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12 Observations On What Worked & What Didn't In The New Netflix Season Of ‘Arrested Development’

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by Rodrigo Perez
May 28, 2013 2:03 PM
38 Comments
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6. Michael has gone darker.
Perhaps, one of the most emotionally resonant elements of the show was a warm and fuzzy ending where Michael Bluth -- who had somewhat of a sanctimonious savior complex -- ended up surprisingly learning something from each one of his dysfunctional family members. As screwed up as they were, it was often them teaching Michael the true meaning of “family comes first.”

The de facto straight guy of the series, Michael was the one -- often hilariously exasperated -- character that the audience could empathize with and relate to within this sea of dysfunction. Otherwise, everyone’s shitballs crazy and no one would care, right? But “Arrested Development” loses the Michael anchor in this new series and essentially makes him almost as wayward and selfish as everyone else. Granted, Michael was never perfect. He was always a poor listener to his son George Michael and while filled with good intentions often put his needs before other members of his family. Still, compared to the rest, the flawed Michael Bluth was still a saint and was the default moral compass.

In the new series, Michael’s attempting to make a movie based on his family with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. It’s mostly for a girl (Fisher) and Michael’s main m.o. throughout the show is getting each of the family members to sign off on their life rights so he can make his movie. The second half of his story is admonishing his family members and cutting their characters out of the movie. And yes, he’s kind of a dick for it.

But Michael starts out strong. Episode #1 “Flight of the Phoenix” is great and one of the best episodes. It introduces this darker, sadder, more pathetic side of Michael and finds him living in George Michael’s college dorm. Having “left” the family, Michael has no place to go and essentially crashes with his son and it’s fascinating to see this new dynamic emerge. George Michael is no longer a child and doesn’t want his father to ruin his college experience and the typically clueless Michael has no clue. Once best friends, with George Michael mostly looking up to his father, “Arrested Development” begins with a fascinatingly new and darker dynamic between these two and the episode ends with George Michael kicking his father out. But because of the multiple storylines and tangents, we don’t get to fully experience this new relationship dichotomy until almost the end of the show and that’s rather disappointing. We’d also argue their dynamic is the only true new one of the show and all the other interactions of the family members are largely the same as the original show.

7. The Rashomon Effect on amphetamines grows tired.
Several events in the show are seen from multiple perspectives. The entire cast is actually only together in two scenes (the aftermath of the Queen Mary escape attempt and the family meeting/George Michael’s going-off-to-college celebration) and many of these sequences are shown repeatedly. In fact, scenes from each episode are repeated at least once in another episode and everything relentlessly ties together. But while overly-clever and inventive, this formula grows tired over the 15-episode arc and rather than revisit the same storyline or scene again (albeit often coming with a new twist the 2nd time its shown), you often just want the story to move forward and see where everything is going to go instead of this constant herky-jerky rewinding to the past. The Rashomon POV gimmick often becomes tedious.

8. It's self-referential and meta-fictional to the point of overkill.
Some will disagree, but Ron Howard stepping out from behind the narrator’s chair and into the plot of the series sort of kills the allure of the never-seen narrator. The movie-within-the-series meta-plot is fairly predictable and aside from elements like Kitty working for Imagine Entertainment (she fired Maeby from the company years ago) and a few gags, we see far too much of Ron Howard and this storyline isn’t great. There are sometimes fun and amusing allusions to past plot points and moments and while cute, the show is often loaded with these elements and they sometimes feel like mandatory baggage. Some time it works brilliantly -- Michael and Gob fighting in a children’s ball pit to the “Balls In The Air” song is hilarious -- other times -- like the return of the “Charlie Brown” sadfaced moment -- it’s not quite flat, but it’s also not entirely unpredictable either. That reference is a bit played and doesn’t really do much other than return to a fan-favorite gag.

9. The main plot of the season is weak, keeps morphing and by the time it's over is irrelevant.
So what’s the story of “Arrested Development” the new season exactly? Well, it’s kind of about the family’s new plan to get back on their feet, and of course the plan excludes Michael this time who’s off trying to get his movie off the ground. So the “story” is ostensibly George Sr. and Lucille Bluth “stealing” a Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley Jr.) plan to build a wall between California and Mexico to block out illegal immigrants from entering the country. But this plan keeps changing and then eventually fades into the background. The company, still alive is now the Austero/Bluth Company and essentially owned and run by Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli). And while her part of the story is also essential, it doesn’t amount to much in the end. There’s very little of a main thread to latch onto -- which adds to the confusion -- and therefore the series feels like the further wacky adventures of the Bluth family and not a lot more.

10. It’s hyper dense and ambitious and sometimes this works against the show.
“It took [series creator Mitch Hurwitz] 25 minutes to explain to me what I was looking at,” David Cross told Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago. He was describing the intricate writer’s room story map which contained post-it notes, index cards and different colored yarn pinned down connecting several plot points explaining the entire show visually. “And I still didn’t get everything.”

Imagine how the audience must feel. “Arrested Development” is so dense, interwoven and interconnected, it can often sap the enjoyment and funny right out of the show because audience members are puzzled, scratching their heads and wondering what the hell is going on and there have been multiple complaints to that end.

And to be fair, to the show’s credit, it gets better as it gets deeper into the show. Those halfway through the “Arrested Development” season right now should not lose hope entirely. It gets better down the line, though arguably not until episode 10 or 11. And that’s a long time to wait, but these when these labyrinth-like threads really start to come together in the end that’s when its brilliance really begins to shine through. And, not to mention, the interwoven plot finally starts to become funny and not just convoluted.

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38 Comments

  • Hans-o | October 29, 2013 4:27 PMReply

    Most great pieces of art aren't recognized until long after their release. This show is innovative and although the popular opinion of critics are against it because it doesn't fit the classical "hollywood" mode of TV series, it is extremely intelligent. So, all I have to say about this article is: please chill out, sit back, and laugh at the simpler jokes that you'll actually understand.

  • wes | June 19, 2013 6:05 PMReply

    I've been watching it again and again. It's so good.

  • Loukas M. | June 6, 2013 12:52 PMReply

    I hope you guys found the edited (chronologically linear) version online- it solves half of these issues stated above. It actually makes this season feel great - when before it was terrible. Amazing work. Watch the edited version. It is perfect.

  • RP | June 6, 2013 1:36 PM

    Yeah, unfortunately, that's now how it was conceived and meant to be watched by the creators of the project.

  • Gobias | June 4, 2013 4:33 PMReply

    Most of what I would say about the new season has already been said, either in this article or another, but another thing I'd like to mention is that the whole season felt like one big episode. I can certainly see what they were trying to do, essentially I think they wanted to bring viewers back up to speed with the Bluth family and therefore it became too focused on the plot, rather than the hilariously obscure injokes that we're used to. I do feel like the new season is being treated a little harshly however, it's just that the series is inherently hit and miss because each character gets at least 1 entire 30 minute episode, even the less interesting ones. A lot of it felt a little over explained, but it was still pretty good imo

  • Ron | June 4, 2013 8:28 AMReply

    The season wouldn't work on tv but it's perfect for Netflix. The series is designed to be gorged upon over a short period of time, as though it was just one enormous episode. I thought it was really good.

  • Andrew S | May 31, 2013 10:18 AMReply

    Agree with your assessment (although I do like Gob's first episode).

    After reading this I thought - what if they re-edited this? I wonder if some brilliant editor could actually fix this jumble? Just an interesting thought. I don't think they would ever do that, but it's possible that with the exact same footage they could assemble a much better 4th season. It wouldn't solve all the problems (like the family dynamic, and Michael being too dark) but it could certainly solve the problem of it being too dense, confusing and repetitious.

  • e | June 1, 2013 8:04 PM

    r/arresteddevelopment is working on a timeline and possibly editing the job, similar to "Chronologically Lost".

  • Yea Yea | May 31, 2013 5:33 AMReply

    I just browsed this article, but found myself mostly agreeing with the points.

    Yes, this season definitely had its moments. But it definitely was fundamentally flawed. Three reasons for that in my estimation:

    1. A lack of a linear progression. Instead of telling one long, twisting, exciting story and allowing for a series of exciting developments; they showed the same story from different points of view and after you've seen the same plot points told 14 or 15 times; you just want to scream! It's like watching a bad Saw movie that is made for stupid people instead of an advanced comedy for brilliant minds.

    2. A lack of character cohesion. The characters were largely on their own islands and frankly some of them (Maeby, Buster, Lucille 1, Tobias, Lindsay, George) cannot carry full episodes; not by AD standards anyhow.

    And I'm guessing that the script was written the way it was due to scheduling issues; but the lack of serious character interaction seriously hurt the story; particularly as it relates to Michael Bluth being a satellite character for everybody else.

    3. The humor was more coerced. Rather than search new episodes; the humor was clearly risk averse and reliant upon past formulas to a fault.

  • James | May 31, 2013 5:22 AMReply

    Testing Testing

  • Zinjo | May 30, 2013 8:03 PMReply

    Yeah, I mean yeah. I felt the same way and it is nice to see another articulate my observations.
    Netflix has the wonderful benefit of having the inspired original series available for viewing before the new one. I have little doubt most of us watched the original or re-watched before committing to watch the new season. Good thing too!
    If it were to return to regular TV I am sorry to say the new season would have bombed. Non-fans would not have the patience to sit through the complexities of the episodes and the relentlessly repeated plot points.
    I'd suggest they go back, run a new season with the original creative limitations that made the original show so appealing to get their groove back. I too found myself wondering where the show I loved had gone.

  • c'mon | May 30, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    BTW, I think that Steve Holt's 'aging' was a part of the joke. Gob didn't recognize him because he started losing his hair (like Gob). I'm sure that the actor doesn't look that old in real life, it was mostly make-up.

  • Knox B | May 30, 2013 11:31 AMReply

    Oh Come On! You've made a huge mistake.
    This season is a perfect evolution of the show that broke barriers. You've obviously missed SO many nuances that makes this show great. The airport mural, all the references to wee-Britain, the subtle indications that another family member is present. The characters motivations have changes, that's why the show seems different. People grow, some regress, but this is about moving on.
    You seriously need to watch the episodes again.

  • Justin | May 30, 2013 3:13 AMReply

    So I usually maintain a level of positivity in the comments section, but for an article titled about the positive and the negatives, or what worked and what didn't, it seems every point is about something that didn't work, rather than what actually did this season. Why is that rodrigo?

  • F@ckYou.com | May 29, 2013 12:49 PMReply

    COME ON. This season was stranger than the first 3, but its still the best show not on tv

  • Kyle | May 29, 2013 7:47 AMReply

    I don't understand why you are being so negative with these observations

  • jeeem | May 29, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    Correction: The opening credits narration begins with: "Now the story of a family whose future was abruptly cancelled… " It's a wee meta-joke.

  • jeeem | May 29, 2013 12:06 AM

    Hey, I'm very, very sorry about aaaaalllll those redundant postings! I'd erase 'em if I could. I clicked on the SUBMIT button and the site didn't respond. Only later did I find out that all these comments had been posted!

  • jeeem | May 29, 2013 12:03 AMReply

    Correction: The opening credits narration begins with: "Now the story of a family whose future was abruptly cancelled… " It's a wee meta-joke.

  • jeeem | May 29, 2013 12:03 AMReply

    Correction: The opening credits narration begins with: "Now the story of a family whose future was abruptly cancelled… " It's a wee meta-joke.

  • gobbler | May 29, 2013 12:44 PM

    stfu already. COME ON

  • what | May 28, 2013 11:10 PMReply

    If you were confused I suggest watching a show more your pace.

  • John | May 28, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    and people thought the plot for UPSTREAM COLOR was hard to follow.
    should have never been made if the cast's schedules didn't gel. so disappointing!

  • Robotboy | May 28, 2013 9:57 PMReply

    UHHHH. How can you say little Fonzy playing Young Zuckerkorn did not work? That was th most brilliant part of the entire series, besides regular Barry.

  • Rodrigo | May 28, 2013 9:34 PMReply

    Duh. I had this written down in my doc, but somehow... Don't write and have a newborn, thanks.

  • Wes | May 28, 2013 9:29 PMReply

    I agree with some of these things, but overall I found it to be enjoyable, and it is better with reviewings (I've already started!). My biggest issue though is with how cheap it looks sometimes. Having said that, I have no issue with most of the things you point out like the length (really?). I also though that Lindsay, George Sr., and Lucille episodes were not as fun. However, I suspect most of your criticisms will seem petty to the hardcore Arrested Development fan.

  • jeeem | May 28, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    Correction: The opening credits narration begins with: "Now the story of a family whose future was abruptly cancelled… " It's a wee meta-joke.

  • shackett | May 28, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    All of these characters are on an inner Odyssey. GOB no longer has the "i just want to prove to my brother that I'm not a failure" vibe. Tobias is no longer desperately trying to prove to the family that he wants his marriage to work. Lindsey finds a man that will sleep with her. Maebe's all but given up on her attempts to startle her parents. When you take out the character motivations that we love.... then you hurt the show. Without Michael... they can no longer be kept together.

  • yer | May 28, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    The new season was awful. Too many "look at the cameo!", too much time spent referencing the past 3 seasons and too much change in the characters. Since when was Michael such an oddball clueless idiot?

  • B | June 2, 2013 3:14 AM

    Dated a mentally handicapped woman..

  • Ghuh | May 30, 2013 1:42 PM

    And he has always been a bad father.

  • Rick | May 29, 2013 10:11 AM

    Michael has had plenty of oddball clueless idiot moments in the old series. The whole "hermano" thing. Didn't notice the lawyer was blind (she wasn't really, but she was laying it on thick for him). Thought his father's on-call hooker was his long lost sister. Didn't know what "Afternoon Delight" meant.

  • Alex | May 28, 2013 3:28 PMReply

    Not only was I confused and bored, but I couldn't get over how ugly and strange the show looked. The green-screen and CGI was atrocious (Sometimes the shots looked so surreal for no reason other than the actor's difficult work schedules)., the new HD-photography looked dull and flat (It even resorted to artificial snap-zooms), and the lethargic "cinematic" style felt incongruous with the reality-TV-parody nature of the original show. Did Netflix blow their entire budget for programs on "House of Cards" because this looked cheap as hell, almost like a 12-hour-long funny-or-die sketch. What a disappointment.

    Also, the cheesy new background music (which seemed oddly, genuinely bad for a show this self-aware) was mixed way too high and was flat-out incessant (to mask audio problems or just boredom?).

  • Nick | May 29, 2013 2:54 PM

    I totally agree about the background music! That was totally distracting I thought

  • tristan eldritch | May 28, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    Always felt the show was over-written and artificial to begin with; it used to make me long for an episode of Cheers. But that just me, obviously.

  • KG | May 28, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    Yeah I have to disagree with this. I'm only on episode 12, but I've pretty much loved or highly enjoyed every episode except the Lucille one. I think what it's trying to attempt is extremely clever and ambitious and I applaud the show for having the balls to come back and go all out on its ambitions. I think it's been a very rewarding experience. I agree that a lot of the episodes are too long, but everything else has been pretty much a non-issue for me. I also think it'll be very re-watchable.

  • Andrew | May 28, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    While I agree that some of the character's episode are uninteresting (George Sr. and Lindsay) I don't know how you can say Gob's are, particularly his first episode which for me may be the best of the season. Spot on with George Michael though, because his two episode run is probably the best overall. That last four episode run of Maeby, George Michael, Buster, and George Michael really is fantastic.

    And yeah, I kinda loved the season. It certainly has its ups and down, but I admire it so much for taking chances and not just resting on what may the show work before. I expected nothing less from Mitch Hurwitz. Looking forward to the movie if it happens!

  • Rodrigo | May 28, 2013 3:08 PM

    " That last four episode run of Maeby, George Michael, Buster, and George Michael really is fantastic. " Absolutely. I wish it was that great throughout and those last 4 eps really save it.

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