TV Discussion

In Defence of… Arrested Development: Season 4

Originally running for three seasons, Arrested Development’s cancellation on the Fox Network after its shortened third season was one of those horrible cancellations that broke the heart and incited angry feelings towards the network and yet, it really was not in any way a massive surprise.

The series, created by Mitchell Hurwitz, was a genius comedy that told the story of the Bluth family, a financially comfortable bunch who lost everything, with the one good seed of the family, Michael (Jason Bateman) attempting to keep them together and on the straight and narrow, but which took pot shots at everything from the economy, to the war on terror, to making jokes about incest, The Blue Man Group and about inappropriate job titles, all the while narrated by a dead-pan Ron Howard, while throwing in jokes that almost seemed as if they were going beyond meta to breaking the fourth wall in spectacular fashion.

Critically acclaimed and with an adoring fanbase, it’s unique comedic sensibilities, jokes that sometimes took weeks to pay off and on-going bits such as getting to second base like Pete Rose, Mr F and newsreader John Beard, meant that after a while the series was really only or those who stuck the course and found nearly every aspect of it funny.

With a cast that predominantly went on to bigger things, the series’ stature only grew over the years, especially with the advent of streaming, and it was a streaming service that would bring the series back for a long-awaited fourth season in 2013, seven years after its final episode aired on network television.

As is frequently the case with television revivals, the reaction would prove to be polarizing, mixed, receptive or downright angry, although the feelings towards it were probably more down to how the season would be constructed and produced. With much of the cast having moved on to either movies (Bateman, Michael Cera) or other shows (Tony Hale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alia Shawkat), scheduling would prove to be the more difficult aspect so creator Hurwitz and his team of writers came up with a genius move; to devote each episode to a different character and set the season around the same events with each episode telling the story from differing points of view, complete with flashbacks detailing what happened in between seasons three and four, which leads to the most subtle but hilarious joke of the season when Ron Howard mentions that George Michael (Michael Cera) had aged seven years in five minutes.

Depending on your point of view, this structure of the season was either problematic or genius and since this is a piece beginning with the phrase “In Defence Of…” you know what side this review is falling on.

Make no mistakes, Arrested Development’s fourth season is not one hundred percent perfect and each episode is only as good as the storyline of that particular character, but  when it flies, it sings; the structure is delightful, making glorious use of the streaming format that comes from being on Netflix, the returning on-going jokes work once again and the newer ones are equally as funny.

Even more presciently, it devotes itself to a plotline about the building of a wall on the Mexican/US border to keep immigrants out a good three years before it became a key piece of US foreign policy in a Presidential administration that sometimes feels like it’s walked out of an episode of this show. Structurally it’s one of the most complex and superb pieces of writing to come from a US comedy series in a very long time, but if a character’s storyline doesn’t work, then it can make an individual episode a drag.

George Sr and Lindsey’s storylines go through up and downs, Gob’s is hit and miss, Michael and George Michael’s (Maharis) equally so, while Tobias, Lucille, and Buster get the best stuff, not least an unfortunate arrest on reality television show To Catch a Predator, complete with shoddy Fantastic Four costume.

Despite the more hit and miss qualities of the humour, the season is still massively enjoyable, coming on like an elongated version of a movie like Pulp Fiction, depicting some of the same events, but going back to them and connecting them through character and events. To see the connections is wonderful and fun and its ambitions cannot be faulted, and best of all, when the humour lands, it really lands, with some of it being the funniest the series has ever been, while the season actually gets better as it goes on.

With the series returning to screens this year, the season was relaunched on Netflix this year, this time re-edited into chronological order, via twenty-two episodes at twenty-two minutes. This version of the season doesn’t work, where the original at least does. It changes the structure, it means jokes pay off immediately instead of the brilliant aspect of developing and waiting for the payoff, and it relies more on flashbacks to events you just saw five minutes ago.

The original version may be flawed, but there is a definite level of genius here, and when it flies, it really flies.

What did you think of Arrested Development Season 4? Hit or miss? Let us know!

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