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Netflix’s Revived Cult Favorite ‘Arrested Development’ Brings Baggage

Netflix's Revived Cult Favorite 'Arrested Development' Brings Baggage

“Arrested Development” is not
a sitcom that suits TV-love-at-first-sight. Like many of the better television
shows, it’s based on layers. Any series that rewards serious,
devoted, eagle-eyed fans would bring an onslaught of criticism upon its return.

Is the wrath that has met Netflix’s revival of the canceled
series simply
a product of viewer investment in the initial iteration of the series? Or does it hold
merit as a valid criticism of this installment?

While fans might have been blissfully
happy with a new “Arrested Development” immediately after its 2006 cancellation, seven years on was anyone really expecting a regurgitation
from the minds that created the biting brilliance of Season One, the whacked
out hilarity of Season Two, or the rushed genius of Season Three? 

Certainly,
Netflix’s Season Four of “Arrested Development” attempts some measures that simply don’t
work. Most of these failures come from ambitious risk-taking The
fourth season relies on a formidably complex structure. Partly to accommodate its sprawling now-more-famous -and-busy cast, the series spans several years and each of the fifteen episodes takes place concurrently following a different
character’s path, so the episodes could ostensibly be watched in any order.

This does not pay off. It can be confusing, repetitive, forced, and ultimately labored. But, it’s aiming to fulfill the signature layered
storytelling that fans came to adore from repeat viewings of the first three
seasons of “Arrested Development.”

Some
of the other failures were understandably at odds with what fans expected. The
production is noticeably sloppier. The clumsy use of the green screen is
unacceptable and distracting. The cinematography is not as snappy–perhaps
because the plot’s overlapping stories posed a limiting restriction on what the
camera could reveal in any particular scene.

Flashbacks with Kristen Wiig and
Seth Rogen seemed forced (both are wonderful). The product placement “gag” fell flat this time; plugging
for Mike’s Hard Lemonade went sour, while the Burger King promotional episode
in Season Two was a feat of brilliance. The most disappointing shortcoming was that the tactic of focusing on one character
at a time did not fit a show whose main delight was the relationships between
a glorious ensemble cast. 

But
look past these flaws and the strengths of the “Arrested Development” revival shine
through. The acting remains wickedly sharp among the original cast–particularly
regarding the respective Bluth babies, George Michael (Michael Cera) and Buster
(Tony Hale). While they stand out, everyone pulls their weight. 

In
the show’s silly spoofs of popular culture, the jokes aren’t quite fresh, but the
writers carry them off well and they are fit the series’ overall themes. Of course, Lucille would be the
ringleader in a show entitled the Real Housewives of the Orange County Prison
System. GOB would certainly be peripherally involved in a riff on “Entourage”
(and props to the bar titled “And Jeremy Piven”).

The
wordplay in this season is the characteristic mix of the outrageously obvious and
subtly brilliant (creator Mitchell Hurwitz has explains the values of achieving this dichotomy). The themes of “home” on a personal level and housing on a
macro level are still culturally relevant (lucky for the show’s creators, the problem of housing in America hasn’t been
solved since the show’s creation in 2003). Themes of baggage, transportation, and a desire to escape through travel or spiritual guidance, remain brilliantly
irreverent.

The
show continues to be simultaneously referential and filled with non-sequiturs. Netflix’s tagline is that “Arrested Development” is about a
“family whose future got abruptly canceled.” Ron Howard, the longtime narrator of
the show, plays a producer interested in making a movie about the Bluth family.
There is a fantastic bit where Cera’s character is a collegiate
tech-startup genius, a winking reference to the purported public confusion that Cera played Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.” For a muddled line, the narrator just repeats
what the character said, so you don’t rewind and “end up halfway through
the Maeby episode.”

One
of the running gags in the series is GOB’s habit of ingesting his “Forget Me
Now” pills in order to forget something embarrassing he’s done. Perhaps it’s
best that the viewers take a note from GOB and attempt to forget the previous seasons expectations and focus on Netflix’s installment
“Arrested Development” for its own ambitions. Whether or not the show succeeds, it’s trying to break some
narrative ground. While there’s less laurel-resting than the hype led us to expect, there’s also a lot of brilliance tucked away in there.

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