After years of questions, cast scheduling, and fan clamoring, Netflix finally gassed up the stair car once again for a fourth season of the beloved TV series Arrested Development, chronicling the troublesome lives of the Bluth family. All the major castmembers have returned, in addition to a fair amount of surprises in the supporting field, and I think it’s safe to say that this was likely the most hotly-anticipated bit of original programming to come from Netflix since it was announced. After three seasons, the original run of Arrested ended abruptly in February 2006, and pretty much since then there have been constant efforts by fans, cast, and creators to bring the show back in some way.
The result is a 15-episode fourth season, all released simultaneously on May 26th. The new season of the series will take some getting used to, especially for the diehard fans of the original run, since it’s very easy to see in places how much time has taken place between seasons 3 and 4. Some effort is made in episodes to try and blur the lines of time as much as possible, and in places this can be distracting, but overall it’s hard to dismiss the quality of the writing and the singular wit that dominates the tenor of the show, the cast of characters, and the style of humor that permeates every line of dialogue.
In the intervening years between seasons 3 and 4, life has not been kind to the problematic and dysfunctional Bluth family. The main character of the previous run, Michael (played by Jason Bateman), is no longer the symbol of hope and prosperity for the rest of his family. While in many ways he hasn’t changed as a character, it’s that lack of change in his own life that’s seemed to stall him from really breaking off a life for himself. In some places, Michael can be accurately described as “pathetic,” especially considering his living situation in the first episode of the new season.
Michael’s son, George-Michael (played by Michael Cera), in some ways has fallen into his father’s problems, but also begins to show the signs that he is definitively a Bluth, meaning he’s just as prone to lies, deceit, and dysfunction as everyone else. His cousin, Maeby (played by Alia Shawkat), has had a bit of a fall from grace herself and has found herself in a perpetual circle that keeps her life stuck in neutral, and also alienates her from her family.
Maeby’s parents, Lindsay Bluth-Fünke (played by Portia de Rossi) and Tobias Fünke (played by David Cross) make Maeby’s problems look tame by comparison, as they both embark on personal journies that take them away from each other and toward some problematic and difficult circumstances. Gob Bluth played by Will Arnett), the lovable oldest brother (and arguably the least likeable person in the family), has actually had things go relatively well in comparison with his other family members, though has had his extraordinary ego and really bizarre set of fears plague him in a few notable places.
The Bluth parents, George Sr. (played by Jeffrey Tambor) and Lucille (played by Jessica Walter) have also cooked up their own schemes to try and replenish their cash reserves, and place them back on top of the southern California business world. Their overattached one-handed son, Buster (played by Tony Hale), also has some pretty spectacularly funny moments in his quest to hold onto his beloved mother, which leads to humor both exceedingly creepy and surprisingly hilarious.
Now, keep in mind, the summaries I’ve given you on the characters’ lives are very low in detail, which brings me to my next point about the format of the new season. Showrunner and series creator Mitchell Hurwitz and his collaborators have crafted a rather intricate web of continuity that each episode follows very strictly, without feeling bogged down in the most important departments of humor and character interaction. The season is very out-of-sequence in regards to how certain events unfold, and plays pretty fast and loose with time as far as taking place immediately on the heels of the third season finale, or several years after the fact.
The bottom line with this is that it creates a rather dynamic watching experience, where you might have to peddle a little faster than normal to keep up. When you do, though, it’s rewarding and often hilarious.
The most interesting component about the show’s new format was the decision for each episode to alternate its character of focus. Leading off the season is an episode featuring Michael as the main character, before the subsequent episodes hand the baton off to other members of the Bluth family. It’s a rather ambitious premise, especially considering how tightly interwoven every episode’s continuity is with the others.
That’s not to say that the season was without its flaws, though. In the earlier episodes in particular, it cast a very wide net as far as the humor was concerned, and tended to fall a little flat for me in my initial viewing experience. There also may have been some slight shock at the fact that I was seeing a pretty different series than the one I was used to seeing, and the period of adjustment that the new season gives you to the status quo of the new characters is practically nonexistent. As it progresses, though, it begins to build its own bit of material that is unreliant on what came before. This is both good and bad, because it demands the show move forward, but at times feels like it’s a little pleased with itself in a way.
Though it’s hard to dispute the sheer fun that the series brings back with its characters alone. In addition to the regular cast members, we also get to see hilarious performances from Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen (as younger versions of Lucille and George Sr.), the return of Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio) and incompetent attorney Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), and more confusing tolerance from Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli). There are lots of other surprises in the forms of celebrity guests (like Isla Fisher and Terry Crews) and some beloved original series characters (STEVE HOLT!).
Overall, the new season of the show can be jarring, but once you get rolling with the humor, it becomes pretty damned fun all over again. Arrested Development season 4 is streaming on Netflix right now, and from this fan, it gets four stair cars out of five.
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