Arrested Development Season 4 Review

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I’ve been waiting for New Arrested Development episodes to arrive on Netflix for months. Years, even, and so has the rest of the hardcode fans. But with the show being off the air for 8 years and most of the cast moving on to bigger and better things, could they recreate the magic that made AD so special?

The fourth season of Arrested Development basically functions as one mammoth episode told from the perspective of each character.  Michael, George Sr., Lindsay, Tobias, George Michael, and GOB each get two episodes, while Lucille, Maeby, and Buster each get one. 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.

The season started rather slow for me, mainly due to the fact I was adjusting to the show’s new rhythms and in part because some of the characters who better carry episodes (Gob, Buster, Lucille) aren’t featured much early on.

The plot is like a huge puzzle that only gradually reveals its secrets until we get into the final stretch of episodes and even, in some cases, the very final shot of the season. Sometimes the disorientation is good, though, and here you can see Hurwitz using the season’s form to set up an elaborate, Lost-like structure of time-jumping. There are curious incidents and images that set up questions: Why does Michael have a black eye? What does “I got my big Yes!” mean? Why does Gob have a giant crucifix hanging out of his car?

The storytelling structure is an obvious way to get around the actors’ busy schedules, and points to the original goal of releasing episodes with no set order, but the Rashomon effect (each episode focuses on a different character, revealing different perspectives about various events) just creates a lot of overlap with a few moments appear six or seven different times and a lot of confusion about what’s happening and when.

This Season came with a huge host of new characters and celebrity cameos. I’ve read many complaints about the parade of guest stars. Most of these complaints seem rather misguided to me, for one thing, many of those guest stars create surprisingly well-realized characters. I can see where some people where let down but the number of new characters, So much of the fun of Arrested Development was just watching these dysfunctional people be near each other, and there’s precious little of it in season four.

The way I see it 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.

So yes, the new Arrested Development may not offer quite the same easy pleasure as the first three seasons. But it’s an endeavour no less brilliant and still more addictive. I do intend to rewatch all 15 episodes a second time, just not in the immediate future. But I’m not certain I’ll be able to resist. I fear that this is what it’s like to be caught in a roofie circle…

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