The Problem With the New Arrested Development


As a master of self-control, I’m only seven episodes into season four of Arrested Development, which premiered on Netflix a few days ago. I could have splurged and devoured them all down in one go, but when you haven’t had a scoop of ice cream in five years, you don’t want to go wolfing down an entire carton as soon as it’s set out in front of you.

I’m wading through the show right now, attempting to dodge internet spoilers. I’ve heard mixed things about the show ranging from “good” to “disappointing,” but I don’t believe that latter classification is fair.

We need to keep in mind that for all intents and purposes, Arrested Development is one of the best TV shows ever made, if not the best. To resurrect it after three seasons of near perfection was almost a death wish in many ways, as it almost couldn’t NOT be disappointing to some degree. Jesus Christ himself could come back alongside the episodes and some people would still watch and say “meh.”

When a show was as good as Arrested was, and there’s SO much pressure to make sure it’s the same level of brilliance, it’s nearly impossible for the new show to actually replicate the exact quality of the old.


That said, I do like the new episodes so far. Even a haphazard season of Arrested Development is better than no Arrested Development, and so far I’ve seen nothing that would tarnish the memory of the older episodes. I’ve certainly laughed out loud a number of times and rewound and paused to catch background jokes like I used to.

But what’s clear is that this is not the same show, and the biggest problem the show faces is not the joke writing, but rather the formatting.

Even if you’ve only just started watching the show, you know that this season isn’t like the others. Rather, each episode picks one of the members of the Bluth family and tells their story for thirty minutes. Yes, other characters obviously make an appearance, but it’s usually only one or two of the major ones, and we’re lucky if they show up for more than five minutes.

Part of the reason Arrested Development was great was because it was an ensemble cast. Nearly every episode featured all core members of the family, in one way or another, and though that gave each of them less screen time, it allowed their appearances to pack more of a punch. Part of the genius of the show was how well the characters flowed with each other, and the entire cast felt like a cohesive, unstoppable comedy unit.


But not so this time. You can have a funny whole, but when you try to break it up into funny pieces, it doesn’t work nearly as well. Similarly, it’s disquieting to be told you’re watching Arrested Development but only have Gob, Buster, or George Michael show up for five minutes across seven episodes. Yes, I know that their “own” episodes are coming which will focus solely on them, but so far each episode feels incomplete when it’s restricted only to a few of the core cast members.

This is compounded by the fact that the episodes are longer now. Most are at least 30 minutes while the old ones were 22. Now we’re giving two or three core characters 30 minutes to work with instead of all eight or nine 22 minutes, and the result is a show that feels decidedly less tight and a lot more meandering. It’s great that Netflix frees TV show from arbitrary time restrictions, but I think for a show like this, sometimes less IS more.

Arrested just isn’t Arrested without its ensemble. I think the writing is great (even if the overall story is a touch confusing this season), and the characters are as despicable and lovable as ever. But when they’re so spread out the show loses much of what made it special to begin with.


I don’t think this was necessarily a creative decision. I think it was spawned out of necessity considering that the majority of the cast of the show are now relatively big stars across movies and other shows, and it was hard to get them all together for a summer. This way it wasn’t like each cast member had to commit to a full season, but rather maybe the equivalent of four or five episodes total, which was much more manageable.

I don’t know if the show will continue on after this season, or if the promised movie that’s been talked about for so long will manifest, but I do think what this new batch of episodes has taught us it’s that the most important thing is family (also breakfast), and that family needs to stick together.

More on the show next week once I finish up the series.

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  1. They start blending the stories together a little bit more, right after 7, granted, it’s still “_______’s Arrested Development.” they bring in the other characters into each others stories more & more.

    At first, it seemed really off for me, as well. However, around Tobias’ episode is where it all started to have bit more of that old ensemble feel.

    With that little tid bit of irrelevance being said:

    1. I didn’t even know that was Lindsey at first, but I’m glad Lucille made a joke about plastic surgery to address how different she looked.

    2. Did Steve Holt buy prime real estate in Chernobyl? Good god man.

  2. What I’m finding most difficult is the fact that they constantly have to go over things that have happened, even stuff we’ve seen in the previous episode and that makes it feel slow. Although I do like the ‘aha’ moments when you finally understand some background thing you noticed earlier.

    It does feel good once you watch the whole thing and understand it all, but I feel like some of them (eg. Buster) had a storyline completely disconnected from the others, and that’s no good. Even if some of their experiences overlap, they don’t all have enough contact.

  3. I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. Many people seem/seemed worried that season 4 would somehow taint it, but I happen to think season 3 was pretty lackluster already (due to several reasons, obviously.)

    I think there are just a lot of people looking through rose colored glasses. 🙂

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