Arrested Development season 4 review: meh

Notice how this shot is clearly green-screened? Yeah, get ready for a lot of that.

The new season of Arrested Development is a dud. Much like a former lover who saunters back into your life after an extended absence…something’s just not quite right.

Sure, there are flashes of the chemistry that initially drew you to each other. But in the end you’re left with a hollow feeling and knowing that some things are best fondly remembered rather than trying to rekindle them.
The fourth season’s sins are many and varied. Chief among them is the tight focus each episode has on one character.

What initially seems like a good idea (who wasn’t clamouring for two full episodes of David Cross as Tobias?) is quickly exposed as a fatal flaw. As good as these characters are, rarely can they stand on their own.

Part of what made the original series so fantastic was the way this ridiculous family played off itself. Yes – scheduling conflicts ultimately were the cause of the ‘one and done’ style of episodes, and it’s true that this is better than nothing. But one can’t help but think that the release would have been stronger if the show’s producers had waited until the group could make the fourth season a priority collectively.

There is some interaction between characters – Tobias shows up in Gob’s episodes, Maeby is seen kicking around with George Michael and Michael dips in and out of most of them. But rarely is the entire family together for an extended period, short of some blatant greenscreen. This really chops the overall product off at the knees.

Well, at least they got three of them in the same room for a few minutes.

Maybe this would be a moot point if the supporting cast that’s been brought in to bolster each episode was as strong as the principals – but they aren’t. That running “face-blindness” gag from Lindsay’s episodes is only funny if it’s an intentional shot at Portia de Rossi’s atrocious plastic surgery.

This isn’t to say the core cast isn’t on par with their delivery, because they are. Michael Cera throws himself back into the awkward teenage role that made him famous, and David Cross is as loveable as ever as the misguided and clueless Dr. Tobias Funke. Will Arnett, in particular, pulls together some of his best Gob performances ever.

But the characters just aren’t given much to work with. Audiences are stuck with long stretches of boring exposition with little to laugh about for the majority of these episodes. It’s clear that while Hurwitz is back – a lot of the original writers are not.

That much is evident when Lindsay actually explains to Tobias at once point that everyone thinks he’s gay – thus killing any opportunity for one of the best running gags on the show. No more banger in the mouth, no more taking a chubby – none of that. Brutal.

But no character is as mishandled as much as Michael Bluth. Michael spends the entire season doing things that are decidedly uncharacteristic. He lies, he cheats, and at many points, simply comes off as pathetic. Maybe he’s just succumbing to his Bluth roots, but without the staunch moral compass that he usually is, the show suffers. The rest of the family needs a straight-man to play off of.

Pacing is a big problem too. Yes, the writers were going for a non-linear storyline in which each episode plugs in some of the holes, but the entire thing just feels disjointed. It’s often very difficult to figure out when an event is taking place, as years fly by in the script suddenly.

There are huge stretches of boring exposition followed by flurries of plot movement that easily could have been stretched out. And the season just kind of…ends, super abruptly, leaving the viewer with a nagging “Wait, that was it?”

That isn’t to say that the entire thing is terrible, because it isn’t. In true Arrested Development fashion there are some clever running gags and places where the writers break down the fourth wall – like the “showstealer pro” gag from flashback scenes and Michael’s subplot as a movie producer as a nod to the oft-rumoured (and still possible) Arrested Development movie.

Michael? Is that you?

Gob’s two episodes in particular, are fantastic. Pretending to be gay to seduce the now-gay Tony Wonder and then crush him for revenge, while he tries to do the same thing, only to have them both fall for each other and then have sex wearing replica masks of each other? Classic. Will Arnett and Ben Stiller have the best chemistry of anyone on the show.

There’s also hope that the Netflix model can become a viable medium for TV-style releases. The Kevin Spacey-led House of Cards did particularly well, and Amazon and Hulu are offering similar exclusive releases online. This style of release could be a real shot in the arm for the medium – and bodes well for people who like to binge-watch TV shows. And we don’t have to worry about ads or overbearing executives – for now, anyway.

Though an onslaught of negative reviews hasn’t done so well for Netflix stock shares – the company has its largest one-day drop in nearly six months Tuesday, closing at $214.19, down $14.55 in two days.

It’s a real shame, because fans of this show waited a long time for this release – but instead got a watered down look at individual Bluths rather than the whole family.

And what’s the most important thing? Family.

I need a forget me now.

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3 comments

  1. justinpeddle

    Hi Adam,

    Great review! You make excellent points here. I am definitely disappointed in Season 4. I have only watched the first 4 or 5 episodes (I will watch them all), but it has definitely lost some magic.
    What are your thoughts on the young George and Lucille (Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig)? I’ve been enjoying them, especially Kristen Wiig. Young Barry is not bad either.
    Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve read a lot of your writing over the past while. You’re a great writer. Congratulations and keep it up.

    -JP-

    • womph

      Thanks Justin, I appreciate it.

      Young George seems a bit like having Seth Rogen for the sake of Seth Rogen – but Kristen Wiig does a pretty bang-up Lucille.

  2. Pingback: Orange is the New Black another triumph for Netflix | womph

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