As you've all heard by now, a fourth season of Arrested Development is a reality. On May 26, after seven years off the air, one of the most celebrated sitcoms in the history of television returned to Netflix with 15 new episodes. For Arrested Development fans, there was no greater form of wish fulfillment.
Except maybe the Bluth banana stand coming to a local mall.
Although it didn't occur to me to listen to reviews before I watched the new season, when I finished, I was shocked to learn that some people didn't seem to care for it. I struggled to make sense of those reviews, as it didn't seem possible. Sure, not everyone likes Arrested Development, but I just couldn't believe any fan didn't love the same season I just watched.
Quick note: If you're not an AD fan in the first place, you can probably stop reading now. Also, if your response to any artistic analysis is "Hey, opinions are subjective, whatever," you can also stop reading. Lastly, if you're fond of saying "Ugh, analysis is the enemy of beauty" or "If you have to explain the joke, then it's not funny," you can also stop reading, and hopefully stop speaking out loud as well. Also, please look into never procreating.
Quite simply, the new season of Arrested Development is a staggeringly impressive comic achievement that leaves me dumbstruck in the wake of its brilliance. Yeah, I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's not. Season 4 is one of the most inspiring comedic accomplishments I've ever seen. What's more, I haven't heard any criticism of the new season that has not been marred by viewers who seem to be betraying everything AD stands for. Some criticisms were just breathtakingly stupid, but I'm even incensed by those who sat back and said "meh." So while I, of course, can't prove the naysayers "wrong," perhaps I can give them four tips to assist them in their viewing experience. Here are four guidelines for Arrested Development fans to better enjoy the new season.
#4. Remember What Arrested Development Is
As I waded through the criticism from laypersons and paid laypersons (TV critics) alike, I had to wonder if some of these people had forgotten what Arrested Development was about in the first place. Based on the first three seasons, any fan of the show should know that AD was never about creating likable characters. The Bluth family is an insecure, self-interested bunch of scheming liars. Even central character Michael Bluth, who endeavors for something greater, consistently fails and gives in to his basest instincts.
Also, AD will go anywhere for comedy: pratfall, pun, farce, satire, and esoteric reference. It fully embraces the highest and lowest forms of comedy. Some AD humor is easy. Some is hard. Some is insanely subtle and hard. That's part of the reason it went off the air, right? Even though it had the full support of Ron Howard's production company, it took a hardcore audience of devoted fans pushing Fox to even get three seasons out of it. And then in its time off the air, it grew a bigger and bigger cult audience of people who watched the show over and over on DVD, catching all the jokes they missed.
Like the subtle ad for the family's favorite investigator, Gene Parmesan, to the left of the ad for Ice the bounty hunter.
I guess what I'm saying is, anyone who wanted more AD should have been geared up for a show about a group of seriously flawed, unlikable people containing myriad humor styles, some of which require a lot of hard work. I thought that's what the whole AD contingent was praying for. And it's exactly what we got.
#3. Watch All of It
I couldn't help but notice that lots of people talking shit about Season 4 didn't even watch the whole season. That's pretty amazing. Did they walk out in the middle of The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects? That's not to say the end of Season 4 has some crazy twist, but there is no way to evaluate it without watching the whole thing.
There's a narrative difference between this season of Arrested Development and those that came before: Here, each episode follows one character in a narrative that brings us up-to-date on what's occurred in the last seven years. Also, while there is one overarching theme that ends on the Bluth-invented holiday of Cinco de Cuatro, that story is told from multiple perspectives. Put another way: There is absolutely no possible way to judge the first few episodes until you've watched the whole thing.
SPOILER COMING!!! LOOK OUT!!!
SPOILER START: For example, in Episode 1, George-Michael mentions that he wants to change his name because he was embarrassed to learn that pop singer George Michael was arrested for having gay sex in a public bathroom. His dad, Michael, explains that since his grandfather was "George" and his father was "Michael," the idea was to combine them to give him his own new identity as the youngest. Hoping to accommodate his son, Michael then suggests, "I know, we'll call you Boy George." Then there is a jump cut to news footage of Boy George also being arrested for gay bathroom sex.
Is that the greatest AD joke of all time? No, it's not. It's OK. Maybe it's a little forced. But what some would criticize as a weak joke is actually JUST THE SETUP. The real punchline to that joke doesn't even come until more than 10 episodes later. There, George-Michael meets an attractive actress and, hoping to impress her, stops himself from introducing himself as George-Michael and switches to Harris at the last second. (Even that is a joke, playing off of Maeby's incorrect pronunciation of "heiress" moments earlier). Anyway, trying to verify the name she's just heard, the actress asks, "George Maharis? Your name is George Maharis?" George-Michael proudly adopts that as his new, more masculine identity.
Here's the thing: George Maharis was a '60s television star who (like George Michael and Boy George) was arrested in a public bathroom for gay sex. So what even I thought was a mediocre joke in Episode 1 was merely the setup to what is now my favorite AD joke of all time.
And a lot of the series is like that. Even when the jokes aren't esoteric, they're still enriched when we see the same scenes over and over again from different perspectives. Each time we have a greater piece of the puzzle. Dismissing the show after a few episodes is not only lazy, but guarantees that your opinion is uninformed and, therefore, inherently wrong. Watch the seven and a half hours of streamable content before you start spewing your crap. You'll still be wrong, but at least you'll be less objectively wrong because your opinion's based on something.