4 Tips for Enjoying the New 'Arrested Development' Season
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.
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.
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.
Watch It Again
But actually, even after you watch all of it, it would still be a good idea to shut up, because you've missed so much. I like to think I have some comedy credentials, and I can tell you that after one viewing I missed literally half the jokes in the show. And even if you think I have no comedic skill sets, I do have friends who write for Comedy Central and the Onion and Colbert, and guess what? On one viewing, they totally missed jokes, too. Isn't that awesome? It means we can watch it over and over again, finding new humor all the time. ISN'T THAT EXACTLY WHAT MADE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT A CULT HIT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Isn't this exactly the kind of demanded show we've been waiting for?
This chick gets it.
If you haven't seen the new season, then none of this paragraph will make sense to you, but on a first watch, I missed the jokes about: screen-stealer software; the "loose seal" rolling over Capt. Hook's hook; the fact that Maeby is the shaman in makeup; both Michael and George-Michael saying "Gentlemen, start your engines" to a woman they don't realize is their sister/aunt; Lucille 2 getting sexually assaulted by an ostrich; and Mr. Fantastic's own stretching special effect.
I guess you're right for saying a show isn't funny even though you don't realize that half the content you're watching contains jokes you're missing. I guess your opinion is informed and there's no reason to sit with the material again, getting rewarded by a subtly crafted show that meets you halfway by delivering more and more pleasure each time you extend effort. You're right. Better to talk shit and call it a day.
Have Some Fucking Respect
Arrested Development is on most die-hard comedy fans' short list of greatest comedy shows ever. The scripts set the standard among aspiring comedy geeks, and the performance credentials of its cast are fairly staggering in their own right. No one involved in this show is jonesing for work or without other opportunities. But there was a devoted community of fans clamoring for more, and those involved with AD wanted to do a full series to do the return right. This latest endeavor is no movie of the week, Return to Gilligan's Island bullshit. Instead, a group of wildly talented professionals got together to produce a new series that lived up to its reputation. And they did so thinking they were making something special for some of the greatest fans in the world. Fans who liked demanding comedy, fans who didn't insist on happy endings or sweet characters, fans who wanted a show that would go anywhere for its viewers.
Even a sweat lodge/Resurrection Cave.
What's more, I tend to think AD's creators believed these fans would not be happy with a weak echo of what had been done before. They had to grow the show somehow. But how do you evolve a show that by nature is about not growing? A show that's about arrested development? Well, you can't grow the characters, and for the most part, they didn't. Michael Bluth, older, still unsuccessful, and even further away from the memory of his deceased wife, seems a touch more desperate and selfish. But for the most part, all the other characters are the same. Unable to grow the characters of the show, Mitchell Hurwitz and team decided to grow the show itself.
As mentioned above, each episode follows one character's storyline. It still intersects with the other character arcs, but we as the viewer learn more about the AD universe every time we witness the same scenarios from different vantage points. Season 4 found a new, fresh way of telling the AD story. What's more, it was a storytelling style that was perfectly suited for the new medium of Netflix. Now you can watch the show over and over again. You can rewind and pore over things you've missed. Hurwitz and company made the right show in the right way in the right format, confident that AD fans -- the best fans in the world -- would meet that endeavor halfway. Those fans who do will be rewarded. Those who don't will miss out on a tremendous present. Hopefully, though, they'll keep their bitching to a minimum, because it's distracting me from my third rewatching of the series.