Does season 4 of Arrested Development live up to the hype?

The Cast of Arrested Development

After enjoying three seasons on FOX in the US and on BBC in the UK, and achieving a mild fan base, “Arrested Development” was dropped in 2006 and assumed to be out for the count. However, in the years following its cancellation, the show slowly began garnering attention through a cult following. Whether this rise in popularity is due to the cast members’ success in Hollywood, the availability of the episodes on Netflix, or a lucky turn of fate, “Arrested’s” swell in popularity led creator Mitchell Hurwitz to team up with Netflix to reunite the old gang and release, in bulk, a fourth season comprising fifteen episodes. It was released on Monday, May 26th.

The new season follows the same core characters that fans have come to know and love as the eccentric members of the Bluth family. However, much has changed in seven years. Many of the actors who play these characters, such as television-father-and-son duo Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth) and Michael Cera (George-Michael Bluth), have moved on to become Hollywood stars. Michael Cera, having starred in Juno (2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), among other successful movies, now holds a strong fan-base who never knew him as George-Michael Bluth. Despite the distance between season three and season four of “Arrested Development”, and the many changes that have taken place both in the actors’ careers and the entertainment industry itself, the Bluth family characters manage to retain their
charmingly dysfunctional entertainment value.

For those who do not watch the show, it follows the lives of nine family members in the aftermath of George Bluth Sr.’s (Jeffrey Tambor) arrest, and the collapse of the family company. The pampered bunch is forced to either sink or swim, and the comical narrative flows from there as Michael, the only somewhat composed Bluth, attempts to keep his family’s business, and their sanity, afloat. The show was critically acclaimed, winning a Primetime Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series in 2005, along with other wins and nominations. It was applauded for well-written dialogue, witty, dry humor, and unique characters, and it does not disappoint in this category in its fourth season. The writing is just as good and equally as clever, and the characters have lasted the test of time. Yet you still can’t shake the feeling that something is not quite right.

The characters are the same and the humor is unchanged, so what’s wrong? To the tune of mixed reviews, the show has completely remodeled its classic format. In the fourth season, each episode revolves around a singular character. Episode one, “Flight of the Phoenix”, follows Michael’s point of view, and each episode after jumps from one character to the next in order to fill in the blanks of the overarching story. While the episodes are intertwined and the family members do cross paths, it is not nearly the same as the close quarters in which the characters functioned in seasons one through three. For example, episode five, “A New Start”, follows Tobias Fünke’s (David Cross) journey in the aftermath of the season three finale and his undying dream to become an actor. He travels to India for a fresh start. In the previous episode, his wife Lindsay also travels to India, but not in Tobias’ company. Thus, Tobias’ episode shows us that he and his wife unknowingly traveled to the same country on the same flight, but were not active members in each other’s episode, not to mention they hardly come across another Bluth family member. While this “fill in the blanks” configuration leads to some good bits of comedy and an interesting narrative, the structure leaves the show lacking its original tone and charm: the interactions between the obnoxious Bluth family.

Season four is good, but is it great? Now to answer the burning question regarding whether or not the new season satisfies the demand for more Bluth family madness. Without the same narrative structure, and with so many irrelevant characters coming and going, it is difficult to get wrapped up in this most recent installment of “Arrested Development” for it lacks the same charisma of the original seasons. Despite maintaining long running inside jokes and sharp humor, the show’s new disconnected style simply stirs up nostalgia for the earlier seasons, and it can become all too tempting to quit on season four, and re-watch the earlier episodes.