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

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist May 28, 2013 at 2:03PM

Binging is the new black. And thus the desire to not only gorge, but to insta-weigh-in on the new Netflix season of “Arrested Development,” which premiered over the Memorial Weekend, is in full effect. The cult of ‘AD’ has grown to a deafening roar over the years, the anticipation and expectations at the prospect of the show’s triumphant return were at an all time high going into the weekend. “Arrested Development” was neglected and then canceled in 2006 by 20th Century Fox and somehow defied the odds to return seven years later with a new lease on life thanks to Netflix and their own expanding desire for (semi) original programming. But if you’re disappointed with this new season, it may be easy to understand why. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.
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Arrested Development, Netflix
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.

Arrested Development
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.

Arrested Development
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.

This article is related to: Arrested Development, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, David Cross, Michael Cera, Television, Portia De Rossi, Alia Shawkat, Mitch Hurwitz, Features, TV News


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