It is the moment we have been waiting on for several years. Arrested Developement is back and the Bluth family has returned to make us cringe, laugh, and question the television executives that canceled the series back in the day. Obviously things are a bit different now and we have a lot to catch up on. Luckily, Netflix partnered up with Mitch Hurwitz, the creator, to release 15 episodes all at once at 12pm Pacific Standard Time on May 26th, 2013. It’s a bold move as the episodes for the most part concentrate on a specific timeline and looks at the different perspectives of the Bluth family so really, it’s one mega episode. The question is, does it work? Yes and no. Regardless, let the great experiment begin!
It’s safe to say that most of us know what the story of the Bluth family is but let’s recap for nostalgia’s sake. We last left the Bluths when Michael (Jason Bateman) left with his son George Michael (Michael Cera) as the police descended on the Queen Mary at the end of season 3 to arrest his family. Again. The story picks up by fast forwarding to today and the Cinco de Cuatro celebration (a ploy by George and Lucille to curb the Cinco de Mayo celebration by destroying all the party favors for the next day…it obviously backfired) and how the Bluth family got to the present day. Michael lives in his son’s dorm, George (Jeffrey Tambor) and Lucille (Jessica Walter) are getting a divorce while Lucille is under house arrest, Buster (Tony Hale) and Gob (Will Arnett) just float through life, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and Tobias (David Cross) have gone their separate ways as well, and Maeby (Alia Shawkat) still looks for ways to get their attention. Anyways, the family all gathers together (albeit, in different spots and times) to partake in the festivities of lowest points and Fantastic 4 musicals. Again, it takes 15 episodes to have to all play out in a Rashomon-style fashion, where we get different perspectives and have all the stories intertwine and have different intersecting points. I imagine this is how X-Men: Days of Future Past will turn out but I digress.
Here’s the great part about Arrested Development: It’s back. We get to experience all the dysfunctional and hilarious nature the Bluth family brings us. Whether it’s ill-worded license plates or plans that go awry, it’s just fun to see them back together causing shenanigans as they go about their lives. Granted, they also aren’t together. Almost at all during the entire 15-episode run. Yes, they may end up in the same places but there’s only one real scene that they all interact together in and that plays out over multiple episodes. Therein lies the big conundrum of this season, there are no big family interactions. Whether it’s by script or just the actor’s busy schedules, they actors only tend to interact with a certain group of players and are really just multiple groups that stay in their own storyline. I think the best episodes are when all the characters are mixed up together and randomness occurs. The story line feels very linear, especially in the first few episodes, where it feels like it’s exposition to get the characters into places before the story really begins to take off.
It’s also interesting to note that the series plays heavy into the recurring guest stars as Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli), Ron Howard (double duty as the narrator and actor) and Isla Fisher (Rebel Alley) seem to figure more prominently than some of the main actors. Granted, it works for the most part as they all do a great job in connecting the story but the stunt casting does distract from time to time as it becomes more a game of, “Hey, I hope X and Y show up for a cameo!” Regardless, I wanted more of the leads playing in the sandbox with one another as opposed to just showing up just to tie the endless amount of threads linking all the stories together.
I will say the story does finally hit it’s stride once we get to Tobias. Can I add that David Cross is a genius in delivery and making Tobias a character for the ages? The way he’s able to make Tobias so naive and clueless just makes his scenes the best ever. His license plate says it all alone. His and Gob’s story are probably my favorites to follow because the idea of a Fantastic Four musical and an Entourage parody and Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) revenge story just make it all the more enjoyable. The series is meant to be processed multiple times and viewings so having it on Netflix at all once works out perfectly. Although I can imagine that while frowned upon by Mitch Hurwitz, watching in a binge marathon worked for me. Maybe it’s my ADD but seeing it all play out and being able to draw from previous episodes as one continuous arc makes it for a great pay off once the jokes become clearer. Yeah, it’s still a bit long but the payoff becomes worth it once you get past the first few episodes that are chock full of exposition.
I will say that it feels like it sets up for another television season and we would love to get another one. I have no clue how a movie would factor in but I think the series is made for television because there’s just so much material to deal with. Netflix is a great format for this series as everything works together and allows a viewer to instantly reference back to previous episodes. I think if this came out one week at a time, there might be some people giving up because the payoff on jokes sometimes doesn’t arrive until episodes later. This is strictly a love letter to Arrested Development fans. Will it pick up new fans? I don’t think so but if anything, it might make them more aware of the first 3 seasons and maybe they’ll experience the genius there from the beginning. I liked this season 4 a lot and it feels weird to gripe about certain things and maybe expectations are too high but there are still great things to enjoy this season and it’s worth checking out.