Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4 Review

After years of anticipation of an Arrested Development film, this past weekend we were given a fourth season of the series.  The show was picked up by NetFlix, and the producers took full advantage of  the online format.  

Almost certain for budgetary and scheduling reasons, each episode of the season focuses on an individual character. In one of the most ambition seasons of program I've ever seen, the events of each episode happen at the same time.  With each character they tell us what that person has been up to since the end of the previous season (7 years ago), and all of their stories end at an event called Cinco De Quatro.  As the season progresses the stories start to intertwine, and we realize what we thought we saw was entirely incorrect.

Things are wacky as ever, but more complicated and confusing than ever.  With the new format the story lines become very confusing at times, and the timeline is virtually impossible to follow.  However, complicated plots and call backs are one of the things Arrested Development is know for.  The show is just as funny as ever, and it's great to see these actors playing these characters again.  Unfortunately at times their ambition out shines their ability.  


While overall I enjoyed season four, there were a number of big issues.

First off, by having each episode focus on individual characters, it makes each episode feel like a spin-off staring a different member of the cast.  To some extent, you really could watch most of these episodes as if they were the pilot to a different spin-off. Since the previous seasons focused so much on the ensemble, the shows relational dynamic is hurt.  There are very few scenes in the entire season which feature the entire family.  This gives the show a different feeling.

The biggest problem with the new format is that not all of the characters are interesting enough to carry an entire episode.  Episodes starring George Sr. or Lucille struggle to be funny or compelling.  Those characters work best when they're interacting with their family.  So when they're off on their own, they're not much fun to watch.  

With the new format, it also takes the season several episodes to really get going.  After the first three episodes I was scared they'd really dropped the ball on the season. However, in episodes four things changed drastically.  They started to find their comedic groove.  Likewise, since so much of the show's humor is based on callbacks, twists of perspective, and plot twists, the season takes several episodes of setup for things to start working.  I've already started re-watching the season, and the early episodes work better on second viewing.

Lastly, the season has far too many cameos.  When they make those cameos ironic and focus on meta-humor, they work really well.  However, too many cameos are far too forced.  In particular, the younger version of two characters are re-cast with celebrity cameos. The end result is both confusing and pretty awful.  One person makes no effort to act like the person they're playing, and the other simply comes off as parody.


Once the season gets going it becomes very clear the writers haven't skipped a beat on the humor.  It's just as funny and clever as ever.  These actors are great in these roles.

As I mentioned before, this is possibly the most ambitious season of a TV series I've ever seen.  The original concept for the season was to have one episode per character and they could be watched in any order.  Late in the game the creator admitted he was unable to pull it all together.  This is slightly disappointing, but the end result is still rather remarkable.

I can't imagine a scenario where this season could have worked on a network.  The plot is so twisted and interconnected, there's on way you can follow the plot watching one episode per week for 15 weeks.  This season opens the potential for all kinds of new story telling on television.


Season 4 of manages to remain as funny as ever, but it doesn't feel entirely right.  Instead of feeling like a fourth season of the show, it feels like 10 spin-off shows which all happen to have the same plot and cast.   It's unfortunate they were unable to reach their lofty ambitions. I'm glad they aimed high and came a little short rather than simply setting the bar low.

In the end, this is a comedy show, and I thought it was funny.  

RATING - 8 out of 10

But that’s just one man's opinion.  

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