The latest season of the Emmy award-winning, hugely under-appreciated sitcom from Mitch Hurwitz, Arrested Development, comes 7 years after the previous, and it’s strange. Not only because all of these characters are seven years older, but because all the actors are seven years older, which has made this season jarring for some fans, and fascinating for others.
While I’ve been careful to exclude spoilers, if you are especially sensitive, you may like to turn away now. After all, you don’t want to make a huge mistake.
I’m not going to explain the new format of the show, as that’s been done many times – I’m going to jump straight in with the analysis of this series. The first question for many, is: ‘is it funny?’ That’s easily answered with a: ‘yes’, and so would the question: ‘Is it as funny as the past seasons?’ – but it is so in a very different way.
The big thing we lose out on this season, is character interaction. There are very rarely scenes where more than two central characters interact together, simply because the actors are all too successful and busy to sacrifice many months of their time on starring in each episode. Previously, Arrested Development thrived off group interactions between these brilliantly crafted characters, but this season has none of that. It has to rely on the character’s strength when they’re on their own. Every character is strong, and funny, but not as funny as if they were in a group.
These limitations then lead to the use of green screen. Because schedules were limited, many actors had to be filmed on green screen months after the person they were talking to in the scene recorded their part. This meant that there weren’t true reactions to each other’s speech, and often, the tracking wasn’t great, meaning people ‘floated’. This is distracting, and leaves us with none of the brilliant facial expressions we were used to in past seasons.
Nevertheless, the writing in this season is as sharp as ever. Seeing the puzzle piece itself together over the 15 episodes was a joy, as it was great fun to spot other characters in the background, or see links with past episodes. It left me craving a re-watch. Episodes are well edited, and extremely well thought out.
There are tons of jokes, many old, or based upon the older show, but many new. There are new recurring jokes too, which are great to see. There were an abundance of meta jokes I found very funny, for example there is a watermark on old footage reading: “SHOWSTEALER PRO TRIAL VERSION”, and many references to Netflix.1 Rarely would a joke fall flat, and if it did, it usually made more sense a few episodes later.
The fact that this was a puzzle, where the foundations are laid in the first episode, and slowly built upon as time goes on, left me disappointed after the first few episodes. I rarely laughed, but once I hit episode 7, I was hooked, and the rest of the series was excellent. I expect when I re-watch the first episodes, they’ll make far more sense, and be far funnier, but I was really worrying about the show after the first few hours.
What is also very apparent, is that this is most definitely a set-up for future episodes. This isn’t the end of Arrested Development. Many questions are left unanswered, and many new stories open up at the end. We must hope, however, that all the actors can schedule the development of a new series together. We know what they’ve all been doing over the past seven years, so now we want to see them all together. Season 4 is fundamentally one big story, while the old show has a story per episode, or few episodes, so it feels like there needs to more.
Season 4 of the greatest sitcom of all time, is not the greatest season. But it shouldn’t be shrugged off as tired, and saying ‘I don’t like the new format’ would be ignorant. Mitch Hurwitz has done an astounding job of solving the puzzle of filming a show when all the cast are already occupied, and creating a puzzle for us at the same time. It’s masterful, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it genius. Just don’t expect the brilliant conversations and reactions you’ve grown to know and love. Further, don’t expect the density of the past seasons – while there are many gags, and background jokes packed in there, the freedom of episode length means that the editors left it loose in places, and feeling like it has been produced very differently from past episodes.
Some episodes and story lines will fall way short of your expectations here. Others will have you on the floor in laughter. This season is different, and as long as you appreciate what the writers have done, you’ll adore these 15 episodes as much as you did the first 53. If you go in sceptically, you might not. A re-watch is needed to see if the first episodes were really as mediocre as they were on first watch, but for now, I’m not comfortable with saying it’s consistently on par with the previous seasons, but I’m very happy to say it’s ‘accomplished’, and I want more.
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- There was actually great use of technology in this show, just like in House of Cards. You could judge the year the series was set in by seeing what gadget they were holding. When Michael has an iPhone 4S, we know that this is more recent, whereas when we see him with an iMac G4, we know that these events only happened shortly after the third season finished. There are plenty of original iPhones in there too. ↩