You're Under Arrest

Like most beloved, short-lived shows that I came to long after they were deceased, I wasn't in the cult of Arrested Development. Don't get me wrong, I liked it - quite a bit, in fact. I just didn't see why people were rending their garments over its cancellation. But then, I felt like that about Freaks and Geeks and Terriers too, so it seems to be a natural by-product of not getting in on the ground floor. (Additional evidence - I did pitch a tantrum over Pushing Daisies' cancellation, and that was a show I watched from the first moment it aired.)

So, while I was definitely on board for a new season of the recently-resurrected Arrested Development, I didn't have a lot of emotion tied up in its success or failure. Mostly, I was just intrigued over the new Netflix model of releasing all the episodes at once. Nobody seems to know how to deal with this model. There's an interesting debate to be had about how to watch these shows, how to review them, and how to discuss them in the social media landscape. For now, though, let's just focus on the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.

Except that's not what happens at all in this fourth season. Scheduling difficulties meant that it was impossible to film episodes with all of the principal actors together, so each episode centers around one member of the family, and only includes a handful of the others. This method worked well for the most part, as it allowed for a barrage of callback jokes that are so ingrained in this show's DNA. Lucille may say something ambiguous in one episode, only for it to snap into place when we follow Buster four episodes later. Having so much time elapse between Season 3 and Season 4 meant they could play with flashbacks, too. In fact, the plots are so interwoven and self-referential that they sometimes go beyond clever, and into contrived.

There are a couple of other issues, too. There's a strange over-reliance on the narrator, who explains things that could be shown. The two-shots are terrible from beginning to end. I know, that's a nitpicky complaint, but the mismatch between people's mouth movements and the words coming out of the screen were so bad as to be distracting. Those are pretty minor gripes, though. The only major problem is that some of the early episodes suffer because they hadn't been filled in with callback jokes from the later ones. That may make the callback satisfying, but I feel like each episode should be able to stand on its own to a large degree. This is also why I don't accept "They'll resolve that in the sequel" to problems with movies and books.

In the final analysis, though, there was far more to like than dislike. All of the actors settled back into their characters capably. There were a ton of fun guest stars, both returning and new, and all of them were extraordinarily game. That goes especially for Liza Minnelli, who is marvelous as Lucille Austero, and who shoulders several interweaving plotlines of her own, to the point that she's basically a main character. The jokes are well-written; I laughed out loud at several points, especially in the outstanding Maeby episode, "SeƱoritis".

This is a season that will benefit from a rewatch at some point. There's a metric ton of jokes I'm sure I missed, and I'll no doubt catch more the next time around. I don't want Arrested Development to feel like homework, though, and while I'd give a general thumbs up to these 15 episodes, I can't pretend that I'll mind taking some time off from the Bluths.

Arrested Development - Season 4: B-


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