It has been an excruciatingly long seven years since the public was cut off from what has been described as one of the greatest comedies on television. We waited with bated breath, through shattered promises of a movie and fake screen grabs, for the return of a show which was seemingly deader than disco. When Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development was announced, followed by the sudden advertising blitzkrieg upon the world, it became clear that our prayers had been answered. Superfans were lining up for frozen bananas all around the world and the final countdown had begun.
On May 26, fans, friends, and brotheros gathered around, hoisted up banners, doused frozen bananas in chocolate and stuffed their pink little cheeks with homemade cornballs as they watched the Bluth family stair-car drive into frame. Yes, the defining show of our generation had returned and, unsurprisingly, people were disappointed. Twitter and Facebook lit up with people saying they were let down by season four and confused about the show’s change of pace and tone. So why are people saying this season has failed to reignite the spark we’ve all desperately waited for since 2006? Why are people shutting off their televisions and computers after only two episodes and watching goddamn reality TV instead?
Arrested Development thrives on the insanely perfect character formula that so many situational comedies strive to recreate. Mitch Hurwitz’s characters are all an homage to successful character tropes of television past, while taking the formula one step further. It’s an insane combination of chemistry and magic. Let’s take Gob Bluth in his role as the classic comic relief. He is eager, stupid, and conniving, which is seriously funny. We find, through seasons one through four, that he is anything but two-dimensional. Gob Bluth, this made up person, is an incredibly complex being. He is not Joey from Friends, who only wants to eat pizza and have sex. He’s not Urkel from Family Matters, whose geekiness and social ineptitude will never cease to be. And he isn’t Kramer, whose mysterious past and traits are hidden behind a host of gags, ticks, and catch-phrases. I could tell you more about Gob Bluth than I could about my own older brother. Gob’s clown suit is merely an illusion that’s based on a foundation of envy, low self esteem, and arrogance. Simply put, he’s like us. He has a backstory, motivation, goals, wants, and needs. Gob is the realist fake person you’ll ever watch.
Mitch Hurwitz’s painstaking attention to detail is what sets this series apart from everything else on TV. Pinpointing why we like this show is hard to do because it’s done so well, and it when it first came on the air, it was the first time it had been done. Arrested Development perfected the art of the callback and made it clear that audiences had a desire to be in on the joke. We want to go to our friends and point out little tiny details we had all missed when we first watched the show. The blue paint on the cabinets, the foreshadowing of Buster’s doomed hand, the Bluth family’s inability to wink convincingly. Arrested Development is a show for the people and that sentiment had never been abandoned.
Arrested Development is a challenge to compare to other shows because of its revolutionary writing. For example, let’s take a show like Gilligan’s Island. At the time, it was successful because of its ensemble dynamic, far-off premise, and the fact it was broadcast in color. Fans loved Gilligan’s Island because the 1960’s were a different time in television. People wanted consistent laughs every week and would have rioted if, for example, the plot developed and the characters escaped the island. Gilligan’s Island was in the right place at the right time and Arrested Development, now, is the same. The reason it failed so terribly, despite critical praise, in 2003 was that audiences weren’t used to a show that was so daring and actually drove the plot forward. It was a show you had to watch all the way through, in order, and then watch three more times. It wasn’t Seinfeld or The Simpsons, where each episode was a self-contained world in which a first-time viewer could comfortably watch and not feel left out.
Arrested Development made it off the island. This is no longer a time where it’s alright to see the same goal being failed to achieve week after week. The audience has grown exponentially smarter and the best writers capitalize on this gained knowledge and realize that plot and character development is not one to be…stunted.
So what is it about season four that’s driving its fans bananas? Some are criticising its change of pace and season-long Rashomon-style storytelling (that means telling the same story from the perspective of different characters. I had to Google it, also.) I can wholeheartedly agree with that criticism, season four is slower than the breakneck speed of the prior seasons. To explore and understand this change of pace, the audience has to step back and realize that it has been seven years since we last saw the Bluth family. We, alongside the Bluth family, have all grown up.
To dive back into the pace and formula of the prior seasons would be impossible because, well gee, it’s been a long time and everyone looks seven years older. George-Michael has aged, albeit not especially well, but well enough to know that he could no longer reprise his role as a freshman in high school. Season four only spans two days – May 4 and May 5, but also covers the years between where we left off and where we are now. The long and arduous journey of the Bluth family didn’t have to be told in the way it was told, by dedicating the focal point of each episode to one character each, but that’s how it was done.
Season four of Arrested Development answered the nation’s bloodlust for the complexity and episodic density of the prior seasons with an overarching fifteen episode (seven-and-a-half-hour long) plot density. There was no jump back into all the old jokes and callbacks in the season four premier–a move that’s daring and classic of Mitch Hurwitz. I’m sure everyone expected a barrage of chicken dances, dead doves, blue paint, and hop-ons. Instead, we get a slow-building, painfully anticipatory build-up that still delivers what seasons one through three delivered — those moments where you stand up and go: “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”
To illustrate the risk of saturating an episode with purposeless jokes, I urge viewers to watch the season four premier of Community. To diehard Community fans, it felt like the season premier was written by that…a diehard Community fan. They peppered the premier with the classic jokes and gags people wanted so badly, but did so to the point where it felt forced and unauthentic. It became a parody of itself and, by adhering to their beloved formula, it strayed from the very same formula. Season four of Community gets better, but it picks up exactly where it left off without much growth. Obviously, the two shows are very different and Community didn’t spend seven years off the air.
I hate buzzwords and I hate buzz-phrases. If I hear another rich white guy with an English accent say “It’s evolution, not revolution” in front of a white backdrop, I’ll chop off my left hand. Sadly, I have to revert to this cliched phrase, because that’s what season four is–evolution. Mitch Hurwitz treats his audience with respect and knew that fans–true fans, could understand that season four had to be different. There was just no way to pick up where he left off, because Arrested Development doesn’t follow convention and never has. Alongside its drastic series of beliefs, season four premiered on a new venue, in a different time, to a different audience. I’m sure as hell not the person I was when season three ended. Audiences need to let go of their inhibitions and ease themselves back into the world of the Bluths. Like a family in the real world, this family has grown. We need to accept that you can’t just pick up where you left off because, as Jakob Dylan’s father once said a long time ago: “The Times, They Are A-Changin’”.
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