Now that Arrested Development season 4 is available on Netflix, it's time to to celebrate the return of the Bluths by giving a spoiler-free review of the entire season, as well as tipping you off to a few of the “issues” you might come across while trying to absorb all 15 episodes.
This new season of Arrested Development is an extremely ambitious tale that brings together the fan-favorite characters of the series in what is, essentially, a 15-episode inclusive story. The overall storyline for the season isn't as enjoyable as many would like to see from a show’s return after 6 years, but it is a serviceable tale (albeit awkwardly presented) and is a significantly better showing than what any Arrested Development movie could provide. What’s more, the unique manner in which this season is structured makes for a new experience upon repeat viewing.
What’s interesting about this season is its (likely accidental) barrier for entry. As if it’s mirroring the conditions which originally caused Arrested Development to be canceled, audiences are once again tested on their approach to the series. If watching one or two episodes is your barometer for measuring the quality - or lack thereof - of the series’ return, then you're kind of dismissing the series yet again, based not on what it excels at – narrative storytelling, callbacks, references and, most importantly, previously established storylines – but likely based on what you believe or remember the show to be, after having been able to watch all 68 original episodes, whenever or however you like. However, the new structure of character-specific episodes will make such knee-jerk reactions a challenge to overcome.
This new approach to storytelling has a tendency early on to make for an awkward, inclusive viewing experience. Even though the characters do, technically, exist in the same universe, it quickly becomes apparent which characters you will and will not see in each episode, which can be a bit frustrating when you first begin watching the season. Thankfully, the characters interact more as the episodes progress, and the absences early on will quickly be forgotten. However, the entire seasonal storyline is too large to fully remember (at least in one viewing), which makes it feel as if you've been a part of an impressively large, though not ideal, tale involving the Bluths. Still, there are times when curiosity will have to take over for whatever anticipation is lost along the way - at least until things "pick up" further into the episode count.
When it comes to viewing the new season, watching all 15 episodes is not a requirement to enjoy the entire season; however, for those who may feel as if things are a bit “off” at first, here’s a bit of advice: That feeling is likely the result of a lack of context and the forced perspective that early episodes restrict you to. Luckily, this aspect largely fades away as more of the entire seasonal story is revealed. (Episode 4 is good place to judge your feelings about the new season, as this is where the first “easy to follow” storyline is introduced.)
Almost every memorable character from the show’s past returns in true form for the new season, along with a long list of celebrity cameos. Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogan are the first new faces to appear, and their inclusion is largely representative of the range in quality of this season’s appearances. Wiig, as young Lucille, is a dead-on impression of the familiar character, while Seth Rogan’s George Sr. is pretty much Seth Rogen with a mustache and wig. As such, the cameos can, at times, feel out of place and unnecessary – but there are many instances of cameos (like Conan O’Brien’s) which fit in perfectly with the story at hand and help to elevate the overall "Arrested Development “experience.”
Originally, the new season was going to be structured in way where viewers would be able to seamlessly jump from character to character by simply selecting their specific episode(s) after they appeared in someone else’s episode. Suffice to say, this type of editing was a bit too far-reaching for even Imagine’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, so we’re left with the remains of that endeavor. What does result from their ambitious editorial attempt, however, is an extremely intriguing execution of a seasonal tale, which implores viewers to continue until the end, and largely rewards those who do.
But after waiting 6 years for Arrested Development to return, the ability to re-watch season 4 is a big question, and one that largely answers itself by the time you’ve finished all of the episodes. After the credits roll on episode 15, you now have knowledge about what’s actually going on, which allows you to quickly jump back into episode 1 for an entirely new viewing experience, if you so choose. Basically, it's The Sound and the Fury of comedic sitcoms - which some hardcore viewers will greatly appreciate.
With all that being said, Arrested Development season 4 is also like any television show, and there are issues that arise throughout this new season. After being off the air for so long, actors' age and hair styles change (Lindsay), yet the cast still seamlessly slips back into their roles as if season 3 happened just last year. Sure, the structure of each episode and its way of storytelling is different, but at its heart it’s Arrested Development, through and through. Though the first few episodes may make many feel otherwise, but by the end you’ll be ready to watch more – and thanks to way this season is structured, you’ll be able to.
Arrested Development season 4 is now available on Netflix.