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Netflix's Revived Cult Favorite 'Arrested Development' Brings Baggage

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood June 1, 2013 at 4:29PM

"Arrested Development" is not a sitcom that suits TV-love-at-first-sight. Like many of the better television shows, it's based on layers. Any series that rewards serious, devoted, eagle-eyed fans would bring an onslaught of criticism upon its return. Is the wrath that has met Netflix's revival of the canceled series simply a product of viewer investment in the initial iteration of the series? Or does it hold merit as a valid criticism of this installment?
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Arrested Development Season 4
"Arrested Development" is not a sitcom that suits TV-love-at-first-sight. Like many of the better television shows, it's based on layers. Any series that rewards serious, devoted, eagle-eyed fans would bring an onslaught of criticism upon its return.

Is the wrath that has met Netflix's revival of the canceled series simply a product of viewer investment in the initial iteration of the series? Or does it hold merit as a valid criticism of this installment?

While fans might have been blissfully happy with a new "Arrested Development" immediately after its 2006 cancellation, seven years on was anyone really expecting a regurgitation from the minds that created the biting brilliance of Season One, the whacked out hilarity of Season Two, or the rushed genius of Season Three? 

ArrrestedDev-Lindsey

Certainly, Netflix's Season Four of "Arrested Development" attempts some measures that simply don't work. Most of these failures come from ambitious risk-taking The fourth season relies on a formidably complex structure. Partly to accommodate its sprawling now-more-famous -and-busy cast, the series spans several years and each of the fifteen episodes takes place concurrently following a different character's path, so the episodes could ostensibly be watched in any order.

This does not pay off. It can be confusing, repetitive, forced, and ultimately labored. But, it's aiming to fulfill the signature layered storytelling that fans came to adore from repeat viewings of the first three seasons of "Arrested Development."

Some of the other failures were understandably at odds with what fans expected. The production is noticeably sloppier. The clumsy use of the green screen is unacceptable and distracting. The cinematography is not as snappy--perhaps because the plot’s overlapping stories posed a limiting restriction on what the camera could reveal in any particular scene.

Flashbacks with Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen seemed forced (both are wonderful). The product placement "gag" fell flat this time; plugging for Mike's Hard Lemonade went sour, while the Burger King promotional episode in Season Two was a feat of brilliance. The most disappointing shortcoming was that the tactic of focusing on one character at a time did not fit a show whose main delight was the relationships between a glorious ensemble cast. 

ArrestedDev-GOB

But look past these flaws and the strengths of the "Arrested Development" revival shine through. The acting remains wickedly sharp among the original cast--particularly regarding the respective Bluth babies, George Michael (Michael Cera) and Buster (Tony Hale). While they stand out, everyone pulls their weight. 

This article is related to: Television, Netflix, NetFlix, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, TV Reviews, TV


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.