Review: Arrested Development (Season 4 on Netflix)
PLOT: The continuing misadventures of the Bluth family, as they find themselves wrapped up in various plots, including a scam to erect a wall separating the US and Mexico, and the machinations of the family's many foes.
REVIEW: The return of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was something I was both looking forward to and dreading. Being such a huge fan of the show, obviously I was hungry for more, but what if it came back and wasn't as good as I remembered? Having been sidelined by a nasty bug earlier this week, I ended up sinking my teeth into this new season of fifteen episodes at a much more reasonable pace than I had planned. Having watched the whole thing I can say that despite a couple of iffy spots, on the whole this new season of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is about as good as a I hoped it would be.
The fourth season takes a bit of getting used to, as the energy of the show is totally different with the season really unfolding as a kind of seven-hour movie, following each character as they get from the end of season three- when Lucille tried to escape to sea on the hijacked Queen Mary- to a dramatic “Cinco de Quatro” celebration five years later. All of this will presumably lead into either an ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT movie, or another Netflix season (the latter seems more probable).
By having each episode follow a single character (likely the result of a bunch of busy actors schedules), the ensemble dynamic of the show is gone, and all nine characters are only briefly together onscreen. Many of them show up in each others episodes (everyone gets two, except Lucille, Maeby, and Buster- who get one each), so you get to see at least two of three of them together at a time, but having the show presented this way takes some getting used to (Jason Bateman is the only one who's in almost every episode). Some characters, especially Buster (Tony Hale), are sidelined for huge chunks of the season, and some, while funny in small doses seem ill-at-ease carrying whole episodes. The longer 30-35 minute running times also initially feel a little drawn out at first, although by the end each episode is packed with so much ground to cover, it's a surprise they weren't longer.
I won't say that the season doesn't have a few duds, and I must admit that as much as I love Jeffrey Tambor, his two solo episodes weren't all that great, despite a part for MAD MEN's John Slattery as a stoned Dr. Feelgood-type. Characters like George and Lucille should probably stay peripheral, as they're too knowingly diabolical to really be able to invest a lot of time in as leads, even if they're often hilarious in smaller doses.
The show picks up steam big time around episode three, which follows Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and also brings David Cross' Tobias Funke back into the picture in a big way. From here, the show really starts to feel like the old ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT again, and Tobias' two episodes, which follow him as he tries to mount a musical version of FANTASTIC FOUR, are brilliant. The two Gob (Will Arnet) episodes are also particularly funny, following him as he joins an ENTOURAGE-style clique (with his d-bag handle being “Getaway”) to his later rivalry with Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller is just one of the dozens of big-name cameos) and more. Of the fifteen episodes, I'd say only two or three are downright bad, while the others range from good to often absolutely great. The entire cast is as good as they ever were, and all of the new cast members, from Chris Diamantopoulos as Lindsay's face-blind love interest, DeBrie Bardeaux as Tobias' “method-one” friend, to a great Isla Fisher and Ron Howard (more than just a narrator this time) are spot-on.
Fifteen episodes later, I feel the need to re-watch the entire season again immediately, as any devotee of this show can tell you each episode needs to be watched numerous times to really pick up on the running jokes and plots. I'm also amazed at how- despite it's labyrinthine plotting- the season remained relatively easy to follow. Coming back after seven years with a season as strong as this is a real accomplishment for creator Mitch Hurwitz and his entire crew. As the season ends with a ton of plot lines dangling, one can only hope it won't take another seven years before the Bluth's comeback, but I'm thinking they may have found a good home on Netflix.