TV Review: Arrested Development (Season Four)

A little more development would have been welcome after the infamous seven-year wait.

I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Unfortunately, I also know I’m not alone when I say that rarely have I experienced such disappointment from such a highly anticipated event. The worst part about this disappointment is that the material here is by no means bad — it was just far too fragmented.

As a disclaimer, this is not a strictly negative review; think of it more as constructive criticism. I truly am thankful to Mitchell Hurwitz and all the involved cast and writers for working to bring this show back, and I’m curious to see what (if anything) happens from here.

When confirmation of the fourth Arrested Development season was announced, I was excited, but I didn’t get my hopes too high. I knew that the show was going to be different, so I made sure to keep an open mind. My initial fear was that this would simply be a handful of episodes that rehashed the same jokes we’d heard so many times over the years. Strangely enough, however, the final product was disappointing for exactly the opposite reasons — one of which was a complete lack of the classic running jokes.

The Presentation

The primary issue I take with the season is its format. At first, the “each episode follows a single character” formula sounded interesting. This way, each main character gets plenty of screen-time and development, and nobody is left out. The true magic from the series, however, was a result of not only each individual character, but having all these great characters interacting in great ways. I believe there may have been some scheduling conflicts involved, as this new episode formula rarely had more than two or three of our beloved characters on-screen at a time. I would have happily waited a bit longer if that’s what it took to get everyone in-scene at the same time.

The Timeline

Another problem that this format brings is the chronology of the season. There is far too much jumping around in order to cover far too much story in the seven years since the show last aired, yet somehow far too little substantial story is covered. Every one of the fifteen episodes covers ground from the moment season 3 left off to the present. One or even two episodes should have been sufficient to catch the audience up, then the current plotline could have taken off in chronological order. As it stands, the timeline becomes far too convoluted and difficult to follow for a story of this nature. I ended up spending much of my time attempting to recall when and where I was in the order of events, rather than enjoying what was happening on-screen.

Again, what pains me most about this fact is that there really are some clever implementations of this story format. It seems as though this season’s greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. There are many scenes — most of them, in fact — that don’t fully reveal their significance until a later extension of the scene fills in the blanks. The problem here is that some scenes initially appear to have absolutely no significance and come off as extremely awkward (and not in a good way). There were many instances where I finally understood what an earlier scene was all about, only to wonder why it couldn’t have been explained to begin with. A little of this back-and-forth would have been appreciated, but it ends up being overused, and there is far too much overlap. The same scenes are shown in bits and pieces in nearly every episode, which results in some extreme buildup with disappointingly little payoff.

Honestly, the season would have been served best by putting together these stories into two or three mini-arcs to make up the big-picture story. As it stands, the big picture we keep coming back to isn’t nearly substantial enough to warrant the fragmentation the viewers are presented with.

So… What Happened?

The season also displays a complete lack of resolution or closure. Now, whether this is a permanent problem has yet to be seen, but many of the biggest plot points are introduced but are not resolved in any way. In fact, the season ends (no spoilers) by simply addressing one of the story’s primary conflicts. While I can’t quite fault the show for this due to the possibility of future material, some resolution would have been nice. Right now, if I were to describe this season’s foremost story, it would be nothing more than a twisted, confusing collection of events occurring sporadically over the course of seven years. There honestly isn’t a whole lot tying it all together.

What’s Next for the Bluths?

This begs the question that will eventually settle on everyone’s mind as they wrap their minds around the seven-and-a-half hours they just spent with the Bluths: what now? Originally, this revival season was billed as the lead-in for a movie. Is that still in the works, or are there plans for another Netflix season? Will we see any more Arrested Development at all? There has been suspiciously little said about the movie lately — granted, season four only premiered yesterday as of this writing, and I’m sure they’ve been hard at work on getting that ready. As far as the possibility of another season, statements are kind of all over the place, much like they were in the show’s seven-year hiatus. So far, I’ve read that this is the show’s final send-off, that this is the final season of the show until the movie send-off (which seems most likely at this point), and that Netflix hopes to see more of the Bluths in the future.

Despite my disappointment with this season, I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Bluths. I would love to see the movie go through, or even a return to form for the show (which I’m not holding my breath on by any means). To see a show brought back after so many years simply because of the support for it is truly an amazing thing, even if the end result didn’t quite live up to the hype. Still, there’s plenty of material to like in season four, despite the issues in its presentation. I’m certainly looking forward to some form of future for Arrested Developmentand I have no doubt that the showrunners will have learned from any missteps this time around.

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