lame. The part I disagree with was how hilarious it was. There were funny jokes here and there to be sure, but I thought most of it fell flat at best or was just plain groan-inducing at worse. Most of the call back jokes, returning characters, and celebrity guest stars felt really forced. Not all of them, some of them were good, but most were there just to be there. Casting Seth Rogen as a young George was a horrendous choice. Maebe intentionally not graduating for five years was also incredibly stupid.

    My initial thought when they said they were doing a new season was “Why?”. I always felt that ‘Arrested Development’ was one of the rare occasions of an American show ending at just the right time in just the right way. It didn’t get cancelled after a cliffhanger and it didn’t go on and on and on for ten or twelve years long past the point were anyone cared anymore. Fans should have been grateful for that. Instead they whined incessantly for more and now they have it and it’s just wasn’t worth it. This season wasn’t a horrific train wreck or anything, but it just wasn’t good enough to justify it’s existence. They should’ve just left well enough alone. You really can’t bring the band back together and get the same magic that you once had. It just doesn’t work.

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  • grapes9h5

    I agree with almost all your points Matt, but I think it deserves much better than a C+!! You say yourself just how funny it is. Im already re-watching the whole thing (I have no life), and I think it already plays better, in terms of the (far crazier than even Lost Season 5) plot, and its even funnier now that I can catch so many more of the early set-ups to jokes now being pay-offs of sorts.

    As for the ending, I’m okay with it. Even if we STILL can’t get a movie, I think we can be dang sure Netflix will be willing to pay for and release a Netflix exclusive movie, or a whole other new season of the show to wrap up the story.

  • Max

    Love this season. Still think this is the funniest show of all time

  • mike_thoms

    I think the show seems to be relying way too heavily on actual celebrity guests. Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen? I like both of them fine but they are way too distracting.

  • Alan Burnett

    Oh God! We wait years for new AD and Collider gives the review to Goldberg. That’s an insult to the series, the creative personnel and us.

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  • notsoeviltwarp

    It makes sense that Goldberg’s biggest issue with the season was that he was too stupid to understand it.
    I do think there were some problems, but this was an insanely ambitious season and I think it really was brilliant more so than not. I’m already looking forward to re-watching it to catch some things I may have missed and can’t wait for some more content, whether it be another season or a movie.

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