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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