Active Development: Levi Agee on Season Four of Arrested Development

May 28, 2013

Monkey note: We’ve only watched the first episode of the fourth season. But Levi has seem them all. Hope this isn’t too spoilery.

By Levi Agee
BDA Teevee Watcher Guy

So a lot of you probably had big plans for Memorial Day Weekend right? Hitting up the lake with the fam to go tubing or barbecuing in the backyard? To cope with the holiday hiatus of Game of Thrones this Sunday, Mitch Hurtwitz and Netflix gave me a reason to live with the resurrection or at least resuscitation of Arrested Development after seven long years of a hiatus.

Few shows get this kind of pop culture reprieve. Fox cut the critically praised, hardly watched show after only three seasons. The network has made some mistakes in premature axing with it’s biggest blunder being the animated cult hit Family Guy which was reinstated after I’m sure hundreds of fan mail from male fans turned up in the form of barely legible fart jokes. Fox also cut the beloved Joss Whedon show Firefly after only one season but luckily we got an okay movie, right Browncoats? Arrested Development would get no such amnesty for its sins of being too complex, too witty, and just plain too great for its own good after three riotous seasons by the network. No instead we have to turn to emerging internet stream based content provider Netflix to see the beloved (or despised) Bluth Family on the smaller screen. Expect Netflix CEOs to be fielding pitches of a Freaks and Geeks reunion in their press conferences for the next 3-5 years.

imagesSo after news that Netflix was going to give the AD story at least one season (rumors about one season then one movie are still circulating) the fear was that the cast (many of which are enjoying Hollywood success) would be tough to schedule. Also the show’s creator Mitch Hurtwitz (Jon Laroquette Show, Ellen) has been notorious for claiming he’s working on a script with few hints of progress. Cut to a couple of years after the announcement and I’m desperately trying to figure out what time zone I’m in to see if 12:01 a.m. means East Coast or West Coast. Luckily our two-month-old was on a college student’s sleeping schedule and by 2:01 a.m. CST I was refreshing the Netflix Arrested Development page on my AppleTV remote when suddenly SEASON 4 appears below a lonely Season 1-3 caption.

I ripped through about six episodes before passing out from exhaustion. I think that must have been the first time I’ve gotten breakfast in ten years. It was quite a surreal experience seeing Jason Bateman’s Michael and Michael Cera’s George Michael father and son relationship aged up on the screen after what felt like a century (not barely a decade). I knew going in that the show’s trademark breakneck pacing and storylining was going to be different for this reincarnation of the show. Each episode would submit it’s focus to one or two of the characters of the eccentric former millionaire Bluth family. The episodes would also be about ten to fifteen minutes longer than their tv broadcast cousins, after all there would be no commercials on Netflix (although I felt natural breaks were built into the show’s episodes for some reason, with some scenes ending on white screens).

The show’s creator, Hurwitz originally said you could watch these episodes in any order and that plot shuffling, puzzle piecing experience got me excited. Then right before the show debuted he said not to do that and that some of the humor would be lost watching out of order, so I took his advice and started with Episode 1 of 15.

I don’t know if it was due to lack of sleep or because I had just eaten a Sausage and Cheese Biscuit before 10 a.m. but watching the first episode was a little bit of a high. Hearing the writing rhythms and layered innuendos and god forbid it puns was something I’ve been missing for the last seven years. Some shows would get close and mimicry is flattery (Veep, Parks and Rec, Community, Always Sunny) but this was the real deal and to be perfectly honest the nostalgia for it gave me goosebumps at times. Having most of the producers (Brian Grazer, Ron Howard) and all the principal cast helped the show initially feel like it hadn’t skipped a beat. We get to spend the most time over the 15 episode arcs with Michael and George Michael as well as Lucille (Jessica Walter) and George Sr (I’m played by Jeffrey Tambor and the second duo feel like they’ve always been those characters. It’s Bateman and Cera’s relationship that feels a bit off to me. Maybe because George Michael was always playing this awkward teenager trying to fit in to the chaos of his family and now that he’s in college, the awkwardness has been replaced by power struggles and a weak independence tug-of-war.

Maybe 15 episodes aren’t enough to give us the character arcs and development we desire from an absurdist reality show parody but I feel like after seeing the entire fourth season that I don’t really know much more about the characters than I did at the start of the season. It was a fun ride and I generally laughed out loud more than I do during any other similar comedy show but the bizarre structural editing and underwhelming storylines leave you with a slightly weird taste in the mouth after salivating for this meal for so long. I would definitely argue that having this season is better than not having a season with the caveat that a season 5 could make all the difference in how or why this season ended so strangely. I’m 100% convinced that rewatching the new season at least a dozen or so times will color in my feelings on the show’s structure and pacing due to the fact that you always miss at least half the jokes buried into AD‘s rich dialogue and sight gags. Finding small gems like the “Showstealer Pro Trial Verision” watermark on the footage from the previous seasons and references to Joanie Loves Chachi. Just thinking about them makes me want to scour reedit or Buzzfeed for more inside jokes.

So I’m glad we got another season but a little sad that not all the magic is there. I hope to dig deeper and find out what was missing. I think diehard AD fans will appreciate a lot of what was put into the new season but will like me ultimately be disappointed with it as a whole especially if there’s not another season to fill in some of the holes. I also wonder how the new series will stand next to seasons 1-3 over time. I know some plot points and guest stars in season 3 that made me question some of the brilliance in the first couple seasons (Martin Short really?). Obligatory reference to a dead dove or banana stand or Cinco De Quatro! Okay seriously I need some sleep.

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