Arrested Development: Season Four

Now the story of what happened when the one man who was holding his family together finally let go, and the separate journeys that eventually gave them no choice but to come back together.

Arrested Development 4 poster

When the Fox Network prematurely cancelled Arrested Development in 2006, it deprived audiences of the only American sitcom capable of generating laughter. Despite this setback, interest in the programme remained strong, with many fans hopeful that another season would eventuate. In 2013, their wishes came true, though not quite in the form they envisaged.

After discovering that his mother Lucille (Jessica Walter) was behind his family’s financial misdemeanours, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) decides that he has finished being the patriarch of the Bluth household, vowing never to have contact with them again. As a result, the many members of the penniless family no longer have any reason to stay in Orange County, and decide to make their own way in the world. Cue amusing shenanigans.

One of the great strengths of Arrested Development’s first three seasons is how it emphasises the importance of family. Almost every episode of the original run sees conflict being solved with either the help of Michael’s siblings or their offspring; in doing so, the protagonists draw from these experiences to enhance their morals, or improve upon them. Season Four differs by having the characters go solo, relying on their intuition (or lack thereof) to solve problems, which is detrimental to the comedy.

See, in making the characters act on their own accord, the fourth season of Arrested Development abandons another merit of the show: the interactions between the Bluths. Most of the cast members are proficient comedians, with a knack for both timing and delivery that makes their back-and-forth jibing utterly hilarious. It’s this type of comedy that is in short supply in Season Four, leaving the actors to carry many of the scenes themselves, which they sometimes struggle to do.

Yet another difference between this season and the previous three of Arrested Development is the way in which episodes are structured. While Season Four is still filmed like a documentary, and continues to benefit from the deadpan narration of Ron Howard, each of its episodes centres on a single member of the Bluth family, following events from their perspective alone – for the most part, as their narratives intermittently, cleverly cross with each other throughout the season.

This peculiar approach is due to Netflix, which purchased the rights to Arrested Development whilst its streaming service was still in its infancy. Producer Michael Hurwitz crafted the season with the belief that viewers would switch between episodes at their own will, rather than binge an entire season in one viewing. As of such, the fourth season’s rather innovative approach was poorly received by fans of the series, leading to a “recut” of the episodes being released just last month.

In the eyes of this writer, the recut of the fourth season – which has been subtitled Fateful Consequences – only further highlights its problems, with the overriding narrative that connects the protagonists becoming fragmented and difficult to follow. It also spends an extraordinary amount of time backtracking and providing exposition, making it difficult to keep engaged with the story.

None of this is to say that Season Four is an unenjoyable experience, for it still contains plenty of the charms that made its original run so admired – including its cast and narration. Adding to that are some memorable guest appearances in the series from the likes of Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, John Slattery and Terry Crews, all of whom are a delight; and although the episodes aren’t the nirvana of hilarity, there are instances where one will find themselves chortling.

The fourth season of Arrested Development does not faithfully reboot the series, nor does match the sharpness of its original run, but it remains one of the smarter comedies that America has to offer. Keep it in mind when next browsing through Netflix.

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