So… I guess it’s about time to talk about the Netflix era of Arrested Development. Season 4 was released 7 years after the original run, with season 5 released in two parts between 2018 and 2019, 5 and 6 years after season 4. In some ways, this served as a blessing, as the show’s cult following and critical acclaim brought it some level of attention both times it was revived. Despite that, neither season quite lived up to the original run critically, and the fan response to both the original run of season 4, the recut, and season 5 were… mixed. There is a lot to unpack with these revivals, and, well, I guess it’s time to start on the story of the family who, ultimately, had no choice but to come back together.
Between Seasons 3 and 4, there was a 7 year gap in which the show… just wasn’t around. Despite the fandom’s pleas for a revival, (theoretically) low ratings kept Arrested Development from coming back, until eventually, it was given the Netflix treatment and added on as a “semi-original” Netflix series, coming in before pop culture titans like Stranger Things had even been conceived. However, the time between the original run and this revival had left many of the show’s stars with even bigger projects of their own:
- Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and Will Arnett had all found themselves in other mainstream and cult comedies, including (but not limited to) Horrible Bosses (Bateman), Juno (Bateman and Cera), Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Cera and, interestingly, Mae Whitman), Blades of Glory (Arnett), and more,
- Jeffrey Tambor wound up with a variety of voice and acting roles, from child animations like Tangled and Word Girl to more adult-focused projects like The Hangover films and cameos on both Bob’s Burgers and Archer,
- Tony Hale would, among other brief roles, wind up with a main role on Veep alongside Seinfeld alum and Arrested Development supporting actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus,
- David Cross would find himself in a wide variety of projects, from Alvin and The Chipmunks, Kung Fu Panda, and Megamind to The Colbert Report, the Tim and Eric show, and his own comedy career,
- Portia de Rossi would make appearances in shows including Scandal, but her retreat from the limelight seems (albeit unconfirmed) to be a leadup to her eventual retirement from acting in 2018,
- The late Jessica Walter went on to do a multitude of roles, but her primary achievement (and the one I know her for best) was her work as Malory Archer on the show, “Archer”, where she channeled Lucille Bluth in some of the best ways possible and stood out among the ensemble cast there in much the same way she did in Arrested Development.
The only member of the main cast not to go onto either another large scale role or project, or to wind up in a near ubiquitous number of roles, was Aila Shawkat, whose role as Maeby Funke is (as of writing this) still her longest running TV role, and none of her film or TV roles outside of that are one’s I’m familiar with.
The reality of this situation wound up being that it’s clear the production had to be staggered, with characters being planned to appear (or not) carefully around the plotlines being introduced, and new supporting characters being brought in to fill certain “gaps” left in the cast. In particular, Buster Bluth spends a majority of the season separated from the rest of the cast and the audience, reportedly due to his schedule on Veep. You can see it with everyone else, however, in their own scenes and storylines; while I’m drawing some of my own conclusions here, I think that the groupings of characters had something to do with scheduling conflicts and who could shoot with who when.
With that out of the way, though, it’s time to dive into Season 4 – both versions of Season 4.
The fourth season of Arrested Development is a strange, uncomfortable, mixture of a show. At long last, with the revival occuring on Netflix, some things were bound to change with the family that never changes. I feel safe in saying that there has never been, and may never be, a season of television as willing to take a leap of faith in it’s audience as Arrested Development Season 4. The reason?
It’s completely anachronistic.
The season starts and ends within 24 hours of each other, and yet, through careful plotting, development, and reveals, it covers the in-universe five year gap between when season 3 ended and when season 4 “began”. This was a risky move on the part of the writers and showrunners, and it… worked, with an asterisk. Ultimately, the series maintained a lot of what season 3 did when it came to joke pacing and the type of comedy they were aiming for, but with ~35 minute episodes bouncing all around the timeline (sometimes literally, shown via a convenient timeline visual), the setups and payoffs functioned differently. Some jokes and moments make absolutely no sense on first viewing, until you see another character’s “perspective” on it and suddenly realize the irony of the situation. Some plotlines function entirely around this, with reveals about the context of and circumstances around certain conversations and characters comprising some of the most truly effective dramatic moments the series has to offer. No matter what I say from here on out, the season deserves credit for pulling off such a stunt so gracefully.
Of course, just because something is done gracefully doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be received well, and that goes for the changes made to season 4. A lot of the mix ups were fundamental changes to the status quo, with the biggest ones being the changes in central locations and when, where, and how characters interacted. I hate to say what so many others have, but locations like the model home and penthouse were central to not just the plot, but the characters as well. Lucille and Buster aren’t the same if they aren’t trapped together in that penthouse, and the family isn’t the same if they aren’t all living in that model home together, driving the ridiculous stair car. Compound that with the addition of nearly as many side characters as main characters – like 2 or 3 for every main Bluth in the series – and things just are fundamentally different now; I hate to say it, but they’re fundamentally different for the worst. Some of the characters kept their charm; GOB in particular had one of the most entertaining stories in the season, and watching George Sr. and Oscar was low-key really fun. Others, like George Michael, Maeby, and Tobias wound up stuck in long, drawn out plots that would’ve, at worst, taken a few episodes to resolve in season 1. Special shoutouts to George Michael and Michael, who wind up in a situation that vaguely resembles the plot of a single episode earlier in the series, but this time over the course of the entire season. Maybe there’s something here I’m missing, but I don’t think so.
My rationale for saying that is that I think I understand what went down with season 4. It’s been widely publicized how the conflicting cast schedules wound up pushing the Bluths apart, and I definitely think that covers some of it. However, I also think that season 4 was intended to be something of a deconstruction and study of not just the characters, but some of the cast members as well. Take, for example, Maeby’s arc. Remember how I said earlier that Aila Shawkat’s career is the only one that didn’t wind up seeing some success in the wake of the original run? Guess who winds up stuck in high school, winning a lifetime achievement award for her work in showbiz, signaling the death of her career and amplifying her desire to make something big happen – scam or not. It’s Maeby, okay? That’s Maeby, and barring some of the worse elements, that’s Aila Shawkat, stuck in her high school role, not being able to grow past her glory days. Or, let’s take a look at GOB, a man who couldn’t commit to anything and was largely too incompetent to do anything in the first place. He makes a lucky break after burning nearly all of his bridges with a teen pop idol, only to squander that and be left with nothing but forget-me-nows, model homes filled with pedophiles, and a scheme for revenge that goes exactly the opposite of how he’d planned. There’s no family to support him anymore, and no backup to keep him in charge. On his own, GOB is exactly what everyone thought he was, a complete, incompetent failure.
I could go on for an entire post about how season 4 decides to twist and warp characters, applying real world logic and consequences to these outlandish schemes and characters, but we have to move on eventually, just like the series did. Arrested Development Season 4 is a beautiful mess, full of bad attributes and surprising insight into what “Arrested Development” is. But, of course, some people weren’t happy about it, and so when it was nearly time to get season 5, they dropped one final bomb, with some…
Fateful Consequences: Season 4 Remix
Gone were the multilayered plot threads, gone was the anachronistic storytelling style, and gone were the 35 minute run times. Arrested Development Season 4 Fateful Consequences is a re-cut of the season to create better pacing, better cohesion, and better clarity out of the messy original release. The obvious question is, did it work?
No. It didn’t work. Fateful Consequences is something of a fever dream of a season, with things feeling somehow more scattered and inconsistent than before. In an effort to show events in chronological order, more narration was added and some additional scenes were shot, but it wasn’t enough to “fix” what was “broken”. In fact, I’d argue that Fateful Consequences is a less coherent, worse season of television than the original cut, in damn near every way.
Let’s start with the negatives of the original cut. I mentioned a lot about these boring, drawn out arcs and how they brought down some characters. The solution they chose? Drag those arcs out for the entire season and keep the slow pacing of it all, meaning 22 episodes of the love triangle, 22 episodes of Maeby failing at everything, and 22 long, painful episodes of Tobias miserably attempting to “revive” (I’m being generous with that) his acting career. I wish I had some intellectual way to explain why it sucked, but it just felt miserable – and keep in mind, I watched it for this review before the original cut. This was my re-introduction to Season 4 after keeping it out of my mind for nearly 3 years.
Okay, okay, lemme try to speak positively. The jokes are… still there and still funny? Even that feels hollow, since the season-long setup-payoff dynamic was shunted to the side. I’d say all of the acting is good, but like… that’s on the cast who were there from the start, and their comedic planning and the darker tone I enjoyed got lost in the shuffle. I dunno, this one just fell flat on its face. Even the grand finale, the three-parter Cinco de Cuatro trilogy, didn’t work as well narratively or thematically as it did with the original cut. Sure, it’s much more “natural” to show the Bluths coming together all at once, but what the original version had trounces the natural, linear progression, especially considering what they sacrificed.
And so, we’re finally here. After 4+1 seasons, and nearly 20 years waiting, Season 5 arrived. It sure did.
The fifth season of Arrested Development premiered in 2018, and the second half was released around a year later in 2019. I remember waiting with bated breath for the first half; I don’t even remember ever watching the second. Whatever downward spiral the series was “on” during Season 4 just, finally, bottomed out with Season 5. The series finally resolved itself, in one way or another, and this is what we’re left with.
I don’t think, when talking about Arrested Development Season 5, I can exactly do good point/bad point. With this, the show reached a holistic level of 5/10 mediocrity I didn’t think it could. Despite the promises it would “bring the Bluths back together”, most of the season is spent with them once again working in smaller units, completely removed from each other. Plotlines weave and intersect at specific, predestined points like the end of an arc or at the mid-season finale, with the connective tissue being the wacky hijinks the family finds themselves in once more. What was once a depiction of Orange County’s most despicable family got reduced to a bunch of clowns, spouting catchphrases and generally being unlikable in ways they never were on FOX, or even in Season 4. Honestly, there’s a mean spirit to the entire season, with a particularly cringeworthy plot point being the “honor” of Chinese investors. I never laughed at any of the jokes in that plotline, and that’s something I can’t truthfully say for anything else in the series.
(cracks open vodka bottle)
Compounding that is the continually shifting cast lineup; the retirement of Portia de Rossi hurt the show more than almost anything else. Lindsay Bluth leaving less than halfway through left a hole in the dynamic of the cast that nobody could fill, and left some characters without a reason to be in the show anymore. Tobias, in particular, got hit with this so hard they made it the focus of his character for nearly the entire season. It’s clever, but it also hurts to see one of the most interesting characters to watch flanderized into just a butt-monkey. Additionally, he brought along with him DeBrie, his girlfriend from Season 4, and his unexpected and largely unexplained son from another woman Murphybrown, both of whom exist entirely as satellite characters to Tobias, himself losing his connection to the other characters, even ones he was building a dynamic with like Lucille.
I pick on Tobias a lot, but that’s only because he’s the easiest to single out – Season 5 just kinda throws things at the wall to see what sticks. GOB’s entire “christian/gay magician” act gets taken to it’s zenith with the “gay mafia” being involved, Michael loses whatever self-awareness and intelligence he had left, especially in relation to George-Michael, who winds up completely out of his depth because of Maeby, who has gone full sociopath. Lucille starts an “affair” with a beach bum because George Sr. is getting too “soft”, there’s the entire Chinese investors plot, and… Buster and Oscar, on the run from the police, in what winds up as the best arc in the show by default. And, of course, it all comes to head in the finale, where everybody’s in a courtroom as Michael plays protagonist one last time, battling against his mother on the stand, to figure out who (SPOILERS)’s killer is, wrapping in some major pace-killing flashbacks and unnecessary plot twists and retcons, because everything had to tie itself up somehow.
And, it does. The season, and the series ends in roughly the same way the original FOX run did, except this time, there’s no sequel hook. The sun, metaphorically and literally, set on the Bluth’s and Sudden Valley for the final time, leaving nothing left to the imagination but the potential of future exploits; considering the controversy involving Jeffrey Tambor behind the scenes and the unfortunate passing of Jessica Walter, it’s likely the end for sure. I watched the credits roll, one final time, and it was done. No more Arrested Development.
My first draft of this conclusion was a three-paragraph thesis on ending a show early instead of dragging things out too far, but much like Arrested Development, it went on too long and in too many weird directions, so I made the call to scrap it. As a fan, I want to decry the new stuff for how far it strays from the original formula, despite the potential interesting directions it takes. As a reviewer, I feel like I have to say that you shouldn’t “commit” to Arrested Development, only because of how far things derail in Season 5 and to a lesser extent Season 4. As both, I can safely say the original run is worth watching, but approach the rest with caution, consideration, and an open mind.
As an aside, these reviews are (for what it’s worth) dedicated to Jessica Walter, whose performances in Arrested Development and Archer were and are absolutely hilarious and incredible. Rest in peace, you absolute legend.