TV Review - Arrested Development: Season 4

David Cross (left) and Jason Bateman
return for "Arrested Development" - Season 4
Sunday, May 26, 2013, was my birthday. It was also the day that Netflix released the much anticipated 4th season of Arrested Development. For those who don't know, Arrested Development is a comedy series that premiered on FOX ten years ago but was cancelled after three short seasons. It didn't get the greatest ratings, but, in the time since it's been off the air, it has been recognized as one of the best television programs of the past decade. Thanks to DVD, cable reruns and Netflix streaming the first three seasons, the show developed a cult following and certainly increased its fanbase. It also has influenced many TV shows that have come after it. The show's return had been eagerly awaited but also had some people like myself skeptical if the magic, even GOB's bad illusions, could be re-created, so many years later. In Hollywood, we are in the era of reboots, and so many shows have been resurrected, some more successfully than others. From Futurama, to Dallas to Star Trek in movie form, bringing back cancelled shows is clearly a trend, but Arrested Development had been placed on such a high pedestal. Its creator and head writer, Mitchell Hurwitz, has tried to do other shows since, but they haven't been as good, so there was a worry that this gem he made or the memory of it would be ruined if he tried.

Some questions arose about how to consume this 4th season being that every episode was being made available at once, unlike other services like Hulu that provide new episodes of its original series once a week over the course of a season. Suggestion that Arrested Development could be consumed out of its sequential order was wrong. This is not an anthology series. It's never been. The show has a storyline that builds over the course of the 15 episodes where one thing leads into another. The comedy is jokes that similarly build. Hurwitz and his team of writers, mostly in tact from ten years ago, perfected the subtle and integral callback joke.

Having watched the previous three seasons is not a requirement, but one's enjoyment would be greatly increased because the 4th season does springboard off the 3rd season finale. Yet, in a way, Hurwitz does break and begin a new path for his characters that's not too far afield or that betrays who everyone is. The only problem is that instead of a nice balance. Hurwitz delivers each character in concentrated form. Each episode of the 4th season focuses on one character whereas before each episode of the previous three seasons juggled the nine characters mixed and interwove their storylines.

That balance, that mixing and interweaving are gone. Because of which and because Netflix didn't put too much restrictions, Hurwitz plays loose with the traditional half-hour structure of a TV sitcom. As a result, the rhythm and pacing are a bit off. Scenes and storylines are still layered, but many of the scenes and the gags within go on for too long. At times, the episodes feel like they're dragging.

Hurwitz piles on and piles on, so that the layering for which the show is known gets to be overly complicated when at times I didn't know what was happening. Ron Howard's narration pulls the audience along, but, because of the complications, the 4th season, more than any of the previous, demands re-watching, which might have been Hurwitz's goal.

As I think about how this season warrants re-watching, I realize how this season is very much like Rashomon (1950). To catch up on the story, George Bluth, played by Jeffrey Tambor, and Lucille Bluth, played by Jessica Walter, are an old married couple that run a real estate company that has done some shady things in order to make money. The first three seasons follow what happened after George got arrested because of those shady dealings.

Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, did his best in the first three seasons to take control of the company, steer it away from the shady stuff, while trying to keep his family together. This 4th season, Michael has separated from the company and the family, so there's no one to hold everything together. Each episode, therefore, is about how each family member spins off and does their own thing, which helps them to learn more who they are but often results in them getting into more trouble. This is true for Michael himself.

The reason I say it's like Rashomon is because in that Akira Kurosawa film, we see various people give their different versions of the same event. This happens in the 4th season in spades. In almost every episode, we go back and see the exact same scene but from a different character's point of view. Often, it helps to explain or further solve the puzzle. Sometimes, it's a jumping off point to launch into another storyline. Where Rashomon had a rape, this 4th season has what's called the Cinco de Cuatro.

The show is still very much a visual gag show, and it's chock full of double entendres, great word play like a methodone clinic being confused for an acting class that Tobias, played by David Cross, reads as the "Method One" clinic. There are verbal misunderstandings after verbal misunderstandings that are hilarious, but the visual gags are what make Arrested Development what it is.

Hurwitz and his team pull off great eye tricks. They give a mute subtitles. Tobias and his wife Lindsay, played by Portia de Rossi, have a scene in a mansion that uses split screens in a brilliant way. There's also quick things that spoof Hollywood and television since Arrested Development has been gone. See if you can catch the Cap N' Crunch script, the "And Jeremy Piven" club, The Social Network references and the Real Housewives in prison.

The show also has a wealth of guest stars. Some have been on the series before like Ben Stiller, Jeff Garlin, James Lipton, Carl Weathers, Alan Tudyk and Liza Minnelli. Hurwitz who directs most of the episodes also wrangles new comedians like Kristin Wiig, Seth Rogen, Ed Helms, John Slattery, Isla Fisher, Andy Richter and Terry Crews who does a crazy, Hermain Cain parody.

Of the new players, the standouts include Maria Bamford who plays Debrie Bordeaux, a meth addict who Tobias recruits in his relentless pursuit of acting. Ron Howard even is great playing himself in a series of scenes that could have been ripped from a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.

The original cast is in fine form. My favorite this go round would have to be GOB, played by Will Arnett. His scenes bouncing off Jason Bateman were particularly amazing as they typically were. This 4th season might not have been perfect, but I still laughed more at this and was more intrigued with the craft of writing than even my favorite comedies on network TV.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 30+ mins.
Available on Netflix Instant Only.


  1. Arrested Development: Winner of the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy its first year out, Arrested Development is the kind of sitcom that gives you hope for television. It's one of those shows where you can watch over and over and still laugh at every joke.Arrested Development Seasons 1-3 dvd box set follows the fictitious Bluth family, a formerly wealthy and habitually dysfunctional family, and is presented in a continuous format, incorporating handheld camera work, narration, archival photos, and historical footage.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts