Arrested Development Season 4 Review: The Triumphant Return Of The Bluths

And now the story of a popular sitcom that lost everything, and the one streaming service that brought it back…

David M. Cook

Contributor

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And now the story of a popular sitcom that lost everything, and the one streaming service that brought it back to life.

Ever since Arrested Development ended its run in 2006, fans have wanted more. And what wasn’t there to want more of? Between the quirky characters, storylines bordering on the absurd in the best ways possible, and more self-reference than you could shake a banana at. Even so, Fox pulled the plug on the series after three seasons because of “low ratings.”  series creator Mitchell Hurwitz pulled the plug on the series, stating that he had told the story he had wanted to tell and didn’t want to let the fans of the show down with a drop in quality over subsequent seasons.

Hurwitz then added that if there were a way he could continue with these characters without doing an “weekly episodic series television,” he would do so.  In 2011 he then announced that he would be working to produce a fourth season of the show with executive producer Ron Howard and the entire cast of the original series, and it was eventually revealed that Netflix would be handling the online distribution of the new episodes, premiering them all at once on May 26, 2013.

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This season is all about the build up to Lucille’s trial after she was arrested at the end of season three. Rather than focus on a long chain of events leading up to the trial, each episode focuses on a different character in the events leading up to the trial. The episodes are all interconnected in one way or another, and watching them unfold and picking out the links makes for a very engaging viewing experience. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out another angle on a scene or character is revealed and you’ll have to rethink everything you thought you knew about the season.

A big part of what makes Arrested Development so funny is the meta-humor, which is on display in spades here.  From watermarks belonging to video ripping software to a timeline that is very reminiscent of a particular online streaming service, and even an appearance by Ron Howard himself, the show proudly uses it own medium for a few laughs here and there. The usual repertoire of jokes, from Michael’s unintentional  smothering of his son to Tobias’s mistaking things that aren’t acting classes for acting classes and George Sr.’s Parent Trap style shenanigans with his twin brother, are all present and accounted for. There’s also a few “wink wink, nudge nudge” moments paying lip service to the existence of an Arrested Development feature film, something which was first hinted at in the epilogue to season three.

Arrested Development is nothing without its characters, and the entire main cast consisting of Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, David Cross, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter are all present and accounted for. A large number of recurring characters are also back, including, but certainly not limited to Henry Winkler, Liza Minelli, and Judy Greer make appearances. We are also treated to a sizeable number of new guest stars, including Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig, Isla Fisher, and the voice of Keri Russell. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s easy to see that there is a lot of star power behind this season. A good number of these cameos are small and inconsequential, but it’s still great to see so many “faces” in the series – it really shows just how widely it appeals to not just the regular folk, but the Hollywood crowd as well.

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But this leaves the most important question: how’d they do? After all, for a show to be off the air for seven years and suddenly return, many people might be (rightfully so) concerned that it might not live up to what it was before.

Those concerns were very quickly put to rest shortly into the first episode and remained there for the rest of the season. Point of fact, I found a lot of the season to be funnier than anything that had come before it. Maybe I have gained more worldly experience since I finished season three and understood more of the subtext, but whatever the cause, I found myself with a grin on my face for almost the entire duration of the season. The complexity of the narrative is also quite enjoyable: enough to keep the viewer on their toes but not too much that it’s ever confusing. There are more “aha!” moments than “huh?” moments and those moments are usually resolved fairly quickly. Each character gets their own moment in the spotlight, some for longer than others, which will certainly be disappointing to some. There are also fewer scenes of the entire family together than there were in seasons past, but when you have a group of well-known figures who are all busy in one form or another, you just have to make do.

On the whole, I have no real complaints about this revival. It would have been nice to see a bit more of the family together, but as mentioned before, it was simply not possible at the time of production. All the same, it was great to see the Bluths return in such fine form. The platform for the release worked quite well, giving the viewer the option to marathon the season or take it one or two episodes at a time. This leaves each desire for another fix fulfilled, at least until the season runs out, though it was disappointing that the episodes aren’t available in HD.

If you’re an Arrested Development fan, old, new, or somewhere in the middle, this is worth taking a look at as soon as possible. For those without a subscription to Netflix, there are no plans that I am aware of to make the season available elsewhere for the time being, but I’m sure it will find its way onto DVD and Blu-ray at some point in the near future. Until then, borrow your friend’s account and watch this as soon as possible.