So it finally came – the long-awaited season 4 of Arrested Development, the show that FOX cancelled 7 years ago. And to a lifelong fan (well, the “lifespan” of the show – I watched the pilot when it aired and followed the show religiously during it’s FOX run) the revival season on Netflix did not disappoint. I’m not an in-depth TV reviewer that took notes during every episode I watched, so I’ll stick with my general thoughts and bullet points on things I enjoyed about the run of 15 half-hour (plus) on-demand episodes.
First off, let’s talk about the new format. As a student of television, and television writing in particular, I had a strong curiosity about this new format. How will it work? Will it be confusing as a viewer? Will it work at all? To me, focusing each episode on one character is a very novel/book-like approach. And it’s not unheard of in TV land – it is essentially what Game of Thrones does, since it is adapted from the books, although they will include a handful of character scenes/chapters to fill out each episode. I think what gets a lot of people confused, or at least what I’ve read from reviewers and from friends in social media, is that it takes a while to get used to. It took me about 3 episodes until I was starting to enjoy and look for hints and setups/jokes for other episodes. That added to my enjoyment during my first viewing of these episodes. I haven’t re-watched any of them yet, but I am sure knowing the full range of story arcs and jokes will give me an added dimension on second viewing. But that’s something that had always been the case with this show. The writing, production and editing was always so dense that each episode was filled with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes and gags – references to previous episodes or hints at major plot points (think all the “hand” jokes hinting at Buster’s impending doom). The new format throws us as viewers for a loop because the narrative isn’t laid out for us on a sliver platter like we’re used to. But I think if you accepted that what you were currently watching may have jokes that won’t land until later, and trust Mitch Hurwitz and the writers’ vision, the whole character-based/pulp-fiction-esque chronology was worth it.
Okay, now let’s get into story. I guess here I can do the all-important *SPOILERS AHEAD* warning.
Looking back on the season as a whole, I was very engaged and pleased with the major story lines. A lot of them at first felt dark and depressing, seeing how far some of our favorite characters had fallen in the last 7 years, however I can appreciate some good dark humor. It’s something the show originally had a hint of, especially with the later episodes. In season 4, GOB’s and Tobias’ story lines come to mind as the more depressing ones – Tobias falling into drug issues (methadone, or should I say Method One) and GOB falling in with a Hollywood posse, never understanding his true role. I found both scenarios hilarious, especially Tobias’. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have comedic genius Maria Bamford assisting. Great to see two incredible stand-ups working together as actors in such a dysfunctional and ridiculous way. Throwing Tobias into constant health, and this time, legal peril is something the AD writers have always loved doing with the character, and the stakes get even higher in Season 4. Jailed numerous times while attempting to illegally impersonate Fantastic 4 characters out on Hollywood Blvd (a smart “in-joke” reference to struggling actors in this industry) and eventually having him arrested as a sex-offender whilst mistakingly attempting to meet with his daughter at the old model home. He’s not coloring himself blue anymore, but is still just as clueless and eager to both pursue an acting career and reconnect (or connect at all) with his daughter. I guess it was inevitable Tobias would end up as a registered sex offender. The scene at Cinco de Quatro where he repeats “I’m a registered sex offender” to passing children was great. And everything about the Fantastic 4 musical was great. One of my favorite new characters (at least in name) was Lucille Austero’s brother, Argyle Austero (whom we first meet wearing an argyle sweater, naturally). And the storyline culminating in Tobias once again getting on the wrong boat, a nod to the very first episode of the series. I loved how Tobias and Lindsay’s storylines followed each other and were interconnected. The whole conversations throughout the huge house scenes were among my favorite of the new season. And Tobias following Lindsay to India reminds us of season 2 when he was following her attempts to see other people. And ironically, in season 4 they both “successfully” find other people, only to find more trying circumstances. And more hilarity. Also, I’m trying really hard not to mention Portia de Rossi’s new “look” (commonly the only complaint I heard from friends in the past couple weeks.)
Onto GOB. First off, loved the Entourage parody of his episode, all the way through their favorite club – “And Jeremy Piven.” We got a new recurring/repeating GOB ringtone in his “Getaway Getaway” song, GOB’s bees are back, and the new motif of GOB’s slow-motion thousand-mile stares while Simon and Garfunkel play. Not to mention another epic, elaborate, failed “illusion” disguised as an ingenius way to avoid another marriage. Glad they didn’t forget about Ann (her?) although I will admit, still odd to actually see and hear her speak (felt that way as her original storyline progressed through seasons 2 and 3). His later “gay” bromance storyline with Tony Wonder was also great – both men pretending to be gay in order to get back at each other, but simultaneously struggling with feelings sparked for each other during the budding friendship. Also great to see Wonder with Sally Sitwell – obviously the two actors are married in real life (sadly unlike GOB’s original significant other both on the show and in real life, Amy Poehler and her seal-training wife character). Tony over-explaining his intentions as a cheap ploy to give backstory was also great, calling himself out on doing it. And the reveal that HE is the “sort of famous” person GOB was dating, tying in with the Michael storyline of finding out who the “other guy” in Rebel’s life is.
That brings me to Michael – one thing I think Season 4 did awell was revealing to us is that Michael, always deemed the “best” Bluth, is actually no better than the rest of them. And when you think back on the first 3 seasons, that still rings true to a point. Season 4 shows us that even he couldn’t manage to make Sudden Valley a success, (although it certainly was a perfect living situation for Tobias and the other sex offenders) he overstays his welcome with his son at college, and eventually resorts to pulling favors from the family to get a movie about them made ALL to impress a girl. Oh and the kicker – withholds the knowledge that he and George Michael are dating the same girl in an attempt to drive Rebel away from his son, so he can win her. I mean, Isla Fischer is attractive – but pulling the rug out from your son’s seemingly happy relationship so you can reap the benefits? (Her!) Shameful. But if you’ll remember, It’s a character trait we’ve seen from him before when it was brother vs. brother for the same girl – Marta. GOB and Michael always had a healthy(?) competition with the same women, and the red herring of Season 4 was that history was repeating itself. But to Michael’s surprise, it was George Michael (or should I say George Maharis) who was sharing the same woman. I found the drastic change in GM and Michael’s relationship was a very compelling part of Season 4. This was a relationship that always had a strong, wholesome core that was the emotional foundation for the show (and why we still rooted for this family). And now as their lives move in different ways, the relationship gets strained, and one party hurts the other (anonymous eviction vote that goes awry) and then the other party tries to distance himself, only to seek his emotional revenge once they begin to reconnect. I think it was brilliant storytelling, and if you watched the first 3 seasons (over and over and over and over like I did) this change in relationship affects us as viewers the most, since it had always been the moral fabric of the show. We’re left with a relationship that’s more like the one George Michael had with GOB, after stealing Ann from him (and hitting him in response to learning about it). And it sets up a potential major plotline for the upcoming movie (or more Netflix episodes? Hey, I know as little as the rest of us do about what’s really happening). If the Bluth mantra of “family first” was the glue that held the family together in seasons 1-3, 7 years of wear and tear has started to rip a hole through that philosophy. Clearly, we’re not done yet.
Apart from the George Michael conflict, Michael’s episodes brought some great comedy involving his attempt to “produce” the movie about his family. We got the “B Team,” consisting of Andy Richter, Warden Gentles (James Lipton and his iPad) and of course Carl Weathers. Great cameo by Conan in that episode, with the dig on Andy’s failed TV career and the joke about how he treats his women “writers.” Also the season-long recurring joke of the returning Richter “quintuplets,” all being mistaken for each other and all having important roles in various points in the season. One of the better ones being Andy’s brother Rocky(?) getting “Andy’s biggest laugh of his career” while impersonating Andy on Conan’s show. We got the recurring jokes about Ron Howard and Imagine – Ron’s moon-lander prop from the fake moon landing, the rivalry with cross-the-street Bruckheimer productions, the various Opie/Andy Griffith references, how Ron never recognized Michael whenever he ran into him. Then of course, we are left with the scene of Ron and Brian Glazer watching the news report of Lucille 2’s murder and Buster being the prime suspect – excited by the fact that Buster was the only remaining Bluth family member who’s contract Michael hadn’t ripped up (“you’re OUT OF THE MOVIE!”) Another jumping off point for the next chapter(s) of this revival.
All in all, I was very please with my first viewing of Season 4. While at time it felt odd or out-of-place watching these familiar characters in unfamiliar situations (one scene in particular – when Tobias goes with Michael to Ron Howard’s office, screamed “Funny or Die” video to me. Not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.) I enjoyed the watching experience and look forward to re-watching these episodes to find the easter eggs and additional setups/punchlines I missed on first viewing. And at the end, I am very eager to see where they go next – be it a movie, another Netflix season, or the combination of both. I’m just glad we get to see more of this crazy family, and I’m glad they didn’t “ruin” the franchise I’ve always considered my favorite comedy of all time.
Some additional thoughts/favorite bits during the season (to steal a formatting choice made by EVERY OTHER TV REVIEWER ON THE INTERNET) :
- TV news anchor John Beard’s career arc – he was the news anchor during the first 3 seasons on FOX, as he was (still is?) the actual local FOX news anchor for Orange County. This season, since they were making an effort (all shrouded in jokes) to distance themselves from FOX – his TV career takes him to different venues up until the newly-minted “Imagine News,” a great way to get him on a production company-named entity again. That’s one thing I’ll be looking closely at when I rewatch – if he is in fact on a different network every time we see him on TV.
- George Michael and Michael’s voicemail phone-tag bit – pretending they were in the same traffic jam, but both coming up with reasons why they couldn’t prove to the other that they were in fact, in traffic. It eventually becomes a veiled allegory for their strained relationship.
- Michael’s trouble with technology, specifically his iPhone calendar being stuck in 2006. (When the show went off the air! Get it??!?!?)
- Buster dancing on the security cameras. More Buster dancing, please.
- Jeff Garlin getting stuck through a window with the “Curb your Enthusiasm” music playing.
- All those cameos – John Slattery! John Krasinski! Mary Lynn Rajskub! Lennon Parham! Ben Schwartz! Zach Woods! (UCB ftw!) And great casting for young Barry Zuckerkorn by getting Henry Winkler’s actual son, Max! “Take to the sea!”
- Maritime Law being a real thing, and Lucille’s trial being held in a clam shack before happy hour.
- The eventual reveal that NONE of the Bluth’s made it to the trial, except for too-late-arriving Buster, who gets one last earful of motherly love from Lucille.
- I did remember enjoying the George episode, but aside from the Slattery/Rajskub cameos, can’t pick out any good bullet point from it. But after the 1-episode new format baptism of the first episode, George’s provided some much-needed laughs for me, helping me realize that everything was going to be okay. I just needed some lemonade.
I’m sure there’s stuff I missed. I’ll maybe add more tidbits on my second viewing. Let me know what you thought, if you so choose, in the comments! That’s still a thing!
If this post inspired you to watch some Arrested Development, be it the new ones or old, and you’re too lazy to make the extra effort yourself – here’s a quick Netflix link.