Cutting the episode length has another positive effect: When those problematic plotlines pop up, viewers get a faster reprieve. So when Michael’s staying in George Michael’s dorm room, you know other segments will cut in to save you and the time you have to spend squirming under Papa Bluth’s awkward obliviousness is less. That doesn’t make those problems disappear, but it does abate their overall effect.
What works about Season 4 still works in the remix and what doesn’t still doesn’t. Gob (Will Arnett) and Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) are still an outstanding duo (due largely to their performers) and Marky Bark’s (Chris Diamantopoulos) face blindness is still too much. (OK, sure, he can’t tell Lindsey apart from a man, but how is he unable to distinguish when she’s smiling?) The new cut isn’t a cure for what came before, but the balm feels good. And it could indicate a shift in the tide.
An End to Netflix Bloat
The nice way to frame this part of the conversation is that Season 4 was ahead of its time. Hurwitz’s plan to design his season around people consuming it all at once is a practice replicated time and time again as Netflix expands its original programming. With the freedom that comes with streaming, creators can craft episodes as long or as short as they want, in virtually any number, and break them up at any point they see fit. Unfortunately, a side effect of that plan has been a trend now commonly known as Netflix bloat.
Episodes run too long, then seasons run too long, and nothing is in place to put creators in check. Any editor will tell you brevity is a story’s best friend, but it’s often the writer’s vision that wins out at Netflix; that network values an auteur so much they’re willing to kill a series if he or she drops out. So if their vision calls for longer scenes, episodes, and seasons, so be it.
But after five years of similar experiments with stretching the form, it turns out a tight edit can be exactly what’s called for. Hurwitz sure seems happy with the results of his long-in-the-works remix. In addition to the below comment, the original cuts for Season 4 are well-hidden on Netflix. (They’re not under the “Episodes” section where all the other episodes are found. You have to click the “Trailers and More” tab to find the old cuts, making the remix the de facto fourth season for anyone catching up before Season 5.)
“I’m really excited about the final result,” Hurwitz said in his letter to fans. “It’s funny in a whole new way, and I believe it creates a really entertaining and hilarious new experience for the ‘viewer.'”
What all this tells us is that Hurwitz is not only aware of what went wrong five years ago, but why his experiment of old need not be replicated in the present day. Netflix certainly isn’t hurting financially from making longer episodes — that’s just more content, which is the name of their game — but they’re paying for it artistically. “Arrested Development” Season 4 should’ve been a warning to creators who wanted to release extended cuts as their final versions. Instead, Netflix bloat has only grown more rampant.
Odds are that trend will continue, but not for “Arrested Development.” Hurwitz’s disciplined new cut should set the stage for a fifth season with equal focus. There are other issues to consider (Tambor’s presence chief among them), but with the cast back together and a tighter framework in place, the remix could end up saving Season 5. Mistakes were made, but they don’t have to be repeated. If the new season goes well, perhaps future shows will take a cue from Hurwitz, just as they did with Season 4 — only this time, for the better.
“Arrested Development” Season 4 and the Season 4 remix are streaming now on Netflix. Season 5 premieres May 29.