2:02 PM CDT, June 11, 2013
I suppose after five years of anticipation and cult hit status, it would be difficult to not let down the fans. Nevertheless, I wanted so little of the fourth Netflix-driven season of “Arrested Development”—the bar was so low. Just put all of those characters back on screen, I figured, and I’d be happy.
But this experiment was, for all intents and purposes, an abysmal failure.
Okay, that might be strong. AD4 still wrung more than its fair share of reluctant laughs out of me even after I got pissed at it: George Michael’s fumbling, Tobias’s double entendres, GOB’s inadvertent one-liners (same!). However, I was one of the original AD fanatics, watching the pilot debut after “The Simpsons” way back in 2004 (Jesus Christ, I’m old) and sending prayers to the invisible wizard in space to keep it on the air.
Because I’m an amateur scientist, however, I knew I couldn’t rely on my own observations. I needed a controlled experiment. Luckily, I had my roommate for this. He had never seen “Arrested Development” before and burned through the first three seasons in about a month, laughing his ass off. Yet he too sat on the couch, mostly silent throughout season 4.
First of all, we knew something was wrong when we just couldn’t get through the episodes. I’m shocked we didn’t watch them all the first night they came out on Netflix, but it took us almost two weeks. It became a chore. We kept falling asleep during the episodes (same!).
Furthermore, several plot lines just ran off into inanity, including whatever the ostrich was doing in the story (Oh, I guess it didn’t get a part in “The Hangover III”?). Between Lindsey’s boyfriend with face blindness and George Sr.’s effeminate softening—there were way too many gags that felt lazy, unfunny, or the detritus of some other, lesser show.
However, the main problem with the Netflix season is that the writers constructed a massive apparatus of interlocking stories that on its surface might seem clever but is really just too clever by half. At no point in the episodes do any of the characters’ stories feel primary or urgent enough to actually warrant your attention. You spend the whole season waiting for a primary narrative to emerge and instead end up watching the same four or five scenes played out in “Rashomon” fashion. Yet this convolution requires the narrator, Ron Howard, to spend the entire season explaining what’s happening. While that device is well-loved and well-utilized in previous seasons, in this one it simply inhibited almost any scene from going longer than four seconds. There were so few scenes where the actual characters interacted long enough to generate any comedic rhythm, through the whole story you mostly feel like you’re being shuffled along through a writer’s room recap.
Perhaps this is more a problem of anticipation than anything else. After all, how can any series return after five years and recapture its particular edge? Still, season 4 feels like all the wrong elements: too ambitious and barely funny at the same time.
But who am I kidding? If there’s a movie, I’ll totally be first in line (same).
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