Arrested Development, Season 4 (2013)
In 2003, America was finally introduced to a sit-com about a wealthy dysfunctional white American family, rather than just your typical middle-class one. The show lasted three years and wasn’t hugely popular, so it got cancelled. Then, like Firefly and Van Gogh before it, it became insanely popular after its death, and people started bitching and moaning that it got cancelled because they hadn’t known to watch it earlier. Well, it may have taken seven years, but someone has finally responded to all that bitching and moaning: Netflix. Reuniting the original cast in its entirety with show creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Netflix has produced and uploaded a full fourth season of Arrested Development, continuing the story.
Now, I can’t delve into season four without giving you one of our patent Rooster Recaps (patent pending) on the previous three seasons. If you haven’t watched them and plan to, stop here, because HERE BE SPOILERS, YAHARGH. I turn things over to the capable hands of Ron Howard to provide character/actor introductions.
The Plot: Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is the likeable and solely responsible member of a rich family who recently lost everything after the patriarch (and CEO of the Bluth Company) George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested on suspicion of fraud, embezzling… and also high treason. Over the course of three seasons, Michael struggles to keep the failing real estate business alive, maintain a healthy relationship with his weird son George Michael (Michael Cera), and keep his whole family together despite government investigations, vicious seal attacks, their own lack of enthusiasm, and the best efforts of Fox Broadcasting to get them cancelled. In the end, Fox wins out, the show is cancelled, Michael proves his father’s innocence, only to discover his mother’s (Jessica Walter) guilt, decides that it’s not worth it, and finally abandons his family to live a normal life with his son. It’s funny, satisfying, and generally just a really good ending to the show.
Hm, sounds like I wasn’t one of the fans who desperately wanted the show to continue. It wasn’t like Twin Peaks or Firefly or Veronica Mars, where nothing was resolved in the end; it was more like Supernatural, which had a perfect finale and then just kept going. Despite this, I was still very excited when they announced season four, and while I didn’t have high hopes for it to be just as good as the previous seasons, I was still disappointed with what I got.
Season four picks up… actually, it’s sort of difficult to exactly pinpoint where it picks up. The narrative jumps around A LOT. Now, I watch a lot of movies, so I’m perfectly familiar with nonlinear chronologies, and generally have no problem following them. This jumps around so much, though, that I have found myself a little confused at times, even with the near-constant narration. Rather than picking up where we left off or just setting it in the present day, for some reason the writers decided that they needed to constantly cut back, forth, and in between. Some scenes take place minutes after the old finale, some years after, some even before it. This really confuses the plot lines.
Note that I said plot lines. Plural. Arrested Development is now and always has been an ensemble show. In the midst of the main plot, every character has his or her own individual development and subplots. Tobias (David Cross) struggles to make it as an actor; George Michael is confused to find himself weirdly attracted to his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat); Gob (Will Arnett) demands to be taken seriously as a magician. These are all engaging and humorous stories that contribute to the main plot in unexpected and clever ways. It’s great.
What was the most important noun I used in that paragraph (discounting proper nouns, in which Will Arnett wins)? I’ll tell you: subplots. With a heavy emphasis on sub. The writers seem to have forgotten the concept of a subplot. Season four takes a radical new approach: Each episode focuses on a different character. One will focus on what Michael is doing, one on what Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) is doing, one on Tobias, George Sr., Gob, etc. There is hardly a single unifying main plot and each episode only seems to link up tangentially with any other. This contributes to the aforementioned confusing chronology. Not only do we rapidly cut back and forth within an episode, but it’s often kind of difficult to tell how one character’s actions coincide with another’s.
This led to a shocking revelation: none of these characters are consistently funny on their own for half an hour. Here I thought I could never get tired of Gob Bluth’s magic tricks (illusions), but they get old if you don’t cut them up with someone else. Classic comedy is derived from a simple duality. You have a straight character and a wacky character and the intrinsic disagreements therein create comedy. If you have too much of either, it stops being funny. These characters are hilarious as long as they are constantly interacting with each other. There’s not nearly enough of that in season four. Often, the individual scenes will be funny, but once you string them together into a full episode… I’m sorry to say it, but I’ve just found myself getting tired of watching by the end. The original series flawlessly cuts back and forth between the different characters within single episodes, and it never had any balance issues, and was always funny. Season four of Arrested Development is almost as imbalanced as The Cabin in the Woods.
As much as it disappoints and pains me to say so, season four just isn’t up to par with the rest of the series. It would have been better off ending when it did seven years ago. I thought it would at least be nice to see the characters again and see everyone together, but that’s just the thing: you don’t see them together.