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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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In the show's silly spoofs of popular culture, the jokes aren't quite fresh, but the writers carry them off well and they are fit the series' overall themes. Of course, Lucille would be the ringleader in a show entitled the Real Housewives of the Orange County Prison System. GOB would certainly be peripherally involved in a riff on "Entourage" (and props to the bar titled "And Jeremy Piven").

The wordplay in this season is the characteristic mix of the outrageously obvious and subtly brilliant (creator Mitchell Hurwitz has explains the values of achieving this dichotomy). The themes of "home" on a personal level and housing on a macro level are still culturally relevant (lucky for the show's creators, the problem of housing in America hasn't been solved since the show's creation in 2003). Themes of baggage, transportation, and a desire to escape through travel or spiritual guidance, remain brilliantly irreverent.

The show continues to be simultaneously referential and filled with non-sequiturs. Netflix's tagline is that "Arrested Development" is about a "family whose future got abruptly canceled." Ron Howard, the longtime narrator of the show, plays a producer interested in making a movie about the Bluth family. There is a fantastic bit where Cera's character is a collegiate tech-startup genius, a winking reference to the purported public confusion that Cera played Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network." For a muddled line, the narrator just repeats what the character said, so you don't rewind and "end up halfway through the Maeby episode."

One of the running gags in the series is GOB's habit of ingesting his "Forget Me Now" pills in order to forget something embarrassing he's done. Perhaps it’s best that the viewers take a note from GOB and attempt to forget the previous seasons expectations and focus on Netflix's installment "Arrested Development" for its own ambitions. Whether or not the show succeeds, it's trying to break some narrative ground. While there's less laurel-resting than the hype led us to expect, there's also a lot of brilliance tucked away in there.


  • 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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