6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why They’re Dumb

Arrested Development25 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

Multiple review outlets have reached the conclusion that the new fourth season of Arrested Development, which follows a nearly decade-long absence, was a misfire, a failure to match the heights of the series’ previous three seasons. Several of these reviewers have reached this conclusion without actually reaching the conclusion of the season—they were meeting deadlines for their various publications and didn’t have time to get through the whole thing, which wasn’t released for critics in advance.

The problem with this is that perhaps more than any television season that has come before, this season of Arrested Development is really one singular cohesive piece of work that is divided into sections. TV shows are commonly split up into episodes, but this usually results in a series of standalone sections that eventually combine into what becomes regarded as a season. In the case of this show, we have a season that functions more like a really long movie, or maybe a novel, with divisions used to shift perspective and offer breaks in the story. But there’s still one story here, and conceiving it in terms of individual episodes would be like stopping after every chapter of Pulp Fiction to write 1000 words about it. It’s better when you take it as a whole.

This is a wildly new format for a show that was anything but conventional when it first appeared on televisions ten years ago. Just as they did back then, Mitch Hurwitz and his team continue to push the envelope of comedy, breaking rules and upending expectations. While there are plenty of good reviews of the new season, the ones dominating the conversation around the show are the ones insisting that the show is “flawed.” The issue with this vague assessment is that many of the aspects identified as flaws could easily be conceived as the new season’s greatest strengths.

Here are 6 so-called flaws writers have identified in the newest season of Arrested Development. In my view, they have about as much to them as the inside of a Bluth model home.

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1) It’s soooooo boring!

Arrested Development21 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

It is of chief importance that we remember what watching Arrested Development was like from the outset. In that first season, in the very first couple of episodes, during the first time watching them ever, the jokes did not land all that well. The tone felt somehow off, as though the clever intentions were all too visible and the payoffs to the jokes were not as triumphant as the show seemed to think they were. When we think of Arrested Development now, most of us have a sense of the show that we’ve attained through multiple viewings of all three seasons, and many more discussions and musings with fellow fans, reminding each other of the countless gags, storylines and bits of dialogue that floored us. But each new episode was not always immediately beloved or accessible (even the fact that season 3 is lumped in with the previous two now is remarkable, considering the objections people had to it at the time). Such was the nature of the layered stories and jokes. You can’t get the whole thing the first time. That’s why we liked it so much, remember?

Not everyone remembers, because their response to the first three episodes was one of skepticism or even cynicism, being bored by the story and unimpressed by the humor. Watching the season a second time, though, it becomes immediately apparent that many of the moments that seemed slow or as though nothing was happening only seemed that way because we lacked context. With the full story at our disposal, complete with some recall of the punchlines that were to come, those first three episodes, especially the first one, are just as hilarious and compelling as the season’s latter half. There’s no reason to have any interest in Michael seeing a redhead in the hallway in episode one and saying “Gentlemen, start your engines,” and so this seems like a superfluous moment, throwing off the tight pacing and meaningfulness of every detail that we remember from the original series. But when we actually learn the meaning of that moment later in the season, it takes on a new meaning and becomes a hilarious detail.

One thing that is a guaranteed bore is the common trope, applied throughout popular culture, that “the original was better.” Good criticism is adaptable.

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2) It’s just not as funny as before!

Arrested Development22 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

If this was quantifiably measurable, I don’t imagine this season would be any less densely packed with humor as the previous three. Part of the reason it doesn’t seem like it was quite as funny, as I said before, is that we’re comparing the first time viewing of season 4 with the third, fourth, or fifth viewing of seasons 1 through 3, accompanied with the repetition of the jokes and lines with friends. What we should be doing is comparing it with the first time we saw the first season. The experience is rather similar. Season 4 brings a new tone and rhythm to comedy as we know it, and on top of that, shows changes to characters with whom we were previously deeply familiar. Season 1 had many laugh out loud moments, but they required quite a lot of foundation-building in the earlier episodes.

The similarities extend to which characters are the standouts of the season. Gob and Tobias’s episodes are being cited by most people as the strongest of this batch, although even their appearances in this incarnation of the show took some time to win me over. Again, this is eerily reminiscent of the characters’ introduction in the original series, at first seeming far more ridiculous than the tone of the show seemed to permit, but quickly becoming the most uproariously funny parts of the whole thing. I didn’t get Tobias’s “Fallacy/Phallusy” song at first, but when it’s repeated time and time again, it becomes increasingly hysterical. I’m starting to find the same thing is the case with Gob’s “Same.” In fact, I would be surprised if anyone found the entire story unfolding between Gob and Tony Wonder as anything but some of the funniest bits the series has ever produced. There’s so much good that it’s easy to forget how many laughs there actually are in the season. It’s why the show benefits so much from repetition.

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3) The episodes are too long!

Arrested Development24 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

I’ll leave it to James Gray to summarize my thoughts about people’s issues with the new season’s pacing. The episodes of the original Fox series were consistently at or around 21 minutes in length, and these new episodes range from 27 to around 35 minutes. Now for me, and I’m sure for many people, this offers a freedom the show didn’t have before, some extra breathing room, and some space for the show to let some jokes sink in and some moments linger, as well as packing in other details that would have been otherwise cut, details that may have been too obscure or hard to get but were left in because you don’t need to worry so much about everything landing the first time. For a show that has been praised endlessly about its refusal to make everything immediately accessible to audiences watching for their first time, it’s being criticized pretty severely for sticking to this same principle.

Yes, the show has mellowed the frantic pace that network constraints made necessary. No, this does not make it worse, only different. It’s not the same show with the same breakneck speed to its jokes. If that’s the only reason you enjoyed the show in the first place, because you like things that go fast, then you can go sleep with Marky Bark. I would rather have moments like Sally Sitwell and Tony Wonder taking a long pause after she reveals she has never shaved a leg before in her life, or Gob’s stuttering going on for about four times as long as it was allowed in the previous seasons, or Michael repeating “Look, listen, look” as many times as he damn well pleases. It’s looser, more meanderous at times, not as tick-tick-tick as the previous seasons, but “tightness” isn’t inherently a virtue, even in comedy.

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4) They didn’t do enough scenes with the whole cast together!

Arrested Development23 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

There’s no denying that the show had pretty significant obstacles to get past simply in terms of logistics, to do with budgetary constraints, differences in the single-dump rather than week-to-week format, and of course the availability of the cast. All projects have obstacles like this, and the best ones conceive creative solutions to overcome them. That’s what Arrested Development does. The popularity of these performers that has resulted from the success of the original series wreaked havoc on their schedules, meaning getting them all in the same space on the same day for filming was complicated and virtually impossible, though they did seem to manage to do it for a couple of scenes.

They solved this with a narrative detail that is simultaneously straightforward and realistic: the family doesn’t see each other much anymore. Plenty of us can relate to that fact of life. We’ve become invested enough in the characters as individuals that giving them their own stories, with various run-ins with other members of the Bluth clan, can engage us just as deeply as seeing them all together at once. Before the start of the first season, in the story of the show, they were all living fairly separately, the Funkes in Boston and the Bluths in California. Considering the complications of their story since then, it’s perfectly reasonable that they would be apart for the years following the party on the Queen Mary. That means they don’t see each other as much anymore and we don’t get to see them together as much anymore, but that’s what happens when series grow up. It’s another case of Hurwitz and company turning a weakness into a strength.

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5) It’s too complicated now!

Arrested Development26 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

I couldn’t help but go back and find some of the reviews of the first few seasons of Arrested Development to get a sense of the overwhelmingly positive response people had to these canonized episodes that were universally beloved. But to my surprise, there were plenty of dissenting voices criticizing the show from its very first season for its overcomplicated plots and lack of humor. It took itself too seriously. The characters weren’t likeable enough. There was too much nonsense and too many exercises in story construction that made it implausible and bloated. While those voices were drowned out by the critics who were discovering the show for themselves and doing their best to promote its innovative style and humor, it’s interesting how similar the criticisms were then and now.

Citing the complexity of the new season as a weakness sounds as preposterous as those negative reviews of the previous seasons sound today. Yes, sometimes the show feels like we’re in the middle of a roofie circle, unsure of how everything links up and whether it even matters. The end features a bit of misdirection, although this fits in with themes that are made apparent earlier in the season, with hints that the things we may think are the most important parts of the story aren’t actually as central as others. But the way the story is told, from a variety of perspectives on the same events, with punchlines and dramatic moments being cast seemingly out of order but in a way that makes their unfolding pretty riveting, is nothing short of brilliant. It is more complicated and ambitious than the stuff that came before it, but that only makes the payoff, which comes more in the unfolding rather than from a big moment, more satisfying and impressive.

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6) There are too many loose ends!

 ArrestedDevelopmentSeason4 6 Issues People Have With Season 4 Of Arrested Development And Why Theyre Dumb

It’s obvious from the end of the season that this is a story Mitch Hurwitz is not finished with. This is not entirely unlike previous endings to the series, including midway through the first season when they weren’t sure about being renewed for a second order to finish off their eventual 18-episode set. People complain about loose ends in series all the time, but ending with a note of mystery can be a satisfying conclusion. The story to this season even ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with all of us wondering exactly what happened to Lucille 2, although the number of references to Clue throughout the season suggest that perhaps if we watch the entire thing over again, the answers to these questions we’re left with at the end of episode 15 are contained within the season all along. Time will tell.

The strength of Arrested Development, its greatest among all its many strengths, was always the way it took enormous risks and pushed the boundaries of what television comedy could be. The influence it’s had on shows like The Office and Modern Family is undeniable. It was a new way of storytelling at the time, and a new way of joketelling, and the strangeness of its initial inception is basically completely wiped from the cultural memory. It was a weird show at first. Watching Season 4 feels very much, almost eerily, like watching that first season a decade ago. Seemingly strange at first, then disappointing that it seems to have not lived up to its hype, then when it takes off, it’s irresistible and mind-boggling. We’re just starting to see the layers upon layers of jokes contained in the new season that surely will end up rivalling the best of the previous three. But the best feature of the season is the way it uses the new Netflix model to tell a completely fresh story in an innovative way, redefining what we think of as the way comedy and storytelling work. There’s no one way for these things to work, despite the insistence that the divergences the show makes from its previous incarnation weaken it. The only way it could have worked was by progressing the medium and taking risks. Like Michael finding the dead dove in the fridge, I guess I just don’t know what people were expecting.

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  • Alex Lowe

    The only issue I have is the lack of Franklin.

  • Brian Sleider

    Critics not liking a show that was canceled due to low viewership 10 years ago. Shocker.

  • http://www.untoldtravel.com/ Trevor Bolliger

    Great article. I’m disappointed that people aren’t enjoying it as much as I am. Some of this has to do with wrong expectations and some of this has to do with people rushing to conclusions (as you illustrated perfectly in this article.)

    From the New Yorker reunion in October 2011, Hurwitz has said they were going to make the season as a prelude to a movie and that — here’s the important part — all the characters would be in a predicament that would be concluded in the film. Cliffhangers should be expected.

    Additionally, they’ve been calling this an anthology series and that each character would get their own episodes.

    I’m confused as to why people are expecting 15 more episodes of the old series. It’s just as groundbreaking on this new medium as it was nearly a decade ago. I’m so happy with the new season but I’m finding that I’m giving people who are starting or have yet to start to power through the first five and to not expect the same style as the first three seasons. It’s basically one long 8.5 hour episode.