Sometimes taking a break, to build up expectations, can be a good thing.
In the case of the returning Arrested Development, perhaps it is working against the show’s favor. After waiting a long seven years for its return, it is my opinion that fans and critics alike are expecting way too much from the highly anticipated Season 4, and it shows in some of the online reaction.
Some of the first responses to the season that I’ve seen – including ones from respectable sources like the New York Times and The AV Club’s Nathan Rabin – have been negative, claiming the show has lost its breakneck pacing and has altered its tone too far. I happen to disagree.
So far I have finished half of the 15-episode Netflix order of Arrested Development and I have actually really enjoyed the way Mitchell Hurwitz and co. have embraced the format of streaming video release. This is a season that could have ONLY been released on a platform like Netflix, because it’s a puzzle of a story, almost like a 7 1/2 hour long movie, that we must piece together slowly to understand. I have a feeling that many of the naysayers will come around to this perspective after repeat viewings.
That is not to say that Season 4 is perfect. Lest I come across as someone whom Rabin would say has “Phantom Menace Myopia,” I do have a couple of quibbles, the main one being the portrayal of the show’s only true hero, Michael Bluth. Well at least, he WAS the closest thing to a hero, before he moved into his son’s dorm room. The opening episode’s revelation that Michael had descended to the rest of his family’s level of awfulness was really disappointing; while I don’t disagree that it’s funny to see saintly Michael taken down low, I never expected him to go THAT low. Michael made many embarrassing blunders over the course of the three prior seasons of Arrested Development (most often in situations having to do with women, like Maggie Lizer and Sally Sitwell), but what was different then was he always realized his mistake. Michael was the only “normal” character because he was the only one that was self-aware of his discrepancies. But in Season 4, we must adjust to the New Michael, who, like GOB, Lindsey, Buster, and Tobias, can’t tell when he’s being an ass.
However, what slightly redeems this instance of character homicide is that, in a rather fitting twist, George Michael has become the family member that Michael used to be – self-aware, attempting to gingerly navigate the minefield of family politics, and working on an honest business. It is revealed that although he still finds in nearly impossible to express himself to his father in his personal life, his professional life shows some promise, as has designed his own privacy software, which was inspired by his father’s lack of respect for his own privacy. One of Episode 1’s first gags features the father and son sleeping in dorm bunk beds together, echoing the first episode of the original series, except now it’s George Michael that’s the one asking his father, “what do we say always comes first?” The answer, again, is not “family.”
Another thing I really enjoyed was the casting of Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogan as a young Lucille and George Sr. Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor are such excellent actors that I understand the hesitation to cast younger thespians to portray their past selves in the original series, but now Walter and Tambor are much too old to pull it off (whereas they were only slightly too old before) and Wiig, in particular, really nails all of the gestures and facial contortions needed to execute the character accurately. I am usually really lukewarm about Wiig; I recognize she’s a very talented woman but I really hated nearly everything she ever did on Saturday Night Live. But a young Lucille Bluth is right in her wheelhouse, and a type of character it would be nice to see her play more – super bitch meets Machiavelli, with just a smack of ham.
It’s true that this show is not the same as the one that left the air in 2006. But the world is not the same – the show makes several references to the real estate crash and the Wall Street collapse, both which greatly affected the characters – and the format is not the same. These episodes don’t cut to a commercial break and they are not limited broadcasting regulations or push-and-pull from a network. The show had to change. And to anyone that says Arrested Development has lost its touch, I would direct them to the scene where GOB tries to talk to Siri, or to the episode where Kitty Sanchez returns (you are marvelous, Judy Greer), to the moments when Tobias must begin every conversation by announcing he is a sexual predator (you’ll have to watch to see why), or to literally any scene involving Lucille. Or to the ostrich.
It’s just as weird as you remember it. Only now it’s broadcasting from somewhere else.