It Was Arrested Development… Again

It’s hard to describe Arrested Development’s 4th season. It’s even harder to describe it without an abundance of spoilers. Here’s my best effort:

Arrested Development has become a different show in the seven (7!) years it’s been off the air. Some of this is from the story, and some of this is from the harsh realities of Arrested Development having launched several cast members’ careers, making scheduling for this fourth season a nightmare.Without wading too far into spoiler territory, after the events of the original series finale, the Bluth family has fallen apart. While their paths cross often, everybody’s off living their own lives. This forces a completely different storytelling structure. Gone are the manic, laugh-a-minute interactions between the Bluths. In its place, we have a vastly different way of telling the story of this family, and it’s a little off-putting at first. Each episode largely follows one character, with little deviation from their path through the episode. We start with Michael, and return to him several times in the course of the series.

This relative isolation reduces the frequency of laughs significantly, but in its place we get something that was largely absent from the original series: character growth. Yes, the Bluths are largely still lying, scheming people who will do anything to get their own way by the end of Season 4. But they’re learning things about themselves, and their mistakes catch up to them. They each have to learn to fend for themselves and, in doing so, they (and we) learn about themselves in a much deeper way than has ever been on display before.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still laughs in there, but you won’t be laughing out loud as often as you did during seasons 1-3. Ultimately, this new season feels less like a comedy than it does a tragedy. Their lives have turned to shambles in the last seven years, and we see that play out on-screen. This makes season four far more quiet and introspective: the characters are starting to reflect on their mistakes and are actually seeing the consequences of their decisions. Another factor that contributes to this slower feeling is the new running time. Unshackled from the restraints of network television, the show has more room to work with in its running times. Each of the 15 episodes varies in length, ranging from 28 minutes (about 6 minutes longer than the old series’ episodes) to 37 minutes long (about 5 minutes shy of an hour-long network TV show with the commercials removed).

I think there will be a number of fans disappointed with season four, but I think it serves as the perfect example of how to take advantage of the new format opportunities that services like Netflix provide. Season four was created for Netflix, not just in a money sense, but in a format sense too. This season begs to be watched more than once. Throughout the course of the episodes, we see several scenes repeated with almost every character’s perspective, gaining additional insights into what really happened. It’s only after watching the entire season that you know what really happened during those repeated scenes. This is the kind of stuff that just wouldn’t work on normal broadcast/cable television, but it can work perfectly on Netflix. And if we get nothing more out of season four than seeing a new format work, I’d be happy.

The bottom line: watch season four of Arrested Development. It may not be what you were hoping for, and it certainly won’t be what you were expecting, but it’s what the show needed.


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HBO GO Picks – August 2012

About two months ago, my parents decided to start getting the premium channels again. Which also means I get access to HBO GO (and its little brother, MAX Go)! There’s a lot of great and/or interesting movies on these services, so I thought I’d pick out a few of these movies to highlight each month. This month’s post will be quite long, because I’m going to include the previous picks that I’ve tweeted out (that are still available). [I would include stuff from Starz/Encore and Showtime, but my cable provider, Charter, doesn’t support either of those services yet. *CoughCharterpleasesupporttheseservicesCough*]

Update note: I haven’t done an HBO GO Picks post in a while, due to time constraints. However, a lot of these movies cycle in and out and between the two services fairly regularly, so while the links might not work any more, you might still find them on HBO GO or MAX GO if you search for them. My recommendations still stand, so give it a try!


So I Just Watched “The Last Airbender…”

I just watched 2010’s The Last Airbender on Netflix, and then spent 45 minutes or so researching and writing this review of the movie on Flixster. Since I spent so much time on it, I thought I’d post it here. To add some context, I became more and more frustrated the more research I did. Also, Avatar: The Last Airbender (the original animated series the movie is based on) and the new follow-up series that premiered last month, The Legend of Korra, are great and should be watched. So here’s the review:


To be fair, I’m a big fan of the source material, so it is next to impossible for me to fairly judge this movie without being influenced by the vastly superior source material.
The thing that is bewildering to me is how this movie can be as bad as it is. By all accounts, it should be great from looking at the talented people involved. While M. Night Shyamalan’s movies have gone downhill in recent years, he has made some very enjoyable films in the past. I don’t know if he would necessarily be the best choice for an action-heavy film like this, but it’s not like he’s a terrible director. However, the movie is awkwardly paced. I can understand some of that: it’s clear they were setting this up to be a trilogy, and it always takes time to do an origin story, but the movie just felt like it dragged on.
Another major complaint of mine is the cinematography. It just felt uninspired. Even though this is a tale that is clearly trying to be an epic story in a large and expansive world, nothing about the settings felt epic. In fact, every shot felt ordinary, predictable, and small-scale. The scale even felt smaller than the six-year-old cartoon. This astonishes me since the cinematographer has plenty of experience with epic movies: his name is Andrew Lesnie and he won an Oscar for being the director of photography for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (To be fair, plenty of blame for this also lies with the art directors who also inexplicably failed on this movie despite all having worked on very good movies in the past.)
The acting was all mediocre. I would say any of it was particularly terrible, but none of it was very good, and many had odd looks on their faces at times. I’m not sure who’s to blame here: the actors or the director.
However, probably the biggest disappointment in the movie was the bending. In the world of this movie, some people can “bend,” or control the elements around them (the elements being water, fire, earth, and air). However, it all felt TERRIBLE. Just watch one episode of the original animated series and you’ll see how this was supposed to be: fluid and beautiful with the elements moving with their movements. However, every single bender in this movie looked like they had lead shoes on. Their movements were jerky, they waved their arms around like crazy and *then* something happened, and it wasn’t even exciting when it did. By all accounts, the action sequences in this movie should have been great. The effects were done by Industrial Light & Magic, one of the largest and most famous effects houses in the industry, but they seem to have phoned it in (admittedly the water wasn’t too bad). I think the problem with the choreography is that neither of the stunt coordinators, Ben Cooke & Mark Rounthwaite, have much experience with being stunt coordinators. However, they both come from a long background of stunt performing. Ben Cooke is one of Daniel Craig’s stunt doubles for the current Bond films, and Mark Rounthwaite has been doing stunts for TV & films for decades. And Mark basically has no excuse: he has been a stunt coordinator for The Bourne Ultimatum, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
To summarize: Avatar: The Last Airbender is on Netflix instant. Go watch it. And how this many people with this much talent messed up so badly bewilders me.