Arrested Development getting a fourth season, six years after it was cancelled by Fox, is nothing short of a TV miracle. I don’t think that has ever happened to a show before, someone fact check me on that. Nonetheless, it has been revived by Netflix as they go deeper down the hole of original programming. Cancelled much before it’s time, I was just happy to have this superb show back, even if I found this season to be not as good as the show once was. That doesn’t make this season terrible or awful in any way, just that it was lacking when you compare it to the seasons that came before it. Before you guys get upset with me, I still enjoyed season 4, minus the few rough patches.
It had been a while since I had seen the original three seasons of Arrested Development but knowing that season 4 was on the way, I happily and hungrily devoured each season as fast as I possibly could. It reminded how brilliant, funny and perfect this show and its cast of characters are. This also made season four’s shortcomings even more evident.
Unlike past seasons of Arrested Development, season 4 was less an ensemble show instead opting to do character specific episodes. The cast together was always a joy to watch but when given the spotlight, it showed that some were funnier and more interesting than others. Because of this, Arrested Development lost some of its consistency, some episodes were clearly weaker than others and the highs and lows were even more noticeable. Yes, this structure had to be done because the cast were busy with other projects at the time and it was hard getting them on camera together but many moments felt like random sketches used to stretch out the episodes.
The characters who were hurt the most by this structure were Lindsay and George Sr, especially their first few episodes. Their stories felt aimless and meandering, going from one scheme to another, without any real reason or motivation. Gratefully, there are characters like Tobias, Buster and Gob. All who have always been funny but had a much better and focused story arcs of the season. They did go from one scenario to another but they all had one driving factor, whether it was Tobias trying to become famous or Buster wanting the love of his mother or any mother or Gob wanting to win the love and respect of the people around him.
Going back to the structure of the season, yes many situations get more explained in the later episodes but they put too much faith that those situations would funny and many were not. Many of them just made me go, “oh ok,” it was additional information at the end of the day. On the other hand, there were times when filling in the blanks made things much funnier. For example, realizing that the party for the George Michael wasn’t a company party but a group of sex offenders but for the most part that feeling déjà vu kept occurring as we saw the same events multiple time, with hardly any humor being added. There was too much dependence on long term connections to make things funny, while the old Arrested Development would have running jokes or sneaky setups running in the background that would have some major involvement somewhere down the line. This season’s setup felt more like incomplete jokes, that made you wait episodes to hear the punchline.
Even with all the problems I mentioned above, when this season worked, it worked amazingly, with the Gob episodes being the highlight of the season. All the character’s comedic scenarios were tightly focused, well constructed and had a pay off. There were too many highlights for the character this season, just try getting the getaway song out of your head. If you want proof, watch the second Gob episode, “ A New Attitude,” which I would say is one of the best episodes of Arrested Development ever! The episode focused on the rivalry between Tony Wonder and Gob and took their story to weird and wonderful places. It had them pretending to be attracted to one another as the situation escalated to an absolutely hilarious end. It also benefitted from having Ben Stiller play the character, he was extremely well used through out the entire season. More so, than others *ahem John Krasinski.* Mae Whitman as Ann is another example of great guest stars. Making good use of how forgettable the character is and giving her a nice revenge arc within Gob’s episodes. Arrested Development has always made good use of its guest stars and this season was no different.
New characters were a real mixed bag this time around. The only real standout was DeBrie Bardeaux, who was an out there character. A drug addicted, failed actress who’d dabbled in soft core porn is not your typical sitcom character, but actress Maria Bamford went all in on the character, making her bizarre, funny and sympathetic. You also had Isla Fisher’s Rebel Alley, who is the love interest for Michael Bluth and his son George Michael. Isla Fisher is a likable actress but her character is seriously underdeveloped. You never quite understand why both father and son would fight each other for her and ruin their relationship in the process. Even if Rebel was nothing more than plot to drive father and son apart, her presence didn’t help the two characters at all, leading to a lot of comedic moments that never took off or just went on for too long.
Pacing was an issue for the show this season. Arrested Development has always been a tight comedy, running at around 23 minutes but since the show jumped to Netflix episodes no longer adhered to a specific runtime. For me, this hurt the show dragging on jokes longer than they needed to be. Like when Buster was sucking Lucille’s cigarette smoke. The scene was funny at first but watching Buster do it repeatedly got tiring, especially after your initial reaction had passed. It went on for too long.
The reason I’m being so hard on Arrested Development is because I know what this show is capable off at it’s best and this season wasn’t it. That’s not to say it wasn’t good TV, cause it was. It just wasn’t up the show’s notably high standards. Unlike how the show ended in 2006, it seems likely that the show will be getting a fifth season. Hopefully, it will be more tightly crafted and better paced because the show has proved that it can still be funny.
Score: 7 out of 10