By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 28, 2013 at 12:17PM
The new and fourth season of "Arrested Development" landed on Netflix over the long weekend, and is receiving mixed reviews. The intense anticipation for a much-loved (if initially little-watched) show is bringing both satisfaction and disappointment, with some critics praising the clever, funny build in momentum of the episodes, and others left disenchanted with the characters and overall tone they used to love. Roundup below.
Meanwhile, show creator Mitch Hurwitz penned a handwritten letter addressing the return of the show, asking viewers to stick with it and watch the episodes in order (however, Hurwitz mentioned during an interview that he doesn't think binge-watching the series is the way to go -- "you'll get tired!").
If you need a primer on the show, this Time magazine feature is a great read. As with "House of Cards," don't expect numbers from Netflix on the new season of "Arrested Development." Chief content officer Ted Sarandos is on the interview circuit promoting Netflix Phase 2, here and in this THR Emmy season cover story. It looks like "House of Cards" is inside that ballpark; "Arrested Development," not so much.
I have, to be clear, watched it all – and not with grim determination, but rather great, increasing satisfaction.
Briefly, allowing for some minor technological upgrades, it looks like the “Arrested Development” of yore, but it unrolls in a much different form: Each episode focuses on an individual character, within the same slice of time — the five years following the end of episode three — from different, sometimes overlapping angles.
It hurts me to write this. It honestly does. I wanted to love Season 4 as much as I loved the first three, but I'd be lying to myself (and to you) if I ignored its weaknesses. I fell in love with "Arrested Development" for its density, intricacy and the dysfunctional Bluth family as a whole. But unfortunately, these aspects were absent for the first half of Season 4, exposing the fact that maybe these characters aren't as likable as we want them to be.
With expectations as high as they are among AD fans, do the new episodes live up to those of the first three seasons which ended in 2006? Yes, and then some: The new season is not only as smart and absurdly funny as ever, but also reflects the rapid changes in how we watch television.
Arrested remains a bracingly clever but emotionally cold intellectual exercise of a comedy, one that revels in puns, double entendres, intricately structured set pieces, astonishingly inappropriate jokes, asides, callbacks, flashbacks and, less propitiously, its own inaccessibility.
As if to ensure no casual watcher intrudes, creator Mitchell Hurwitz has structured his revival so that it is less a set of discrete episodes than a nearly eight-hour Arrested Development movie — one that requires you to watch it as a whole and in order, not just to follow the plot and get the jokes, but to enjoy an ensemble that is only rarely on screen as a whole.
Sometimes it feels breathtakingly brilliant and other times it just feels confusing. It takes some getting used to, but by the fifth episode, the patience begins to pay off. I didn't adore the show in the way I instantly adored the first three series, but I was admiring it, and even enjoying it in a new way.
There is no guarantee, however, that the genetic material may not have mutated or deteriorated with time.
That is the case with Arrested Development, which lasted a mere three seasons on Fox despite ecstatic praise and is now regarded as such a classic that this revival has been wildly anticipated (and hyped).
This new, fourth season isn't bad – otherwise I wouldn't have gotten through it in a day – but it's a very different beast from the original, and it's not nearly as funny.