“What’s Arrested Development?” That was a question I heard a lot in high school, when I was one of the biggest Arrested Development fans in Central PA (true Pennsylvanians refer to their state by its initials). When I first started watching the show, the only other people I knew who loved it were my father and brother, both avid fans of goofy comedy and the gurus on my developing sense of humor. I and my dad and my brother, when he was home from college, would all gather around the TV and chuckle endlessly at the Bluths and their antics.Desperate to share my love of the show and for my peers to think I was cool, I would make constant references to episode gags and ask popular students if they thought the show was cool so that I could assume they thought I was cool. Well, not a lot people liked the show. Most had never even heard of it. All my chicken dances and “analrapist” jokes usually caused more confusion than laughter, and my puberty-filled brain screamed for me to shut up so I could be normal. It was only until college that I met other Bluth Buddies, and I soon began thinking that this show might just be ‘cool’. Then it was cancelled.
Now it feels like a weird Bizarro reflection of that time period. For several months, I couldn’t walk down a street without seeing an ad for Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development, and almost everyone I talked to was very, very excited about its return. The media was abuzz as the streaming service for Netflix looked to this cult show to be its flagship title for original content, and people were planning midnight marathon parties where they would watch the whole season repeatedly when it was released.
And then when it was released, well… reality asserted itself, because once again it seemed nobody liked the show. That’s not necessarily true, but reviews have been at best mixed, with the New York Times even claiming that Netflix had killed Arrested Development. After watching six episodes in a row before collapsing from exhaustion, I certainly agree that Netflix has changed Arrested Development. Some changes were for the better, some may be for the worst. But I don’t think Netflix or Mitchell Hurwitz or even Ron Howard are to blame for killing the show. I think if anyone killed the show, it was the critics and fans who succumbed to the over-hype, believing that a fourth season of Arrested Development would be comedy’s Second Coming or at the very least, exactly like it was before.
The biggest difference you notice right off the bat is that Michael, the main protagonist, is no longer the classic straight man he used to be. The last time we left the Bluths, that scandalous family of lovable idiots struggling to love one another while thinking only for themselves, Michael had finally gotten up the nerve to abandon his family to their insanity and finally fix his own broken life.
Yet it seems that his family was not the true source of his daily troubles, and his life falls apart even more than usual after leaving them to the mercy of maritime law enforcement. Though the loss of a classic element such as the straight man would seem to be comedy suicide, it makes Michael more interesting as a character and funnier to watch. It also makes Michael more relatable to his family, whereas in previous seasons it always seemed like Michael was the adopted child rather than Lindsay, being usually so rational and sane.
The rest of the cast have transitioned back into their old roles with ease, although fans might have to struggle with them looking and acting much older than they remember. Yet you don’t get to see them all right away, because the other big change to the show is the format. Instead of the multi-narrative joke-a-minute set-up of classic sitcoms, the new show now mostly follows only one story and character per episode. The rapid one-liners and quips have been replaced with slower and less choreographed dialogue that focuses more on setting story than making jokes. The intended purpose of this new format is to take advantage of Netflix’s release of all the episodes at once, giving the viewer complete control over the pace of which he watches the season. The slower, more focused episodes act as puzzle pieces, giving the audience fractured glimpses of the Bluths’ new lives and revealing new information about previous episodes. This encourages the viewer to watch multiple episodes in the same sitting, so they can see the pieces come together and witness the story as a whole.
This seems to be most contentious point of the new season amongst fans, although those following Arrested Development’s revival on Netflix knew this change was coming. Several fans and critics have complained that the new format gives them less laughs and more confusion with the characters’ long and pampered storylines, and the slower pacing makes many of the episodes seem like they go on forever. I agree with some of these points. You do feel like you laugh out loud less, and some of the scenes do tend to drag with some awkward pacing. But the biggest problem is that it is not the same show as it was before, and how big that problem is depends on your personal preference. My Sitcom Sense was tingling long before I saw the new Arrested Development, and I knew pretty early on it was not going to be the same as it was on television. That being said, I have thoroughly enjoyed each episode I watched, and there was always at least one gag that made me giggle endlessly like a schoolgirl. It’s not same show, yes, and it’s not perfect, yes. But it has great jokes, great writing, great acting, and is still better than half the comedy programming on cable.
Now that we have passed that hump, we can move on with our lives… I mean, this review. The show keeps much of its style intact: its in-show references, its connection to contemporary world news, even its metajokes about the show’s revival. The only other big change is the celebrities. So many celebrities. Each episode now feels jam-packed with stars such as Seth Rogen, Isla Fisher, and Conan O’Brien to name a few. Though many of these appearances are funny, and Kristen Wiig is the best young Lucille that there could ever be, it feels a little too alien to the show, and sometimes downright unnecessary. It can feel at times that the geeky, insular world of the Bluth’s is now invaded by cool Hollywood actors who just make appearances so they can announce, “Hey, I’m famous, but I’m hip because I like this show, just like you!” It ends up taking you out of the show and makes you miss the days when the guest stars they had were strange and interesting choices, like Carl Weathers and Tom Jane, rather than whoever has been on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
My final thought on the new season is this: If you would like to watch a funny new show similar to Arrested Development, watch the fourth season because you will like it a lot. If you want to watch new episodes of the classic Arrested Development, I suggest you rent a time machine and travel back in time to 2006 so you can brainwash the Fox execs into keeping the show with your mind ray (I mean, you already have a time machine. I assume you must also have a mind ray). Otherwise, you’re out of luck because that show is gone forever. I know it’s sad, and you can cry it out. But there is this new show on Netflix, called Arrested Development that’s pretty good, and it might not be a huge mistake to give it a shot.