Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4 TV review.

Often considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time, Arrested Development is this guy’s favorite show ever. With its razor sharp writing, excellent ensemble cast, wonderful editing and back stories, and especially the flawless build up of the jokes, the show about the riches to rags Bluth family rightfully earned its title as one of the best written shows ever made. Every time you go back and revisit one of the older episodes, you begin noticing new jokes you missed, probably because you were too busy laughing at another joke. That’s how hilarious it is.

Ever since the third season’s finale, we’d long been hoping to see a movie teased to us by Ron Howard at the show’s very end.  For years, we buzzed around like impatient bees, stuffed our faces with mayoneggs, and continually got tired by everyone’s “illusions”, feeling as if we’d never see that movie. However, with the devoted fanbase growing, a long awaited fourth season was FINALLY put into production, thanks to Netflix. When news broke out, you bet that I was hyped for it. So, were we in store to get that same lightning in a bottle once more, or was our hype all for naught?

The structure of this show is much different than before. Instead of the usual family interactions we’re used to, the writers decided to focus on one of the Bluth’s during specific episodes, all of which turn the underlying narratives like clockwork. It’s a complicated set up, and if I try to incoherently explain it, I’ll just keep rambling until you can take no more, and drop from TBA.

As for said structure, it’s hard for me to accurately summarize my thoughts. On the one hand, I really miss the same great interaction and chemistry that the previous three seasons had in loads, but on the other hand, I do have to give credit to the show for trying something so outside the box. If anything, it makes this season unique. It takes the show a while to get its footing back, but once it gets back into the saddle, it’s as hilarious as ever.

The first episode is kind of a bore, with some funny moments, but is uneven thanks to loads of exposition to catch up with what the family has been doing, but a few episodes in, it gets right back into the mode of Arrested Development that I love most. There are some occasional boring stretches, but the jokes come just as fast and furious as ever, with episodes featuring GOB, Buster, Lucille, and Maeby being my absolute favorites, with the writing reaching the great heights of the show’s golden age, and also throwing in great callbacks to classic gags. Plus, when the cast members do interact with each other, sharing the same effortless chemistry like they used to, it makes me laugh hard.

Granted, not all of the episodes are a success. The finale is absolute crap, and one episode featuring Tobias putting on a Fantastic Four musical is a joke that stretches way past its breaking point. This level of inconsistencies put it at an immediate disadvantage against the first three seasons, but thankfully, certain faults are easy to overlook. I also could have done with a little less narration, as characters occasionally have to put up with the narrator overlapping their dialogue.

The same great cast is back: Jason Bateman as Michael, Will Arnett as GOB, Portia de Rossi as Lindsay, Jessica Walter as Lucille, Jeffrey Tambor as George Sr., Tony Hale as Buster, Alia Shawkat as Maeby, David Cross as Tobias, and Michael Cera as George Michael all share the spotlight once more. Even the narrator is once again voiced by Ron Howard, who also plays a comedic version of himself on screen. All of these guys are out there acting their hearts out, and all of them are great, Arnett, Cross, Hale, and Walter being standouts. They’re also joined by recurring guests like Ben Stiller, Liza Minelli, Judy Greer, Mae Whitman, and Henry Winkler, as well as series newcomers such as Terry Crews, John Slattery, and Isla Fisher. Fisher, in particular, is unbelievably good. Her brand of comedy is perfect for the world of the Bluths, and she just nails it.

So, even with uneven tendencies, this should sound like a pretty great season, right? Well, I felt that way. I felt that the show hit some bumps along the way, but overall, still made it as great as ever…

That was, until I started looking back on one thing. I find that this season was really mean spirited, including and especially in the finale. The first three seasons, though they took on some taboo and dark elements, still retained this sense of lightness so that the heavier stuff was never too overwhelming. This season, I feel like the roads it went down were pretty dark. I suppose you could argue that this season is where the family officially hits rock bottom, and that darkness is necessary to show what the consequences of their actions have reduced them to, but I think it actually renders this season inconsistent with its predecessors. I wish they’d have retained that original lightness, and not been so harsh.

So, all in all, I’m mixed, and that may as well be considered a pan. What’s good is excellent, but what’s bad is boring, or even horrible. It doesn’t lower my opinion of the show, I still think it’s the greatest TV show I’ve ever seen, but at the end of the day, something irreplaceable was lost. Honestly, it absolutely kills me to think this, but when all is said and done, it’s hard not to look at season 4 as a disappointment, almost like they made it out of obligation rather than passion.

I hate to say it, but… they blue themselves!

***1/2 / *****

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