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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?

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.

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

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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.