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

by Maggie Lange
June 1, 2013 4:29 PM
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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? 


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. 


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. 


  • Anne Thompson | June 3, 2013 7:43 PMReply

    Mitchell/Michael fixed.

  • nate | June 3, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    Michael Hurwitz? proof/check your work, or get a copy editor. Inexcusable to get the show creator's name wrong when you're reviewing his show.

  • Rusty | June 3, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    The writing is brilliant and the show remains terrific. The soft-handed population of one star yelpers could collectively take the fun out of Christmas as art and humanity will always be less than perfect and disappoint. This is brave and bold but I loose a great deal in my own personal 'roofie cirle'.

  • Jordan | June 3, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    My mom used to say that if I didn't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all... I used to tell her why that's wrong... That's the spirit of the show and I believe that is still very much in tact. Like most things, I think we should resist the urge to make knee-jerk judgements and instead wait until we understand enough about what they are trying to do to make a reasoned judgement. Compare it to any other show and I think it's still far better... It's an evolution and people fear change... deal with it and enjoy for what it is, don't tear it down because you built up a false ideal in your head and it didn't exactly match up to it.

  • Ray | June 2, 2013 5:52 AMReply

    To mtoomb and Jim Emerson: you've missed the point of what made Arrested Development so great. Minor flashes of funny are unacceptable to stand as the return of a show that was non-stop double entendres and malaprops, with an average of two jokes per sentence. AD wasn't just an amusing sitcom, it was a brilliant, layered comedy that built its foundations on the interplay and miscommunication between the ensemble cast.
    It's clear when watching season 4 that they were only together to shoot their collective scenes all at once. This probably cut down on costs and production time, but what a ball for Netflix to drop. The ubiquitous nature of streaming video on the internet is making subscription services less appealing -- Arrested Development was their trump card, and the vehicle to test their new in-house show production. Did they not realize how important it would be to seamlessly bridge the gap between old AD and this new incarnation? If so, why approve such a critical format change from a show about intertwined, layered storytelling to a single character driven narrative? Netflix damaged their ability to do this again and created a show that was the worst kind of compromise -- the characters we love and want to watch doing largely unfunny things away from each other. It's the perfect insult and coffin nail to a show that died too soon, resurrected too late, and came back for all the wrong reasons.

  • Maggie Lange | June 2, 2013 5:34 PM

    Thanks for your comment--I agree. I was crestfallen that there were so few ensemble scenes. That's when Arrested Development is at its best. Great point about the show's humor resting on miscommunication; I wish there had been a little more of that in this season as well.

  • Mtoomb | June 1, 2013 11:22 PMReply

    I think it's brilliant. For the limitations put on production, it was well written, extremely funny, and gets better upon rewatch! There are SO many interweaving gags, you have to watch it again just to get them all! Bravo! CAN'T WAIT FOR SEASON 5! :)

  • jim emerson | June 1, 2013 6:22 PMReply

    Well said. The fourth season has a 71 rating on Metacritic (15 positive reviews, 5 mixed and 0 negative) as of today, so I don't know what all this blather about negative critical reaction is coming from. (Even dumber is the attempt to pin a dip in Netflix's stock on "bad reviews" of "Arrested Development" -- as though stockholders each provide their reasons for every computer-moderated transaction they make in a trading day.) My only complaint so far (I'm on episode 8, I believe), besides a lot of poorly matched reverse angles during conversations, is that the relentless over-reliance on gay jokes, some of which might have seemed clever and even daring 10 years ago during the Bush Administration, now just seem tired and lazy. Does every male character need a gay/trans storyline? Some of the individual gags are amusing, but the "Oh, that makes him sound gay!" schtick gets old fast. It's still an impressively ambitious, amusing and exceedingly well-acted show.

  • Maggie Lange | June 2, 2013 5:37 PM

    That's an excellent point to bring up--this season did overly rely on "oh, that sounds gay" jokes. Agree that some were funny, but most did seem to be phoned in.

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