Apocalypse, n. [ME. apocalipse; L. apocalypsis; Gr. apokalypsis, an uncovering, revelation, from apokalyptein, uncover, reveal; apo, from, and kalyptein, to cover or conceal.)
1. revelation; discovery; disclosure.
2. [A-] the last book of the New Testament; the book of Revelation.
3. certain Jewish or Christian prophetic writings which appeared between the years 250 B.C. and 150 A.D.
– Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Deluxe Second Edition
There is a reason for the definition above, and it is not the article writer’s jaw-dropping pretention. Nor is it because the arrival of the Netflix-based fourth season of Mitchell Hurwitz’s Arrested Development is a sign of the Judeo-Christian apocalypse (It is not, unless “Generally Hilarious Character-Driven Sitcom” became a horseman recently).
No, the new season Arrested Development is an apocalypse in the first sense. Throughout the 15 episodes that make up the season, each member of the long-and-often-deservedly-suffering Bluth clan find themselves confronted with major revelations about who they are in relation to themselves, their family and the world around them. And, as can happen when someone confronted with a major revelation, they change. Without exception, the Bluths close out this new season in vastly different places from where they were at the end of the original run and the start of this new season. They are still the Bluths, but their individual and group status quos have been shaken irreversibly.
The questions about Arrested Development and its transformations are these. Do these changes work with who the Bluths are as characters? Do the circumstances that bring the changes about justify them? Does the new storytelling style Hurwitz and company have adopted for season four present those changes is a narratively satisfying way? Does the new storytelling style present the Bluths and the people who interact with them in a dramatically satisfying way? Are the cast, for whom these characters are iconic roles, still comfortable playing roles they left behind in 2006? Does Arrested Development still have something to say about the real world, as it did when it poked holes in the US’s early to mid 2000s political and social environments? Does Arrested Development still have that impressive balance of character development, character regression, social commentary and straight-up absurdity that makes the initial run so well regarded? Is it still funny?
The short version is this: Yes. Yes. Generally yes, but not without serious pacing problems. Generally yes, but not without a big plot arc that trails off into narrative oblivion. Yes, and the new cast do an admirable job of keeping up with them. Sometimes, but more often than not the commentary feels like it is arriving a few years too late. Sort of, since the new different-main-Bluth-each-episode storytelling style requires a fundamentally different balance than the original run, but for the most part it acquits itself well. And lastly, yes, more often than not.
Arrested Development season four is as different a show from the original run as the Bluths are different people at season four’s end. Quite a bit about Arrested Development has changed, and a noticeable amount of it is not for the better, but at its best season four does character-based absurdist comedy as well as its earlier incarnation. A more specific and potentially spoiler-filled discussion of what works and what does not follows below.
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