The Final Verdict on Arrested Development

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I did it. I stayed true to my word and didn’t binge watch all fifteen episodes of Arrested Development the weekend they came out. Rather, patience and other things getting in the way led me to have a more spread out viewing experience, and I finally wrapped up my time with the show last night.

As you may remember, I did stop midway through the season to write a post about what I’d discovered so far. I focused on that it was odd how disconnected the show’s characters felt, though I was assured that would get better as time went on.

Well, I made it through all of them, and now I’m able to give a more complete picture of my thoughts about what is undoubtedly the one season of television I have looked forward to more than any other in my life.

In short, I wasn’t disappointed. I know many were, and I will acknowledge the season does come with its fair share of issues, but the bottom line is that this was a great set of episodes and a fantastic project for the cast, creators and Netflix to bring to life.

©2013 NETFLIX  CR: Mike Yarish

Season four, from a writing and acting perspective, is just as good as any of the others that came before it back when they were airing on a network that despised them. Every member of the cast is able to slide effortlessly back into character, and it’s like they never left, despite the original show airing a decade ago.

The writing is top notch as well, and people are failing to keep in mind that most only really started to discover the true genius of Arrested Development after a season had been watched two or three times. To this DAY people are still discovering hidden jokes in the original season that they never knew existed, and I guarantee that many will be discovered in season four for years to come as well. The sheer amount of callbacks within the season, and to past seasons, is astonishing. It’s simply physically impossible to catch them all in a once-through viewing.

That said, I found myself looking more closely than ever, as I knew I was searching for these type of jokes. And knowing the style of the show, you’re often able to predict certain plot points. For example, during Lindsay’s trip to India, I knew Tobias was sitting behind her on the plane before it was revealed, and I  knew that Maeby was disguised as the shaman she spoke to. But for every joke I caught ahead of time, there are probably five that I still haven’t discovered. The show is as smart as it ever was, but most people probably haven’t realized it yet. This is why the show never thrived originally, because the majority of it went over people’s heads the first viewing.

Rather, the main issues with the new season stem from two aspects of filming, 1) the separation of the characters and 2) the confusing timeline.

The first I’ve already talked about at length, and though it gets marginally better over time, it’s a constant, pervading issue throughout the season. Because of what I’m assuming is cast availability, they had to structure the new season so that everyone wouldn’t have to be present all the time. Therefore, they made each episode focus on one character and mere guest start the other cast members when it suited the plot. The entire family is only all together in a handful of scenes. Sometimes, they even have to resort to greenscreening in people who simply couldn’t manage to be in the same room (Tony Wonder at Gob’s wedding, Lucille 2 at Lucille Bluth’s trial).

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It’s just a completely different show when it’s organized this way. As I said before, the show in its early seasons crammed the full cast into 22 minute episodes. Now, the episodes are 35 minutes long and only feature three or four cast members at a time. This can make the humor less tight, the jokes less snappy at times. I understand this was done perhaps out of necessity, but it did fundamentally change the show for the worse. Characters disappear for vast stretches of time, or at best, pop up for mere minutes. It’s just not Arrested Development when you have to wait five episodes for Tobias or Gob to show up, or Buster gets five minutes of screen time across thirteen episodes until he’s finally featured in his own.

The second, and perhaps more troubling aspect of new season is its timeline, which at times can be more head-spinning than Primer. From what I can tell after watching all the episodes, there are three time periods in which we see events take place. One is immediately after the events of the third season when Michael and Lucille try to escape in their respective ships. Another is about a year after this event. And then most of the show would appear to take place five years after that.

The problem is that it’s often incredibly hard to tell which timeline you’re in. This is compounded by the fact that the entire season is essentially one giant eight hour long episode of the show, with everything leading up to a final confrontation during Cinco de Quatro.

To span three different timelines in nearly every episode can be exhausting, and you’re almost never sure when a specific scene is taking place in relation to the others. It can be confusing enough to be a turnoff, and my fiancée, a fan of the original show, actually gave up watching midway through the season because she simply could not follow what was going on.

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The show tries to fix this by constantly showing how the different plotlines interact with each other. We’re constantly having the gaps filled in with scenes that thread in and out of each other, and show the same situation through the lens of another character.

Arrested Development has always done this to some degree, but not at this level. Eventually it can become too much, as by the end of the season, nearly half of every episode is made up of footage pieced together from all the episodes we’ve seen before.  So really, 15 episodes is more like ten, and for each individual character, it’s more like four, as almost no one appears in a majority of episodes.

I believe if these scheduling and structuring issues were able to be solved, there would have been far less complaints about this new season. That said, even a disorganized season of Arrested Development is better than nearly everything else on TV.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of season four was the fact that it ends in a very definite cliffhanger with Buster being accused of murdering Lucille 2. I didn’t expect to set things up for another season (or possible movie), but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Between that and Mitch Hurwitz hints that we may not have seen the last of Arrested Development, it might be time to start getting our hopes up that this wasn’t a one-time thing. But I suppose that has a lot to do with the final Netflix numbers when they figure out how many people actually tuned in.


If we are blessed with a season five, I just hope that they’re able to secure the entire cast for a series of episodes that feature all the characters, and are firmly planted in a singular timeline. If they can manage that, the writing and acting will deliver an incredible season without question.

With something as hyped as this was, it was fairly obvious that it would disappoint many. But I’m taking the long view of things, enjoying what I watched and realizing that it’s likely only going to get better once the layers and layers of jokes are extracted from the show over time.

More than anything, I think this venture is symbolic of great changes in the TV landscape. Netflix, the new guard of TV, resurrected a genius show that one of the traditional networks carelessly cast aside. Brilliance is now being celebrated and rewarded not only across cable or pay channels, but new media outlets like this one. Arrested’s return is a triumph for the television industry as a whole, and a sign things are only changing for the better.


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  1. I agree the timeline was hard to follow. With it jumping back and forth and character to character it did make it hard to figure when exactly things took place. It really was meant to be watched in one sitting cause i found myself having to recap every thing from the past episodes just to understand the one i was watching. All in all still a great show I enjoyed but just different from the other seasons.

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