I’m now just over halfway through watching Season 4 of Arrested Development — the much-anticipated Netflix treat we’ve been begging for since 2006, when the show first “ended.” So far, I’ve seen individual episodes receive more post-action analysis than an Eagles game, but I haven’t seen a collective evaluation of fan response to Arrested‘s latest iteration. Should we have been careful what we wished for? Or is this actually filling the void Seasons 1 through 3 left behind?
Even though I haven’t made it through the whole season, I think we can all solemnly agree that the answer has to be “no.” With all of its convoluted plot twists and unexpected ostrich appearances (I just want the chicken dance back), this season feels like the hammed-up parody of a once-original show. That’s not to say I’m not getting a few chuckles from each episode, but mostly, the show has gone from novel to schtick. Here are the issues:
1. Too much George Sr. When George Sr. was hidden away in prison, his cagey character and meandering monologues were a quirky complement to the otherwise developed, entertaining characters. Now that he and his shady desert dealings are at the forefront of the show’s plot, we’re spending an awful lot of time watching the jowly patriarch scheme and stress. Turns out his odd-but-conniving-bird affect doesn’t make for a compelling protagonist.
2. Too many guest stars. While I was always delighted by cameos during the show’s first three seasons — Carl Weathers, Charlize Theron, Liza Minnelli — the excess of guest stars this season (exacerbated by Michael’s adventures in Hollywood) makes every episode feel like a viewer’s choice montage. All the celebrity isn’t adding to the show’s substance, though. I can’t help but think that Ed Helms, Andy Richter, Jon Slattery, and Jon Krasinski might just be a way to wring cheap squeals of delight from viewers. (Also, Ron Howard playing the Hollywood hotshot he actually is in real life? Already stale.)
3. Too many stories. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m also just finding the plot(s) of this season tough to follow. As each Bluth embarks on his or her own adventure, the spoofs multiply and it’s harder and harder to keep track of everyone’s whereabouts: George Michael goes to college, Lindsay and Tobias go to India, George Sr. goes to the desert, Lucille goes to prison, Michael goes to Hollywood. Plot twists that would have happened over the course of a few episodes in previous seasons are now coming at us rapid-fire. Moreover, the constant back-and-forth narration, where Ron Howard goes back a few months to describe how, in fact, Michael ended up in a dorm, or George Sr. wound up in a sweat lodge, is only adding to the confusion.
4. Not enough Bluth family meetings. I’m told that the logistics of filming this season, with cobbled-together sets and actors, meant that it was basically impossible to film the whole family in its entirety. But as each family member pursues a completely different story line, the show is sprawling into disjointedness. More important, we’re losing that special dysfunction that could only come with a Bluth gathering — will we never see Buster try to massage George Michael’s shoulders again? Or the entire family simultaneously roll their eyes at Michael? It’s a weird magic that all the cameos in the world can’t replace.
5. George Michael and Maeby. Now that I’ve seen Michael Cera on the silver screen more than once, carrying that uptight sweetness into other worlds, it somehow feels like George Michael is just a caricature of himself. Plus, the previously spunky and mischievous Maeby, who always guaranteed adventure for the pair, seems to have retreated into permanent sullenness this season. Without that rambunctious duo providing some relief from the oblivious grown-ups around them, we’ve lost one of the most charming parts of the show.
Of course, I’m just halfway there. Perhaps the show will make up for these (huge!) mistakes and redeem itself. But, as the show should have done, maybe it’s better to quit while I’m ahead.