Written by Greg Topscher (@gtopscher)
The Resurrection of Arrested Development was the holiday I celebrated this weekend, and I know I’m not alone. It’s been seven years since the show was cancelled and the characters aren’t the only ones who've experienced some major changes.
One crucial change: Episodes are now between 8 and 16 minutes longer than those of the first three seasons, when the show was airing on Fox, and interrupted with regular commercial breaks. I’d like to say, the more AD the better, but this changes the pace of the show from “how can make all the jokes fit inside of 23 minutes” to something slower that allow some bits to exist past their expiration date.
Without Michael to understand the craziness of his family, the episodes become darker. Instead of the buoyant straight man, just barely holding things together, Michael is now one of the least triumphant stories among the Bluths.
The longer episodes come from the ambitious attempt of a season-long timeline explaining both years of intersecting action from the gap between seasons and a complex series of events that unfold in the weeks before Cuatro de Cinco (a holiday Lucille and George started to exhaust party supplies in their war against Cinco de Mayo). And even if this timeline is often so impressive it made my heart swell with a Teamocil-like feeling that I belonged, other times it made the disparate strands needlessly complicated, leaning heavily on Ron Howard’s narration to such a degree that made me think back to his running joke attacking the shoddy narration of Scandalmakers-era Bluths.
Without Michael to understand the craziness of his family, the episodes become darker. Instead of the buoyant straight man, just barely holding things together, Michael is now one of the least triumphant stories among the Bluths. He watches his company fail and is voted out of living in his son’s dorm room, only to become a film executive whose sole job is to give away his family’s movie rights. G.O.B. is facing his usual moral dilemmas, but without shining pillar Michael to stand next to him, his shady backstage antics become increasingly debauched. If it weren’t for Will Arnett’s incredible delivery, things would start to resemble an Aronofsky movie (the roofie cycle is one of the darkest things the show has ever done). Tobias accidentally becomes a registered sex offender. Lindsay accidentally becomes a prostitute. George Sr. accidentally becomes a housewife. Things are not looking good for the Bluths.
Yet, as the main characters age with varying degrees of gracelessness, it’s George-Michael and Maeby, the children who become the show stealers here. Their chemistry is still a core component of their relationship, but they’ve both grown while their elders have only changed (for the worse). George-Michael studies abroad in Spain, where he wears a moustache as a merit badge of his overt sexuality. Maeby has gone the opposite route and repeated high school for five years, trying to get her parents' attention, until she realizes that being held back has accomplished her nothing. They eventually team up to form a tech startup that neither of them know how to run or even explain. It’s everything there is to love about Arrested in two episodes.
It was never going to be easy to be anything but disappointed by AD4. Very few shows have been more anticipated or have more demanding fans, but after my first hurried viewing, the show manages to impress. Things that aren't funny or are overly long the first time through get better when revisited. Early episodes that seem to have long jokeless periods help to explain some very rewarding parts later in the show (keep in mind that the amount of jokes has not decreased, only the speed has). And the darkest moments from the first half of the season find a balance with a much cheerier second half and satisfying conclusion.
Think of it this way: It’s a miracle that this season even exists. Seven years later, through the power of the Internet, the entire cast signed on, even though scheduling was a Primer-like logistics dilemma. It’s still another miracle that on top of getting the season green-lit, Hurwitz and crew decided not to shoot typical reunion fare and embarked on a daring new format that challenges how TV shows are made and released. Miracle three would be if they made a flawless new season, cementing Mitchell Hurwitz’s place as the greatest American who ever lived and changing the entertainment industry forever. It did not do that. But will I watch the fourth season again? I’ve already started.
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Written by Greg Topscher (@gtopscher)