Arrested Development Returns

NOTE: This is largely spoiler-free, but I do allude to some situations. It might also be clearer if you have seen the show. Proceed at your own risk.

Arrested Development 2013
Sunday May 26th marked the return of Arrested Development, and I, like many others, have spent the last two days getting reacquainted with the Bluth family. While watching I came to the discomforting realization that I sort of wish they hadn’t returned. Here are a few of my thoughts regarding “Season 4” of Arrested Development.

To begin with, there were many, many positives throughout the 15 episodes. It was obvious watching that the cast was delighted to be back working together again. The timing, chemistry and comfort of the actors was apparent onscreen. It is great to watch people enjoying what they are doing, instead of working for a paycheque, and this certainly looked to be the case. The writing was still strong. There were many funny lines and situations throughout the series. The trademark wit was still there, the memorable catchphrases (You’re a hot mess! and ANUSTART come to mind) and inspired lunacy was on display. I laughed, and enjoyed myself, but after awhile I stared to see some weaknesses.

I should preface this by saying I did not have unrealistic expectations going in. I enjoyed the first two seasons immensely, but I found the third season to be weak in comparison. I also thought that it resolved the story enough that I was left feeling satisfied, and did not need a continuation of the story. When it was “renewed” by Netflix I was curious and hopeful, but I was not expecting the second coming of Christ. I was just hoping it would be as entertaining as the earlier seasons, and perhaps the creative team would come back refreshed with a lot of great new ideas. This was not entirely the case.

One of the biggest problems I had with the show was one of the things I was most excited to see. The season was not in sequential order. Instead each episode was about a specific character, so the viewer would see the story for different perspectives. While this concept is not wholly original, it was quite a technically impressive feat, juggling multiple storylines across several characters, each adding a little bit to the puzzle that is the complete plot. I was excited and intrigued by how this would play out (indeed, the creator originally wanted to have the show be view-able in any order, each episode totally standalone, but was unable to do this to his satisfaction), but was underwhelmed with the result. Too often, especially nearing the final episodes of the series, I found myself feeling like I was watching retreads of the scenes. Sure, a small amount of information would come out, but often I felt as though I was watching the same scene again, with Ron Howard’s ceaseless narration filling in holes or reminding us of what had happened in the scene previously. It became exhausting and frustrating after awhile, and pulled me out of the story instead of pulling me further in. It also felt disjointed, certain characters would disappear for long stretches, and any narrative momentum in their story arc would be lost. I thought the story would feel much fresher if they were presented in such a way that the climax took place during the Cinco de Quatro celebrations. The way it was presented I didn’t think there was any climax, just a lot of stuff happening, most of it unresolved.

That was another issue I had with the series. As I mentioned, I thought the finale of season three wrapped up the storylines quite well. The 15th episode of season four left virtually every character in some form of jeopardy or unresolved situation. Indeed, it takes it to the extreme, cutting off mid scene between Michael and his son George Micheal. I understand the cliffhanger is a trope, used for years in storytelling, but to me it felt like a cheat. They had ample time to tell the stories they wanted to tell (each episode is about 30 minutes long), but instead they threw so many balls up in the air to juggle, and then left each and every one hanging. There is still no confirmation of another series or movie, so this move just appears calculated to cause a public outcry, to insist that there must be more to come. A canny strategy, to be sure, but deeply unsatisfying storytelling.

This is just my two cents. I would love to hear what you thought of the series, or if you are even going to bother watching it.