Seven years. Seven long years. Seven long-ass years. Safe to say, it’s been awhile since the Bluth Family has graced our television screens. This past Sunday, May 26th at 12:01am PST (3:00AM where I’m from) the Bluths came back into our lives via Netflix, and it’s safe to say that the wait was…well…we’ll get to that.
Season 4 of Arrested Development is an enigma, something the likes of which we are unlikely to ever experience again. In fact, it is not hyperbole to state that it’s the single most ambitious season of television comedy to ever exist. After seven years off the air, it’s clear creator Mitch Hurwitz wanted to create something different and boy did he ever. For the newest season, he takes the ensemble dynamic of the first three seasons and tosses it aside for an anthology-based season in which each episode centers on an individual character of the insanely delusional Bluth family. In essence, it’s a single seven-and-a-half-hour long episode, and really should be viewed as such (and I mean that they should be considered one entity cause it helps the brain, not seven-and-a-half-hours straight of TV watching, although you’re welcome to).
Now as any devoted hardcore fan is likely to do, I’ve been scouring the internet for various opinions on the new batch of episodes. As expected, reactions are very divisive, some proclaiming it to be the greatest thing to ever exist in the history of the universe and some moaning the loss of AD in its previous form. For me, well, I’m very much in the former camp. Despite the seasons ups and downs and its own ambition sometimes getting in the way of its new format of storytelling, I feel safe to proclaim that the new season of Arrested Development is pretty damn great.
These new fifteen episodes tell the tale of a family whose ‘future was abruptly cancelled’ and does so by spanning the years following Season 3, giving us much craved info on what these characters have been up to. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who is the subject of the 1st and 4th episodes, was known in the previous seasons for being perhaps the most responsible Bluth. Well, it’s safe to say the years haven’t been exactly kind to him after he made the decision in ‘Development Arrested’ to leave his family behind once again. Michael is in a dark place now, crashing in George Michael’s (Michael Cera) dorm at UC Irvine and attending the University of Phoenix online. He doesn’t know where he’s going nor how exactly to get out of this rut, but he’s going to try anything to do so, even if that anything involves stooping to sexual favors with less than appetizing companions. This is essentially the theme of the season for the each member of the Bluth family. Some have been more successful than others in the years between, but none seem to be happy. They are trying anything and everything to change this, and it seems incredibly true to these characters that we get to watch them continually fail in their quests for our own personal enjoyment.
The strength of Season 4 lies in the characters. While some will complain that Hurwitz got too ambitious with his constantly twisting and turning plot for the season, what this format did allow for is gaining new appreciation for who most of these characters truly are. While some episodes center on characters who aren’t really on compelling journeys (George Sr. and Lindsay), other characters are really allowed to shine and in the process add even more layers onto their deluded selves. The Michael episodes serve as a great set-up for the season, not only showing the changes our protagonist has undergone, but also by setting up the notion that things will most likely get worse before they get better. Indeed they do.
Perhaps my favorite episode of the season belongs to Gob (an increasingly brilliant Will Arnett) in the form of ‘Colony Collapse’. Some critics have noted that keeping such a fan-favorite character off to the middle of the season may not have been such a wise move, but instant gratification can sometimes be fleeting and I think it comes at just the right time. We experience Gob in a new setting, as part of an Entourage-spoofing clan who party at the club ‘And Jeremy Piven’. Sure, he’s still being overlooked and forgotten by them much as he was with the Bluth family, but he truly believes he has a new family. And it’s then that Gob gets yet another family on top of that. He proposes to Egg, I mean Ann (Mae Whitman), in typical Gob fashion and proceeds to fall in with her uber-religious family. This just so happens to give Gob an idea: exploit Ann’s religion on their wedding day by performing a magic trick so daring that even Jesus would be jealous. Yeah, that’s our Gob, and it’s pretty damn hilarious. This episode also birthed one of my new favorite running gags which occurs anytime Gob is facing a potentially bleak situation. The camera focuses on his face as ‘Hello darkness, my old friend’ kicks in as sung in ‘The Sound of Silence’ by the timeless Simon & Garfunkel. It’s essentially the dark cousin of the Charlie Brown walk, and it’s pure hilarity.
Another character who had an incredibly strong season, perhaps to the surprise of some, was George Michael. His episodes don’t come until the end of the season, but they deliver on the comedy front as well as in tying the plot and themes of the season together. George Michael’s arc is perhaps the most satisfying because Michael Cera plays him as he ever was. He’s still an inexperienced child trying to fit in at school, albeit this time as an actual adult in college. From a storyline spoofing The Social Network to an ill-fated romance that may just tear his family apart, it’s incredibly exciting to see George Michael trying to embrace his manhood in extremely childish ways. He doesn’t quite know who that Lucille 2 is, but he is still capable of bringing the season to a close in an extremely dark and poignant moment. It really couldn’t have ended any other way.
Much was made prior to the season about Mitch Hurwitz’ initial proclamation that he planned on creating a season of which the episodes could be watched in any order. He made clear to point out before the release that that didn’t quite work out, but you can still see the ambition seething from every little incredibly fucked-up pore of the intensely weird new season. Is the plot sometimes too ambitious for it’s own good? Yes. Was I able to follow absolutely everything the season had to offer? No. But hey, who cares? This is Arrested Development, a show so infamous for taking chances that to expect anything else would have been a mistake. In fact, the new season could even be viewed as a statement of sorts on this very idea.
When Hurwitz first created AD, he admitted that he was so tired of the typical American sitcom format that he was really looking to do anything else. What he ended up creating in the process was an insanely intelligent, pop-culture heavy, take no prisoners American sitcom which made fun of the very format in which it was presented. It never talked down to you. It demanded your full attention and required actual thought. Fancy that. The new season is a re-invention of that very format and to view it like the first three seasons isn’t really possible. The characters and humor are the same as they ever were, just in a new way. It embraces the evolution of these characters as well as a new collection of jokes, rather than repeating what the fans know and love. That is why I can’t help but love this new season. It truly is exactly what we fans were promised all along. Whether it works for you or not, it’s something that Mitch Hurwitz created for us. He created something different, something the likes of which we will most likely never seen again, and if that doesn’t deserve praise, or at the very least admiration, then I don’t really know what does.
The way Season 4 ends, it’s hard to believe that this would be the end of the road for Arrested Development. It seems the seeds are planted for that long-promised movie and I for one anticipate a return to this world greatly. Will a major movie studio actual get into the Mitch Hurwitz business? Imagine Entertainment perhaps? I doubt it, and actually hope they won’t. For me, Netflix is the perfect home for an AD movie. They let Hurwitz have complete creative control for Season 4 and I would hope for much of the same with the movie. Whatever it is, in whatever form it may be unveiled to us, it’s safe to say that if we do ever get that movie, it will come in a very unexpected form. And if it doesn’t happen? Well, I guess I’ll just have to embrace my new favorite AD gag…
Hello darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…