Arrested Development Season 4 Review
TV Critics Chris Longo and Nick Harley hatch out what they loved and merely tolerated about Arrested Development's long awaited return.
Arrested Development Season 4 has been available for nearly a month now, giving viewers a chance to let the episodes simmer (or re-watch them ad nausea). With a show that is so fiercely beloved by its fanbase, new installments undoubtedly would have a polarizing effect on the AD faithful. Our Arrested Development reviewers Chris Longo and Nick Harley took a long look at each episode and finally are ready to answer some burning questions about Season 4 in a Den of Geek Q&A:
Expectations were higher than Oscar after baking out his camper. Did Season 4 live up to the hype?
Chris Longo: A few days after the launch, I was at a party where I innocently mentioned I was reviewing Arrested Development to a friend. Next thing I knew, the entire room got into a discussion about Arrested Development. It was one of those moments where you have to stop and think that if you were at a party in 2006 (I was in middle school) you’d be lucky to find one person who was familiar with the Bluth family. As someone who watched the original run on Fox and was young enough to let most of the jokes go over my head, it’s overwhelming to see so much love and appreciation for a brilliant work of comedy.
The audience is now massive, nearly immeasurable thanks to strong DVD sales and Netflix adding the entire series to its streaming service. Because Netflix won’t release any ratings or view counts, we have no way of knowing if the hype surrounding the show paid off for the company. I can only speak to my personal expectations, which were high for many reasons. I wanted the old Arrested Development back, the show that changed how I looked at comedy during a really impressionable age. I wanted it to live up to the expectations of those who picked up the show later on and wore its cult-status on their sleeves like a badge of honor. I wanted it to glisten for those who bought into the media hype and binge-watched all 52 episodes after it was announced that season four would be as tangible as a frozen banana in Disney World.
There was all this talk in the weeks leading up to the launch about how this show was “groundbreaking” the first time around. Because they decided to give each character an episode or two, we knew it was not going to be the same as before. But I loved the concept from when it was announced and in a handful of episodes (Namely Gob, Tobias and George Michael), it turned into a funnier show than the original run. In my opinion, Season 4 exceeded my personal expectations by once again creating a groundbreaking premise. I don’t think we’ll ever see a comedy as dense as Season 4 is. The legacy of the season—the way the writers could interweave jokes that don’t pay off until 10 episodes after the fact, the way they pay homage to past gags while finding subtle ways to reward those paying close attention—was handled with such delicately amid so much pressure that I’m truly impressed with the way it turned out.
Nick Harley: Honestly, I do not think the new episodes had any chance of living up to the hype. This is was one of those shows with a cult audience that spread the legend of Arrested Development by word of mouth and lending out DVD sets. When you view a show at home at your own luxury, you have the ability to watch and re-watch to your hearts content, gobbling up every inside joke and slight sight gag until you know the comedic beats of every episode. Also, time inadvertently makes you nostalgic. I’m not saying that Arrested Development isn’t the comedic behemoth that people make it out to be, but viewed in that sepia-filtered nostalgic light, we forget that the show’s initial run was not flawless all the time. I guess what I am trying to say is that the audience set the original run on a pedestal that was far too high with a hype that was way too great.
Another thing to take in to consideration is that the show really is not the same. I’m not saying that it’s a completely new premise trying discordant comedic styles, but when you cannot have the whole family together due to the tight schedules of the actors, it’s definitely going to change the feel of the show. Though the feel is different, I really think that creator Mitch Hurwitz has crafted something pretty unique. The way that all of the storylines intermingle and jokes that are set up in early episodes do not pay off until much later in the season makes for very deft, difficult and kind of genius comedy. Overall, I don’t think the new season lived up to the hype, but I don’t think it ever had any chance to. Yet, the new season was a successful comedic experiment that, despite moments of struggle, paid off and deserves to bear the Arrested Development name.
Was streaming all the episodes at once the right move? Did it contribute to some of the early negative reviews?
CL: This question is my way of criticizing the critics who pushed through all 15 episodes in less than a day. Patton Oswald tweeted the day of the release that Arrested Development is meant to be “savored” and he’d wait until the dust had settled to gorge on the Bluths. I took a similar path: watching one episode a day, and then re-watching it the next day. I found I missed plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle jokes. So how could critics NOT watch all these episodes consecutively, jotting down messy notes all red-eyed and come to the conclusion that the season didn’t deliver the goods?
Some people have the time and patience to sit and watch for hours and hours on end and good for them. Ultimately, if the episodes were released weekly, we’d only be halfway through the season by now. Instead of the media blitz that overtook the Internet after Memorial Day, Netflix could have milked this thing for everything it was worth. Every week for nearly four months, they could have seen the Google newsfeed flood with reviews, previews and giddy anticipation, the kind of press that Mad Men warrants each week.
The reviews that were up before I could even click the first episode had me discouraged. Netflix could have weathered some of the immediate negativity by forcing everyone to savor it. Despite how much instant gratification our society seems to demand these days, people weren’t going to quit Netflix if all the episodes were not immediately available. Netflix thinks it has this obligation to stay true to its original streaming format. But it’s what, three, four years old at this point? The book isn’t written on how content should be streamed; everyone is still feeling things out. It is hard to judge whether it was the wrong move for Netflix, because it seems like they’ll never stop releasing original content all at once and they won’t give us viewership numbers for AD.
So on to the real question: Was it the right move for viewers? Sure. We’re big boys; we can decide when we want to watch TV on our own. Nick and I watched it at a leisurely rate, but I would have gladly traded that to help people realize that the season was not mediocre like some hastily made it out to be.
NH: I think watching all of the new episodes in a marathon format is the wrong way to go, but I don’t exactly know because it is not how I watched. I just think that watching anything for around eight hours straight can be tiresome, especially a show like Arrested Development, which is so thick with jokes and gags. I feel like the whole experience would just be over stimulation. After a while you would turn yourself off to the funniness and possibly start viewing the show in an unfair, negative way. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we are supposed to broadcast every knee jerk reaction we have to Twitter and I think this is why so many people lashed out at the new season before really taking the time to digest it all.
I did feel slight disappointment after the first two episodes, but after rewatching them a second time, I had a greater appreciation. The way I viewed the season was by watching three episodes, then going back and rewatching those episodes before I moved on to the next three. It really helped me keep all the plot lines in my head, and when the show made a callback to a previous event, or when you would see a scene for the second time from a different character’s perspective, I was well aware of what was happening and I felt I connected to the moment in a greater way. Just like the original run of the series, repeat viewings are going to benefit Season 4.
The show’s guest stars and recurring characters helped make the original run so memorable. Which new guest stars shinned and which ones flopped?
CL: There are so many to pick from, but I’ll start with my favorite: Max Winkler as a young Barry Zuckercorn. “Take to the sea!” made the season for me, especially when the first few episodes started off slow. I felt that John Slattey, as disgraced anesthesiologist Dr. Norman, fit right in with some of the wacky cameos we saw in the past. Kristen Wiig had Lucille Bluth down to a science, which was a pleasure to watch. I felt teased for a while with the faint hints that Tony Wonder was going to appear and then he took over Gob’s second episode, setting the guest star bar higher than ever before.
As for the flops: At this point in Ed Helms’ career, I expected a lot more out of him than what we got. Seth Rogen really had no business playing a young George Sr. since he looks nothing like him and couldn’t really nail down his mannerisms to boot. But am I going to sit here and complain about a Seth Rogen cameo? No, because you have to relish anything he does. That’s just a fact.
NH: I mostly got a kick out of all of the new guest stars from this season. Even when it was a small part, like the Workaholics gang popping up at the airport in episode one, the guest stars really all brought their A-game. I wasn’t so fond of Tommy Tune’s run as Argyle Austero, but that wasn’t his fault. He was perfectly cast for the role; I just didn’t find the character or his place in the season to be anything special. As a Mad Men fanatic, I loved seeing John Slattery turn up as disgraced anesthesiologist Dr. Norman. He brought the wry sense of humor to the mix that he always nails as Roger Sterling in Mad Men.
Even the returning guest stars were pretty phenomenal. Andy Richter portraying the Richter brothers was really crucial to Season 4’s action, nor did it ever fail to earn a laugh. But, it was Ben Stiller who stole the show. I don’t think anyone expected Tony Wonder to play as large of a role in the season’s proceedings as he did, but boy am I thankful that Ben participated. Wonder and Gob’s fake/real/fake affair/friendship was the most ridiculous and hilarious thing to happen in Season 4.
For more disappointment though, I turn back to an Austero. I never found Liza Minnelli’s Lucile 2 that spectacular the first time around and it seems bizarre that the writers would beef up her role so much in the new season. It definitely was one of the odder choices that did not particularly work.
If you had to nominate one actor for critical recognition for Season 4, who would it be?
CL: The MVP award goes to Michael Cera. He was used sparingly early on, but he ended up having the most stable storyline with The Social Network parody and dating the same Rebel as his father. Plus how fucking cool is the name George Maharis? How can you not get laid with a name like that?
While Gob’s episodes brought the most laughs, Michael Cera showed that he could take the George Michael character and elevate him. In whatever future incarnation AD returns as, be it a movie or more seasons, George Michael will take over for his father as the focal point of the series. By the end of the season, I was tired of Michael’s same old song and dance about leaving the family, building up the company and generally trying to over-father his son. George Michael, as a newly confident man, is a new direction, or ANUSTART, for the series.
I feel bad for a past AD MVP, Jeffery Tambor, who was so influential in the success of the first three seasons, but was written into by far the worst storylines of the season. Of course, I can’t end this season review without mentioning George Sr.’s better half. Let’s take a second as we stand and applaud the fantastic and often overlooked Jessica Walter who re-introduced us to the ice queen Lucille Bluth. If anyone deserves an Emmy nom, it’s this 72-year old actress.
NH: Though Gob’s storyline had to be my favorite, I would have to go with the younger actors, Alia Shawkat and Michael Cera. Shawkat’s Maeby has always been the most mature member of the Bluth clan and since the show’s been off the air, her acting chops have only improved. You really feel the sense of neglect and loneliness that Maeby experiences from her parents and her storyline definitely has that same element of sadness behind it, which is interesting coming from Arrested Development.
The other person I give kudos to is Michael Cera. While watching the episodes proceeding George-Michael’s first stand-alone episode, I was really angry at George-Michael’s characterization. I was excited to see the naïve, shirt tucked in, innocent Bluth as a young adult, but was dismayed to see that the character had suddenly changed. George-Michael didn’t seem as awkward, eager to please, or as dim. It was if the character matured in the time off-screen with little to no explanation as to how. But then I got to George-Michael’s episode, where his sexual awakening in Spain and his dishonest Bluth awakening is widely showcased, exposing us to just how George-Michael could lie and blow off his Dad while pretending to be a hot-shot Internet millionaire. The transformation was skillfully explained, and Cera’s performance of an innocent’s first steps into deceit was beautifully executed.
Where should Arrested Development go from here? Another season? A Movie? Eternal death?
CL: As I wrote in the episode 15 review, Arrested Development is alive and well. With Netflix committing to a second season of the critically panned original series Hemlock Grove, as well as more than 300 hours of original children’s programming from DreamWorks, I have to think they are in a position to bring AD back if they desire it. From reading the tea leaves of the cast and crew interviews, I get sense that the talent prefers another season instead of a feature film. Now, if there were to be a film, which I doubt would be in theaters, but rather on either Netflix or a premium cable channel, are we really going to sort everything out within two hours?
It seems like Netflix is just about down for anything at this point. So, if the actors are game and Hurwitz has a hunger to expand this ridiculous comedy universe he’s crafted, then let it breathe in the form of another season. They filled in the seven-year gap with this season and it was a fun and enjoyable thing to watch. Now we can really see if AD can bring back some of the magic by having the cast come together as one. Whether their hectic schedules will allow it remains to be seen. In a perfect world I’d like to see AD return for at least one more season and let it end where it all began, as a TV show. That seems preferable to taking an unnecessary leap to the big screen.
Before we end this Q & A, I want to add one random thought in here. Where was the banana stand in Season 4? Of all the callbacks they used, you’d think we would have heard something about an aspect of the Bluth Company that was so vital in the original run. Maybe I completely missed it. If that’s the case, then it’s a beautiful thing that I can go back and pick up something new each time.
NH: Well, if we’re judging from a story standpoint, obviously there needs to be something more. The season ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, so the story is definitely not done. If I were deciding whether there should be new installments based on the merit of this season, then I would also say that there should be more. Given all the circumstances, and even some spottiness, the new season really was a lot of fun and well worth the watch. I would gladly free up some more time to spend with the Bluths.
Personally, I think that Mitch Hurwitz and the cast should try and craft another season. Yeah, it is difficult with all of their schedules, but considering where all the plot threads ended, I don’t think that they could all reach a neat conclusion in a two-hour movie. Another fifteen-episode season seems to be in order to wrap up all of the storylines that were started this season. THEN go on to create a movie that will serve as a swan song to Arrested Development that fittingly closes the book on the family’s story. Maybe the movie could focus on the development of the movie about their lives? Then the “development” in Arrested Development will have new meaning again!