The Return of the Bluth Family (A New Start?): Arrested Development Season 4 Review
Chandler Kilgore-Parshall ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Seven years after their cancellation, Arrested Development, one of the greatest (and most underrated) comedies ever, has been revived for its second chance to shine on Netflix with fifteen new streaming episodes. With its continuity of witty humor, running jokes, hidden jokes and talented ensemble cast, Arrested received overwhelming critical acclaim and a popular cult following. Does this fourth season and the long-awaited return of this comedic gem live up to its reputation and high expectations? Get your bag of candy beans and your Bluth frozen bananas ready.
The first episode, “Flight of the Phoenix” starts out with Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) hitting rock bottom by making a huge mistake. Actually quite a few mistakes. Even though things are not looking great for Michael, we are instantly delighted when we hear Ron Howard’s smooth narration to explain the aftermath of season three’s cliffhanger and disbanding of the Bluth family. From the “You’re a Crook, Captain Hook” song part of the continuity that compliments the humor to awkward family behavior like Michael getting in the communal shower with his son George Michael (Michael Cera), we are immediately roped into Arrested Development once again.
Yet the episode quickly loses steam as we Michael, the family’s moral center, continue to lose his way, eventually living with George Michael in his college dorm. What makes “Flight of the Phoenix” not the greatest episode of Arrested Development is because the opener is solely focused on Michael; each episode of the season focuses on an individual Bluth member. We do get “cameos” from the ensemble cast and guest stars, but they are not enough to support Michael’s story. Even though I enjoy seeing Buster (Tony Hale) acting like the big baby he is and Kristen Wiig’s spot-on performance as a younger, shrewder Lucille Bluth, it just did not hold up the episode. As a hardcore Arrested Development fan, I laughed at the traditional humor and cutaways Arrested is known for where I took enough from “Flight of the Phoenix.” Nonetheless, what held back the opener is an aggravation for the later episodes.
Arrested Development operates on a different and unique narrative approach for its fourth season. Each episode happens during approximately the same stretch of time but focuses on a single character’s misadventures (Episode 1- Michael), (Episode 7- Gob) or (Episode 12- Maeby). However, each of their storylines are interweaved into the other Bluth members’ episodes, explaining plot holes and unexplainable incidents that don’t make sense at first, yet it comes together. Even though some of the mysteries don’t seem all that mysterious. Finding out that it was Lindsay who bought the ostrich into Babola Towers that was chasing Maeby inside the apartment was quite hilarious and unexpected. It is an interesting format to follow; yet it demonstrates how Arrested Development’s fourth season is suffering from an identity crisis humor-wise. Arrested’s jokes are not as strong as previous seasons, it felt like it was trying to appeal to a broader audience instead of playing on its fortes. Only Tobias (David Cross) and Gob’s (Will Arnett) episodes perpetuate the show’s classic humor and comedic tempo that it has been known for. Sure, Arrested Development has always been a smart comedy with gags and inside jokes that require thorough viewing and understanding the context of its humor. And it has a very concentrated fanbase because of it. Yet season four barely pushes the envelope in making more memorable, solid jokes that stick with the viewers.
What is missing from the show’s formula? The family. The multifarious plotlines covered in all fifteen episodes and each character’s individual scenarios are not strong by themselves. The show during its past three seasons was so successful because of the character dynamics between the Bluths, and how the clever jokes overlap each other and made the humor that much more engaging and entertaining. And past all of the cornballing, “I just blue myself,” and Ann (Her?) jokes, Arrested Development had a heartwarming message about family togetherness and discovering commonality. If this season kept the family together and let the comedic tête-à-tête to happen, the show’s grand return would have been a lot stronger even if the writing and jokes weren’t.
Arrested Development’s long awaited return is like a family reunion. You love seeing them after all this time, but after awhile you realized they have or have not changed, and not for the best. While the cast reprises their bizarre characters and the jokes from the show’s previous three seasons make their reappearance, whether it is evident or obscure, it does not live up to the hype and it slightly disappointed me. But rest assured it is not a bad season. So don’t take that Forget-Me-Now! For all fans and those interested in the show, go watch it on Netflix and enjoy the new episodes! Be sure to watch the other seasons to engross yourself in the family madness. After reading an interview with show creator Mitchell Hurwitz that the fourth season is the precursor to a possible Arrested Development film, I hope this is not the end of the series. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the dysfunctional Bluth family.