Review: Arrested Development, Season 4

luke kalamar catches up with the Bluths after seven years…

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Plot: Following the incident at the harbor, the Bluths have all gone their separate ways. Each member of the family embarks on their own personal journey of self-discovery which all concludes on “Cinco de Cuatro,” the holiday created by a young Lucille and George Bluth (Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogan) to lessen the influence of Cinco de Mayo.

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Ladies and gentleman, the wait is over. Brand new Arrested Development is finally here. It has been a full 7 years since Season 3 ended and fans everywhere have clamored for more since. Not only that, but more and more people have tuned in post-cancellation that the average viewer audience has multiplied exponentially. If it wasn’t for the people who watched the show during its original airing, we probably wouldn’t have witnessed the finest example of what simple word of mouth and encouragement can accomplish. During the course of those years, the show has become a source of legend. Many even regard it as the greatest comedy to ever exist on television. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on the success of this brand new season. With such an intense and rapidly growing fanbase that already accepted the show was over for good, creating something new can easily tarnish the extremely positive memories. So were these 15 new episodes able to live up to the high standards people have given the show, or is this an example of a show that should’ve stayed gone?

In more ways than one, Season 4 accomplished the impossible. Not only is the fact that it even exists is a miracle, but the writing and acting was so reminiscent of the past seasons that it doesn’t even feel like 7 years went by. I watched the full season with a group of my friends when it premiered on May 26th and we were laughing as hard as ever before. The subtle jokes, awkward tension, sexual undertones, foreshadowing to future events, and hilarious sight gags were all present. It was, through and through, the Arrested Development we all fell in love with over these years. One of my personal favorite and actually very poignant moments was right in the Season 4 Premiere “Flight of the Phoenix” when Michael (Jason Bateman) was leaving the Phoenix airport. As he is on the moving floor heading to the exit, there is a long mural in the background that features some of the classic settings from the past three seasons. The model home, the chapel in Mexico where Ann (Mae Whitman) was abandoned, Wee Britain, and even the harbor with the loose seal was all there. That alone really hit home that the show was both back and that the writers haven’t forgotten what helped make the show such a cult hit.

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The acting, as I said before, was also spot on. Every returning cast member was able to melt back into their roles without missing a single beat. Jessica Walters was especially wonderful as she was still able to wield that sarcastic bite and wit that made Lucille so hilarious before. I absolutely lost it when she reunited with Tobias (David Cross) for the first time in years and her first words were, “Hello Anus Tart,” without even seeing Tobias’ license plate which said ANUSTART (it’s supposed to be “a new start,” but more on that later). The guest actors that were present throughout the season were perfect as well and brought that extra layer of hilarity to this already very funny show. Kristen Wiig as Young Lucille Bluth was so uncanny it’s almost scary, Isla Fisher was excellent as Rebel Alley, and Terry Crews was hilarious as politician Herbert Love. Seth Rogan, while not as exact as Wiig, still did an incredible job as young George Bluth. Other actors like Ed Helms, John Krasinski, the Workaholics guys, and even Henry Winkler’s own son Max, who was the Young Berry Zuckerkorn, all had their own short but hilarious scenes. And hey, is that Steve Holt and Annyong?! Yep, even Justin Grant Wade and Justin Lee made an appearance.

In regards to the format of this season, that was both a hit and a miss for me. I can see the reasons for having each episode focused on a singular character, especially when you take the grand plan of a future movie into perspective, but the constant jumping around timeline-wise was pretty exhausting at first. Since this season is supposed to be both a reflection of what each character has done since 2006 and a continuation of their actions leading to and after “Cinco de Cuatro,” there was a lot of ground to cover at first and not a lot of time. This is why most of the episodes prominently featured flashbacks with the premiere episode being especially extensive. It was pretty difficult to follow these rapid time jumps, and even trying to figure out where each separate character events took place in relation to everyone else got pretty difficult at times. Sometimes it was clearly stated, which was nice, but there were a few instances where I almost wanted to grab a piece a paper and try to write everything down to figure out this long and complicated timeline.

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It also didn’t help that the singular character focus backfired at times on those episodes where the main story simply didn’t work. The finest example of this is the second episode “Borderline Personalities.” This episode was focused on George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) and he tries to set into motion a plan to build a wall on land owned by his twin brother Oscar to separate Mexico and the United States. While this episode did have its moments, such as George and Oscar meeting the Ostrich God, overall the episode was the weakest of the season. The main plot was pretty difficult to follow at times and it got even weirder when Oscar and George changed personalities. Also, there was a reason why Oscar and George were very rarely on the same screen together during the first three seasons. It’s confusing when you have an actor play two completely identical characters working together and doing the same thing. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell if it was Oscar or George on screen, which just added to the confusion even more.

Then there were those times where the new show format worked incredibly well. Thankfully, these times far outweighed those moments that just didn’t work. One example was the first Tobias centered episode “A New Start.” Tobias has always been one of the best characters on this entire show, and this episode proved that he has what it takes to carry a full 30 minute program. The hilarity starts right at the beginning where we’re introduced to John Beard’s To Entrap A Local Predator: Orange County Edition – Supercreeps and we learn that Tobias is the target. This is an obvious reference to the classic To Catch A Predator show, so already the premise is hilarious. It gets even better when Tobias, in his classic, clueless way, says “Is there a little girl here all by herself?” when he’s trying to see if his daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) is home. Boom, perfect, run opening credits. It just gets even better as Tobias travels to India, meets a new flame at a Methadone clinic in California (he thinks it’s actually Method One, an acting clinic), and pretends to be The Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four. The ANUSTART license plate makes its first appearance here as well, which is a classic moment of Tobias being completely oblivious to what he says and does. It’s on par with his job as an Analrapist, a combination of Analyst and Therapist. There’s a reason why Tobias is hilarious, and this episode showcased that in spades.

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Before this season started and the new format was unveiled, producers also warned that the Bluth’s wouldn’t always be on screen together. There would be a few moments here and there where they’re all reunited, but for the most part the characters would stay separate. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t cross paths however, and that in fact happened quite often. The George Sr. episodes “Borderline Personalities” and “Double Crossers” extensively featured Lucille, Maeby played an important role in the Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) episode “Red Hairing” and the Michael episode “Flight of the Phoenix,” long before her own episode “Señioritis,” and Tobias and Gob (Will Arnett) had a fantastic scene together in “A New Attitude.” Michael was obviously in the majority of the episodes as well. However, the one character that was noticeably absent for almost the entire season was Buster (Tony Hale). With the exception of the big family meeting that was regularly referenced, Buster was rarely present during the misadventures of his family. All we had of him until his own episode “Off the Hook” was a scene with Lucille in “Borderline Personalities” and with Tobias in “Smashed.” Even Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler) appeared in more episodes than Buster. I don’t know if Hale just didn’t have the time to film more scenes, but considering how many of the characters interacted on their own personal quests, Buster could’ve definitely gotten more screen time.

Outside of the format and when it did and didn’t work, the majority of the episodes still featured some absolutely hilarious moments. As a Simon & Garfunkel fan, I loved how “The Sound of Silence” became the “I’ve made a huge mistake” phrase for Season 4. That first appeared in “Colony Collapse” and got even better as the show went on. Discovering that Ann’s church is named the Holy Eternal Rapture, with a giant “HER?” sign no less, was spectacular, the constant appearance of Feinberg, Feinberg, Feinberg, and Feinberg as lawyers representing Marvel Enterprises fighting Tobias’ illegal representation of the Fantastic Four was stellar, and don’t even get me started on the cameo appearances of the three Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) characters. The very brief appearance of Michael’s long deceased wife Tracey (Maria Thayer) was powerful as well, as it was the first time we’ve ever seen this consistently mentioned character. These moments, amongst many others, made Season 4 highly enjoyable despite some problems.

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As for the ending, that’s a whole separate discussion. If you recall what I mentioned before, Season 4 was created with the intent of having something else continue it. Whether this is a movie or another season still remains to be seen, but because of this every single plot ended with a cliffhanger. The biggest of them all is in the finale “Blockheads” which ended when George-Michael (Michael Cera) punched his father in the face. We also have Buster being accused of murdering Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli), George Sr. wants to be a woman, Lindsay has become a Republican, and George-Michael is ready to be the mysterious George Maharis. All of these open up entirely new stories that are just begging to be resolved. I personally enjoyed the ending scene where George-Michael punched his father because Michael can sometimes be a huge douche to his son. Watching George-Michael stand up to him was great, but letting the show end there is a terrible idea. It lacked the definitive nature of the previous finale for a reason, and not providing the obvious closure will lead to some bad blood with fans.

Season 4 was, overall, a great season. The jokes were hilarious, the actors were incredible, and everything about it bled classic Arrested Development. However, there were moments where the show truly faltered and the format sometimes became its own worst enemy. The cliffhanger endings also work if a movie or another season does come out of this, but I can see a lot of upset fans if that doesn’t happen. I completely believe that Season 4 has proven the show can still be funny and is absolutely deserving of even more content, and hopefully some movie execs out there feel the same way.

Rating: 8.5/10

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