Mitch Hurwitz had his work cut out for him when he announced the return of his show, Arrested Development. He had to find a way to reboot a series that was more popular off the air than it was in primetime, while still trying meet the wild expectations of one of the most loyal cult followings in television history. He also needed to book nine of the most successful and in-demand comedic actors of the past decade. But Hurwitz has found a solution to all of these issues in Arrested Development‘s fourth season, which debuted early Sunday morning.
Streaming sites and DVDs were instrumental in the spread of the show to new viewers after it was abruptly canceled in 2006, so Hurwitz decided to release all 15 of the new episodes on Netflix. Because Arrested Development is so intricately written with recurring jokes that build off one another, it was always more suited for an on-demand platform than primetime television.
While the new episodes were made specifically for streaming, the format of the show remained largely the same (even the signature “fade-to-white” commercial cuts remained). However, scheduling conflicts with actors forced each episode of the new season to follow only one character. Though many fans have found this cause for concern, the splintered episodes follow the storyline of the show perfectly. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) had abandoned the family at the end of season three, and without the “one son to keep them all together,” we find each character on his or her own.
The Bluths are back.
The single-character episodes follow a shared storyline throughout the season. Because the viewer’s perspective is limited, questions are left unanswered until you follow the story from every perspective. This season is tailor-made for the Arrested Development super fan. Binge-watching is encouraged.
The splintered family dynamic also allowed the writers to get much darker with the storylines than in past seasons. Almost all of the characters find themselves homeless at some point in the season. A few even struggle with addiction and hunger, but Arrested Development’s emotionless and sarcastic tone manages to successfully tread the fine line between funny and disturbing.
Despite the new format, some things don’t change in the Arrested Development universe. There is still “No touching!” allowed in prison, Tobias Funke (David Cross) is still unable to get naked and Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) still has “the dizzies.” But the new season will have fans craving plates of mustard and Parmesan, wishing for “A NU START” and planning trips to — get this — Beverly Hills.
The new episodes also go to great lengths to mirror the historical timeline of the last seven years. Motorola Razrs turn into iPhones as character storylines progress. The housing collapse in 2008 plays a major role in the storyline, and prominent news stories, such as the Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549, receive mentions.
Season four also expands on Arrested Development’s impressive list of star appearances. Carl Weathers (as himself), Ben Stiller (Tony Wonder), Henry Winkler (Barry Zuckerkorn) and Scott Baio (Bob Loblaw) reprise their classic supporting characters, while Isla Fisher, Ed Helms, John Slattery, Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig all make extended appearances throughout the season.
Perhaps the most impressive new guest star in season four is that of Ron Howard. While Howard lends his voice as the show’s narrator, he finally makes an extended appearance on camera as a more pompous, arrogant and inflated version of himself. The storyline involving him and his production company, Imagine Entertainment, make for a seamless transition into a possible Arrested Development movie, which has been rumored since the show was canceled.
If the new episodes of Arrested Development prove anything, they prove that there is an afterlife in network television. Even after seven years after death, some shows can still be resurrected.
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