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ANUSTART - Season Four of Arrested Development - Review

Arrested Development - Review

 

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http://franksreelreviews.com/images/stories/dvd4.jpgSeven years. It’s been seven long years since the Bluth family has been heard from. In those seven years, the United States - hell - the WORLD, has changed.

I jumped on the Arrested Development bandwagon in 2008, after my boss at the bank dropped references to it. Back in college I boycotted syndicated television programs because of their lack of originality, and the fleeting attempts by The Simpsons to reinvent the show for a modern era (and failing in the process). I’d always been a fan of David Cross as a comedian, and watching the series seemed like a natural thing to do. So after the discussion, my boss brought in the first season and after work that evening I popped it in.

Sometime in the early morning I finished that first season. The segue from episode to episode made it impossible for me to find a stopping point and I just had to finish it because of how clever the writing was, and how gut bustingly funny the jokes were. I had found a new love, and it was Arrested Development.

It’s aggravating to know that a show you’ve discovered three years after it was cancelled was cancelled for lack of interest. Fox didn’t help it, switching the show’s timeslot multiple times without notice. The end result was dropping the show despite critical acclaim and a decent sized fan base. For years the possibility of it returning was tossed around, a movie was pitched, and everyone pretty much agreed that the show was dead, may it rest in peace.

Everyone moved on. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera’s careers took flight - both became household names. Portia de Rossi married Ellen Degeneres and had a few bit parts here and there. Will Arnett dabbled in a few unsuccessful projects. Jessica Walters landed a voice role on Archer and Jeffrey Tambor continued his supporting actor roles with great success, such as in The Hangover. David Cross had his own show for while, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (which co-starred Will Arnett) and Tony Hale managed a few bit parts here and there in film and television. The cast was beloved, but everyone soon admitted that it was never going to happen, even if they kept up the facade for their fans....

Or were they? Perhaps it was the fans who gave up hope, and it was the cast who kept this adventure alive? In early 2012 news broke that online streaming service Netflix would tackle the long gestating project and produce a new season of the show. It was met with moderate applause but massive “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Well folks, I’ve seen it. And it’s good.

No it’s not good. It’s great. It’s a family reunion, with a family you haven’t seen for 7 years, and you’re all coming together for Memorial Day weekend. And everyone’s there who you could possibly want to see. Your acting coach Carl Weathers. Your old attorney Barry Zuckercorn. Your estranged son Steve Holt. Even that girl you let into the house twice. Yes, even her. They’re all here, and though they’ve changed, they have mostly stayed the same.

A major complaint/criticism I’ve heard so far is the change in the characters appearance, because internet community shut-ins have no sense of time, and therefore don’t realize that they too in fact, look very different than they did 7 years ago (fatter mostly). de Rossi shows the biggest change, making her hardly recognizable due to a bit of plastic surgery. Personally I think she looks great, her face seems fuller and it glows with happiness.

These 7 year changes are expected, and with those expectations, the fan base has to meet the challenges of reinventing a show that’s been dormant for so long. Whereas Seth MacFarlane just had to bring some artists on, he didn’t have to worry about Peter Griffin looking older. He also didn’t have to find a reason why they had been gone for so long and fill in a large gap. Creator Mitchell Hurtwitz was given free reign on this season, and it shows a lot of heart and delicacy with each character.

The biggest change to the series comes with the format of the episodes. It’s a drastic change, but a bold one that is successful 90% of the time. Each character has at least one entire episode, and most have two. Their individual episodes are still directly linked to every other episode in some fashion, and the writing takes flight a few episodes in as the connections are made back, and then pay it forward. It’s a concept at first you feel awkward with, but the anticipation leading up to George Michael’s episodes really drive the series to it’s conclusion.

The animosity between characters still exists, but Hurwitz did put the nail in the coffin on some story arcs that would have limited the series progression - the main one being the relationship between Lindsey and Tobias Funke. Cross has always been an underutilized talent in Hollywood, and while Todd Margaret had it’s moments, Dr. Tobias Funke was comic gold, but if he was to be roped down to his dedication to a failed marriage, the season would have hurt considerably.

Another bold move by Hurwitz is to stray from the focus on Michael Bluth, who was always the focal point of the first three seasons. Here, he’s still a focal point, but he shares it with everyone. Instead of continuing the arc of Michael’s valiant efforts to keep the family together, he does a 180 and is completely in it for himself, which proves far more difficult than he had originally planned. It was a great approach by Hurwitz to make Michael less of a patriot and more like a Bluth.

There are some pitfalls to the new season. The questionable nature of certain characters and their choices now seem out of place, namely Lindsey who went from being pretty dumb and self centered to being more confident and potentially even mean spirited. The same is true of a pivotal character in Liza Minelli’s Lucille Austero, who goes from being the dim-witted spin victim to a borderline greedy politician with no explanation given. Of course, after 30 years of ridicule and dishonesty, perhaps Lucille 2’s finally fed up with the Bluths.

The inclusion of Ron Howard as a support character is a bit so-so. He plays himself of course, and emphasizes just how soulless and uncaring Hollywood directors are. He takes several digs at himself which is fun, but there’s a bit too much screentime for Howard as opposed to some other secondary characters that could have used a bit more exposition. It creates an almost awkward scenario as Howard narrates and fills the audience in on himself on screen, while Howard and Michael discuss film possibilities.

New character wise there are plenty, some are great, some not so great, the worst of the bunch is a teenage heartthrob pop singer Mark Cherry (an obvious knock at Bieber) who brings GOB into his entourage (a parody of Entourage). His role is small, but the actor is definitely not into the role he’s been handed and mucks up the scenery. On the flip side, a great throwback to early 90s box office bombs is thrown into the mix when Tobias befriends DeBrie, an ex-Hollywood B-movie/softcore porn actress who claims to have played Sue Storm in the original Fantastic Four (she really didn’t obviously) from 1994 (which is awful, I’ve seen it... but possibly better than the remake with Jessica Alba). Perhaps it’s just because Tobias is such a fun character that makes his junkie friend so entertaining. Or perhaps its because I find junkies funny. Isla Fischer as Rebel Alley is cute, intriguing, and does an alright job as a new love interest.

In the end the negatives of the new season greatly outweigh the positives. This is a show that has endured a long drawn out gestation period, and managed to come out of it with great endurance. It’s unfair to rate it based on how things have changed, because those of us who are unwilling to embrace change are always going to shoot down the things that are different. I’ll say this: the new season of Arrested Development will work as a filtering process for those casual fans who only jumped on board because it was hip, and it won’t win over new fans who never quite “got it.” What it will do, is please the die hards who have missed and appreciate the Bluth family’s escapades. Their sincerity is still in tact, and their comedy is still very much present. A few bumps in the road is nothing to be scared of, not series is perfect. The original 3 seasons had their flaws, just as this one does. But if you’re willing to grasp it, Season 4 will provide you with everything you need to prepare for A NU START.

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