I watched the entirety of Arrested Development: Season Four over the past forty-eight hours.
Already, I see critics eager to pounce and declare the new episodes subpar.
How fast we go from demanding its return to hastening its burial.
Here are a few thoughts in its defense (Mild Spoiler Alert):
1) As many have said, the later episodes pick up speed. This is not a happy coincidence. That’s because they are chapters, not episodes. I haven’t seen House of Cards, but it apparently unfolds similarly. Netflix is doing something exciting here. No longer must a television show develop from episode to episode as its own cohesive mini-unit built to keep audience interest for an entire week.
This is far more novel-like. The episodes unfold like a book that has no intention of spelling out every single detail and plot twist. True enough, the fact alone that everything is interconnected from chapter one to chapter fifteen doesn’t make this ‘funny’ per se. It does make it as elaborate as we’ve come to expect from series creator Mitch Hurwitz.
The experience of Netflix TV viewing is always strange. You are constantly watching with the ghost of the show’s first run in the back of your mind: Oh this must have been difficult to wait a whole summer to see resolved! I can see how people would think this season was losing steam but I didn’t notice too much because of the binge-watching effect.
This no longer has that, and it’s difficult to think of it as a new medium…but it is, and this is the perfect show to help introduce it.
2) This novel-like structure is both interesting artistically and practical. It obviously solves the problem of featuring actors who (some as a result of this show) are now quite busy. By focusing on their stories independently and building up a mosaic, the creators were able to bring the characters together without being able to constantly have all the actors together.
Many do not like this, but I admire how Hurwitz makes it a thematic focus point: the family is in shambles. They are broken and scattered. The one son trying to keep them all together can no longer do so, nor does he want to. This was the right place for the story to move and just as sometimes we have to watch our characters take some time apart from one another, this was worth doing so. Why wipe away where Season 3 had led us just because we wanted the whole gang back to the status quo?
3) The jokes pay off. The thing that people forget about the original show is that the jokes were designed to pay off after repetition. ”No touching” was never particularly funny on its own; it was the consistency with which it was used and the endless variation that eventually made it funny. Does the ostrich gag work in the same way? No, but there is plenty to enjoy. Fakeblock. Anustart. Barry’s ladder. To catch a predator. Gob’s love interest.
Did I find it “as funny” as before. No. I also found Season 3 to have dipped in quality, and thought it was fine for it to end as it did. We were the ones who demanded more. I am happy they gave in. It was a joy to see everyone, and not just the people we knew were coming back. Don’t forget Barry Zuckerkorn, Lucille 2, Bob Loblaw, Sally Sitwell, Gene Parmesan, Carl Weathers, the many Richters, Tony Wonder.
This was no prequel-sized dip in quality. It was new but not derivative, different but not unfamiliar, and inventive but never insulting.
If Season 5 or a movie is in the works, I will gladly devote another weekend to its viewing.