The long-anticipated 4th season of TV cult- favorite, Arrested Development, premiered on Netflix over the weekend. As one of those who discovered and fell in love with the show when it debuted on Fox in 2003 – then unable to convince any of my friends to even give the poorly-promoted show a glance, only to have those very same friends come to me a year later telling me about the wonderful TV program they “found”… only after the press sanctioned and OK’d it by bestowing upon it the label of “cult hit,” thereby rendering it required viewing for hipsters – Netflix’s 15-episode Bluth-fest was must-see viewing.
Although it wasn't my initial intention, I wound up binge-watching the entire 15-episode season in one butt-busting marathon. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but for me it’s what salvaged what might have been a perilously uneven offering.
There’s no denying that it is great to be back in the company of the dysfunctional Bluths, and for die-hard fans of the series, I don’t think there is much to disappoint. The entire cast has been reassembled and the labyrinthine plotting of the 4th season picks up from where we last left them – in the calamitous aftermath of white collar criminal mastermind, Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), commandeering the Queen Mary and heading out to sea in an effort to avoid arrest by the Securities and Exchange Commission. (The show was cancelled after three low-rated seasons in 2006)
But, as with all cult-based sequels and fan-fueled resurrections of canceled TV-shows, it's unlikely that “Arrested Development- Season 4” is going to please everyone. Purists wanting a repeat of what they had before will find it dismaying to see the Bluth family structure so fractured. The format of the new season focuses on the independent paths chosen by the different family members. A choice that works fine for characters you like (which in my case would be: Lucille, Gob, and Tobias), but surprisingly draggy for characters who are hilarious in small doses but strangely trying when given substantial screen time (George and Oscar Bluth [Jeffrey Tambor proving that more is sometimes incredibly less], Michael , Lindsay and especially Buster). Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth is perhaps given the shortest shrift in this season. His Michael, a wonderfully reactive character who once served as a straight man foil for all the insanity around him, is flattened out considerably when revealed to every bit as loopy as his relatives. Those hoping that 7 years worth of preparation would lead to the same level of character ingenuity and quotable, viral-worthy moments of comedy might also find themselves able to count the real laughs (not ones based on fond memories of the original gags) on one hand. Not a good average.
A saving grace when things start to meander (which happens with more frequency than it should) is waiting to see which characters and plot points from previous episodes will make an appearance. On this score, season 4 of “Arrested Development” should make devoted fans very happy. And of course there are the myriad celebrity cameos and bit parts. Liza Minnelli, Tommy Tune, and the always-hilarious Henry Winkler are particularly effective.
Still, while watching the episodes, my mind couldn't help but go to the whole Internet/fan influence thing thing that is becoming more common in popular entertainment. Call it the "Snakes on a Plane" paradox. It's great to have fans, but how edgy or "out there" can any entertainment be when it is trying so hard to please? There are times in "Arrested Development" you can feel the producers giving fans what they want rather than producing a work of an organic comic vision... Ironically, the very thing that made the show into a cult hit in the first place. It's been written about before, but in some ways fandom may be the worst enemy popular entertainment has.
If there’s anything to be said in favor of binge-watching this series is that it makes the hop-scotching format employed by the show that much easier to keep in step with. They payoff for so many of the jokes in season four rely on one remembering what has happened in previous episodes, that a single episode at a time viewing would have been maddening for me. Also, it’s great to be able to freeze frame, rewind, and repeat the multitude of visual jokes that come at you so thick and fast.
The largest drawback to binge-watching is perhaps its most self-evident (albeit one I didn't encounter with my binge-watching of the TV programs, Downton Abbey or Sherlock); the sense that after spending upwards of 7 hours with the Bluth family, you might possibly welcome a 7-year hiatus before wanting to visit them again.