You need to be patient if you’re a fan of Arrested Development, (the TV show, not the band). Originally running for three seasons on Fox, from 2003 to 2006, it went on hiatus for seven long years before its eagerly anticipated fourth season aired in May 2013 as ‘a Netflix semi-original series’. A further five years down the line, and we are closing in on its fifth season, which drops on Netflix on 29th May. Fifteen years, five seasons. Arrested Development has certainly lived up to its name.
But the patience that you need as a fan of the show isn’t just in waiting for new episodes to air. Its cleverly constructed humour is chock-full of comedic plants and payoffs, of foreshadowing that takes forever to come to fruition, of plot twists that you should have seen coming a mile off but didn’t. The biggest laughs are often the ones that you wait longest for, when a gag that has been building over several episodes finally reaches its punchline. Arrested Development is a goddamn smartarse, and it knows it.
Season four of the show though, took smartarsery to an entirely new level. In a statement released on Twitter, show creator Mitch Hurwitz said: “The original season four of Arrested Development on Netflix… experimented with a Rashomon-style of storytelling – with each episode dedicated to the adventures of one member of the Bluth family. The goal was that by the end of the season, a unified story of cause and effect would emerge for the viewer – full of surprises about how the Bluths were responsible for most of the misery they had endured. In some ways to be an experience for that viewer, perhaps akin to eating some toast, then some bacon – maybe a sliced tomato followed by some turkey and realizing ‘Hey, I think I just had a B.L.T.’”
It was clever. Very clever. Perhaps too clever. Because some people didn’t get it. And a lot of people hated it. In order to get the whole BLT-minus-lettuce you had to watch the entire season, at first wondering what was going on, and then picking up the threads one by one as they wove together. It was best if you then went back and watched it all again, and said “Ohhh that’s clever!” and “I get it now!” a bunch of times. But not everyone wanted to make that commitment; and not everyone appreciated Hurwitz playing about with the format of a show for which they’d been waiting seven years.
Fast forward to4th May 2018: the festival of Cinco de Cuatro, a fictional holiday, created by Lucille and George Bluth, and one that features heavily in the fourth season. This, appropriately, is the date that Mitch Hurwitz chose to release a re-edited version of season four on Netflix, “shuffling the content from 15 individualized stories into 22 interwoven stories the length of the original series… as a comedic experiment to see if new jokes and a new perspective would emerge from a remix that features all the Bluths in every episode, and where the simultaneity of the story plays out chronologically”.
It’s a bold move, and one that is all about luring previously disappointed viewers back in to the show in the lead up to season five, as well as creating enough episodes for syndication. So, how does it fare when compared with the original cut? Does it work? Well, partly. There is definitely an appeal in paring back run length to a standard 22 minutes, as opposed to the variable, sometimes 30-plus minutes of the original cut episodes. But unfortunately it’s also something of a mess. These stories were never meant to be shown chronologically, and so in order to make sense of them, a vast amount of extra exposition is needed, in the form of omniscient narration from Ron Howard, along with a split-screen of relevant scenes that you’ll need to be aware of in order to understand what happens next. It’s frantic, and repetitive, and all over the place: a redux for the Twitter generation, and not in a good way.
It does succeed, in places, in bringing out new flavours, and elements that were easily missed in the original cut. The original edit is so dense with jokes that you’ll almost inevitably miss some, and the re-edit makes a point of bringing some of these to the fore. And it creates new gags through the medium of Ron Howard’s additional narration: alluding to current events, as well as being self-referential, for example with a mention of Jeffrey Tambor’s role in Transparent. But it also throws away vast amounts of its comedic punch by immediately explaining payoffs that we previously had to wait for, and that were delightful in their revelation. Arrested Development has always made the viewer work for the jokes – much of the plot is made up of what elsewhere would be called Easter Eggs – and having them explained ahead of time is a real disappointment.
Is this re-cut footage for people who didn’t understand the original cut? Or didn’t stick with it? Whether you think it’s an improvement probably depends on how much you loved or hated the original season four release. Overall, ‘Fateful Consequences’ is certainly an interesting experiment, but not a successful one, and is likely to leave many fans saying “I don’t want these”.
Arrested Development Season 4 Remix ‘Fateful Consequences’ is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch the original edit of Arrested Development Season 4 on Netflix under ‘Trailers and More’.