Sunday, May 26, 2013

It’s Back! But Season Four Of Arrested Development Is Hardly Great.

The Good: Wonderful character development/progression, Great in-jokes
The Bad: Very different tone (to start out with).
The Basics: With fifteen episodes, Netflix returns Arrested Development with the entire original cast but short on the charm that made the first three seasons a classic.

When it was announced that Arrested Development (reviewed here!) was being given a fourth season, I was working at a blogging job for a small computer company. In the days that followed the announcement, Netflix revealed that its subscriber base had abruptly increased. I recall writing about how it was incredible that the loyal fan base of Arrested Development would show support for the preproduction by subscribing years ahead of the programs actual release. Today, I find myself wondering what will happen tomorrow. With Season Four of Arrested Development dropping in a single fifteen episode block on Netflix (an event my wife and I enjoyed partaking of beginning at 3 A.M. this morning), I wonder how long that fan base will stick with Netflix. It seemed to me like a tactical miscalculation to release the entire season all at once instead of drawing the season out in order to actually keep those subscribers.

My musings on the relationship between Netflix and Arrested Development is a valid one, but it is also a delaying tactic. The delay comes from not wanting to (inevitably) lose the readers who stop reading after they see the line, “it’s enjoyable, but it lacks the spark that Arrested Development had originally.” Because Season Four has to figure out where all the characters have been since the previous season’s finale, it spends a great deal of time re-establishing characters and filling in the plot and character developments from the past few years and telling new viewers what the loyal fans already know (“Stan Sitwell suffered from alopecia . . .”).

That is not to say that season four is without charm. Mary Lynn Rajskub joins George Sr.’s storyline as a silent character named Heart Fire, who is subtitled hilariously and there is quite a bit of humor pertaining to the housing market collapse in the late 2000’s. The appearance of the cast of Comedy Central’s Workaholics (season 1 reviewed here!) as airport personnel, the watermarks on the screen for all footage from the prior three seasons (“Showstealer Pro Trial Version“), and in-jokes to the original series (like Lindsay wearing the blouse from the first episode) are all cute, but there is nothing in this season as distinctive as “There’s always money in the banana stand” or “No touching!” In other words, it has moments where it is good, but the new version of the show is hardly as distinctive or fresh as it originally was (though “Three does sound bigger” came close). The refreshing aspect of Season Four of Arrested Development is that, after a clunky start, it does get better so that by the longer episode “Red Hairing” the show is actually funny and fun again.

Flashing back to the final episode of Season Three, the fourth season of Arrested Development is built around how none of the members of the Bluth family showed up for Lucille’s hearing in maritime court. The episodes then work up to all of the characters converging on the Quatro De Mayo harbor celebration!

After indebting himself to Lucille Austero and missing his mother’s hearing in maritime court, Michael Bluth finishes the Sudden Valley housing development and when it goes bust, he moves in with George Michael in his son’s college dorm room before fleeing to Pheonix. George Sr. flees to the Mexican border after buying property there to try to sell to the U.S. government to use to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants. After Lindsay goes to India on a spiritual retreat, she and Tobias buy a mini-mansion in 2006 and end up at a Methadone Clinic (Tobias thinks it’s “Method One Clinic”) where Lindsay meets Mark Bark, the son of Johnny Bark, the guy she once spent time with in a tree. Tobias ends up as methadone addict and actor while Michael goes to work for Imagine Entertainment. G.O.B. pops up, having started an unsuccessful Christian magic act before George Sr. asks Michael to give him a job. The episodes build up to the hearing and then deals with the aftermath, building up to the Quatro de Cinco and the aftermath of the collapse of Herbert Love’s campaign.

Opening with “Flight Of The Phoenix,” Michael Bluth finds himself in debt to Lucille Austero to the tune of $700,000. After debasing himself with her, he flees to the old model home he and G.O.B. uses a roofie on him. Six months prior that forgetful Quatro de Mayo, Michael was attending the University Of Phoenix while living in George Michael’s college dorm room at UC Irvine. George Michael, his new roommate and Maeby (posing as George Michael’s boyfriend) vote Michael out of the room and he flees to Phoenix, as he has long threatened to do.

“Borderline Personalities” picks up the story of George Sr. and his twin brother, Oscar where the pair is working on fleecing executives in a sweat lodge on the border of California and Mexico. The complicated scheme – whereby Oscar and George swap positions between a sweat lodge and an “inspirational classroom” type situation to get money out of the CEOs – is how George Sr. is avoiding of government questioning after stealing Stan Sitwell’s border wall contract out from under him!

A particularly humorless episode, “Indian Takers” tells the story of how Lindsay ended up in Shuturmurg, India on a mystical journey that ends up in a shopping trip. Returning to the U.S., she trades positive testimony at Lucille’s hearing for a house with Tobias and a fling with Mark Bark. She finds herself on an ostrich farm, missing Lucille’s hearing.

“The B. Team” returns to Michael’s story as he gets a producing credit in Beverly Hills as he goes to work for Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. Loaded with in-jokes and the return of Kitty Sanchez, this episode follows Michael’s quest to get his father to sign his life rights to the project in order to make it happen. Along the way, he assembles a creative team with Warden Gentles, Carl Weathers, and Andy Richter in a pretty righteous lampooning of the Hollywood “creative process.” And he starts dating a mysterious woman who turns out to be the most obvious person possible given the set-up . . .

In “A New Start,” opens with Tobias getting entrapped on a local To Catch A Predator television show and is flashed back to how he went to India! After fracturing his skull in three places, Tobias ends up in City Of Hopelessness Hospital in India! Returning to the United States, Tobias recommits to being an actor and ends up working with Debrie where he tries to make money having his picture taken as the Thing while Debrie goes as the Invisible Woman and the two get repeatedly arrested and fined.

George Sr.’s story is picked up in “Double Crossers.” George Sr. works to aid Republican Herbert Love. After effectively bribing the politician, George discovers that Oscar’s land is not actually on the border. Oscar, posing as George convinces Lucille to send G.O.B. to work on the border. When that does not work out, G.O.B. comes to work for Michael trying to sell the units in Sudden Valley.

Gob’s story comes out in “Collony Collapse.” Before the Queen Mary sailed, George Michael attacks Gob when he finds out his uncle is dating Ann Veal. After deflowering Ann, Gob tries to break up with her (the funniest line of the season comes in this episode when Gob sees a print of Jesus), but ends up engaged to her. When he gets out of the engagement, he falls in with a youth entourage and he almost gets them all killed.

“Red Hairing” catches up with Lindsay in the desert working on the ostrich farm with Marky Bark and their ostrich. After Lindsay finds a check for a facelift from Lucille to Maeby, she goes with Marky to commit an act of nonviolent protest against Herbert Love. The disaster reunites Lindsay and Maeby. It also puts Lindsay in the position to be Herbert Love’s mistress.

Tobias returns to the forefront in “Smashed.” After a stint in prison, is registered as a sex offender (unjustly), and goes to work at Lucille 2’s Austerity rehab clinic. There, he is reunited with DeBrie and begins staging a Fantastic 4 musical. In order to advance that project, Tobias has to meet with Ron Howard and that leads to a catastrophe in the making.

At long last, Lucille gets an episode of her own in “Queen B.” Flashing back to fleeing the S.E.C., Lucille tries to use Buster for her alibi. When he does not come through, she is sentenced to three to five years at a very light security prison. There she joins a Chinese gang that is willing to finance the wall on the Mexican border and gets transferred to Austerity.

“A New Attitude” refocuses on Gob. Committed now to destroying Tony Wonder, he tries to get Michael and his son Steve Holt to help him ruin Tony Wonder. After signing his rights away for the movie, he has George Michael come with him to the Gothic Castle where he actually has a conversation with Tony Wonder and comes up with a new revenge scheme.

Maeby’s years are accounted for in “Senoritas.” After trying to get her parent’s attention, she flunks out of high school, briefly works for Imagine Entertainment, gets fired and goes through high school for five years. After a brief scare where she is worried she will be exposed by an undercover cop at high school, she pimps out her mother and helps George Michael start his own internet company.

“It Gets Better” fleshes out George-Michael’s five years. Right before his software company launches, he was in a band, becomes an exchange student and creates a software that is not what other people think it is.

At long last, the final Bluth gets his episode when Buster is the focus of “Off The Hook.” Flashing back to Buster getting cut off from Lucille, he goes a bit crazy and simulates having her around, but after a night of juice, he gets a juice hangover and misses Lucille’s hearing. After trying to make a go of his relationship with Lucille 2, he re-enlists in the Army as a drone pilot and after an injury is given a new (oversized) hand to replace his hook. He is given an anti-bullying badge and falls in with Herbert Love’s wife, Ophelia. On Cinco De Cuatro (sic), Lucille Austero reveals the truth of her manipulations of Buster to him.

The season finale is “Blockheads” and it opens with George-Michael and resolves the relationship he has with Rebel and has all of the main characters colliding at Herbert Love’s campaign event . . . with all of the self-serving characters focusing on their own stuff.

Like the series that preceded it, Arrested Development includes a wealth of guest stars. In addition to familiar recurring guest stars like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley Jr. and Judy Greer, the fourth season of Arrested Development has cameos by Alan Tudyk, Ben Stiller (he shows up for a shot in a print ad, several background shots and two decent exchanges in a later episode!), Mae Whitman, and Scott Baio. Isla Fisher has a decent recurring role as Rebel and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s Heart Fire steals the scenes she is in. John Slattery’s Doctor Norman also becomes a memorable supporting character. Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig open the new season exceptionally well as younger versions of George and Lucille.

The main cast is incredible. Given that all of the main performers return and they are great in returning to their familiar characters. Portia de Rossi looks unfortunately gaunt at the outset of the season and Mae Whitman fails to look as plain as Ann Veal originally did. But they perform their characters flawlessly and in a familiar way. Jessica Walter is given the best chance to show serious range when the show finally focuses on her. When Lucille has to illustrate complex human emotions, she sells it at least as much as she has previously sold her character’s loathsome indifference to everyone and everything. Will Arnett and David Cross get to perform opposite one another and their time together on The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret (season 1 is reviewed here!) clearly paid off as they are given more scenes together this season and they play off one another incredibly well. For most of this season, the performers look like they are having fun and they play their characters well.

The biggest danger of watching Arrested Development Season 4 as a fan is that one will spend the episodes gleefully pointing out connections between these episodes and the prior ones. By the time I recognized the waitress from a first season episode where Lucille did not understand her question, my wife began glaring at me (you can’t talk over the new episodes of Arrested Development!).

Arrested Development is a welcome show to get new episodes and the fourth season might start a little rockier than fans might want, but it builds up to the logical concluding point and it peaks in the middle well, making it well worth watching and getting Netflix for . . . even if for only this month. In fact, it is executed so well that it feels far more fresh than it actually is (the main plotline between Michael and George Michael was actually done in the first season), though it progresses the characters fans knew and loved. Season Four is more than enough to hold fans over until the movie is released and fans successfully get a fifth season.

For other continuations of once-cancelled shows, please visit my reviews of:
Family Guy - Volume Three
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales


For other television reviews, please visit my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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