Saturday, June 08, 2013

Arrested Development, season 4

I know that all my fans are waiting with bated breath to hear what I think of the resurrected Arrested Development. Having finished the season yesterday, I have a few thoughts.

First, some background. I was a day 1 fan of the show. I remember catching the first episode when it aired, way back on Sunday, November 2, 2003, and I was hooked ever since. I couldn't tell people to watch the show fast enough but my influence obviously isn't as widespread as I would have liked, and thus the show was cancelled. For years, whenever some terrible TV series would get crazy ratings, I'd always say my go-to line, "and yet they cancelled Arrested Development". The worst part about Netflix reviving the series is that they've taken this line away from me.

A new start for the series on Netflix

But now, 7 years later, it's a new start for the show, due to the fan base growing since it was axed, discovering the show on DVD and especially Netflix. So was it worth the wait? It depends. I find that this season, more than any of the others, requires repeat viewings, and I'll tell you why. More than ever, this season is serialized, heavily so. In fact, the entire season takes place during a handful of events, and we see them played out, out of order, from the points of view of all the different characters. It's apparent that the actors' availabilities resulted in this structure so if you're waiting for everyone to interact with each other, you'll be disappointed at how infrequently this occurs. If you're a Buster fan, prepare to be sad. I found that Buster had the least screen time. Is he the busiest of the actors? I don't know but it's a shame because his episode near the end of the run was pretty funny. But as I wrote, after finishing the series, if you were to go back and watch earlier episodes of the season, more pieces would fall into place, strengthening many of the moments from early episodes, when the viewer would be confused as to what's happening in an initial viewing.

That's the case with this season: the funniest episodes are in the last half, and that's due to the structure I mentioned above: seeing the same scenarios play out from multiple points of view. After watching the series once, I found myself more confused than anything for the first few stories. It's constantly jumping around in time and is far more focused on laying the groundwork in terms of story than in telling jokes, so don't expect to laugh out loud at first. I would say the first strong episode is the first one that focuses on Tobias and then the first one that focuses on Gob. The least funny are George Sr. and Lindsay, if you can even recognize her reconstructed face. Gradually, as you progress and get an idea of the timeline of events, I became more familiar with the situations and the jokes strengthened.

At least she seems to have a sense of humour about it, judging by all the plastic surgery jokes they make at her expense in the series
Sometimes, you'll have one character come into a scene and say some non sequitur or do something baffling that isn't funny and you're left wondering what happened only to watch an episode in the back half to see the situation for their point of view and finally get the joke. I found it a bit frustrating for the show to not tell a straightforward story in any given episode, but once it got going around the halfway mark, it definitely had its moments and justified its continued existence. Here's hoping for a fifth season where the actors' might be more available so that the writers could tell their stories in a more traditional, linear manner.

Pluses:
-The back half of the season is up to par
-Gob, George Michael, Tobias still very funny
-Return of your favourite guest characters from the series
-Lots of callbacks to old recurring gags, and some new recurring gags as well
-In-jokes about Imagine Entertainment were good if you got them

Minuses:
-The episodes are way too long (over 30 minutes each), resulting in a feeling of dragging and filler content
-Lindsay, George Sr. episodes lacking
-Weak first half of the season
-Not much weight to the season finale
-Not enough Buster
-Not enough of the ensemble together