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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arrested Development Season Four is Great, It Just Takes Six Episodes to Get There

We’ve been watching Arrested Development season four all day. We started at around 1:30, took a dinner break at 5:30, and then powered through until the end. We aren’t the first to finish it, by far. There are people who started at midnight and went until dawn. Now thats hardcore. 

Netflix thinks people prefer to watch TV in a binge. With House of Cards, they were right. Even with Hemlock Grove, they were right. But Arrested Development is harder to binge, especially this season. With all the zingers and plot lines flying around, sometimes it’s just too much to take in all at once. 
Also, the often zany humor can wear on a brain after a few hours. Don’t binge like we did, or you’ll get tired. You have to take breaks, otherwise you will feel drained and not enjoy it as much. And, after all, you’ve been waiting YEARS for this. Why blow it all in a day?
Now, if you haven’t seen this show, this season is not the place to start. Newcomers should start at season one, because so many of the jokes build on each other. This isn’t the convert-winning season.
For longtime fans though (or at least caught-up fans), we recommend watching one episode per day until you get to the first Gob episode. Then, watch two a day. 
shThe reason for that recommendation is this: Episode one is pretty good, but underwhelming. You’ll be worried that it’s not going to live up to seasons 1-3. Episodes 2-6 are…dare we say it?…almost boring. At least on a first watch.
Once you get to the Gob episode, however, the season is energized and barrels its way forward in brilliance and humor. You even start to get why a few things in the first episodes were actually funny. You won’t be disappointed with 7-15. Once season four hits its stride, it’s the old Arrested Development again. During the beginning though, you’ll be wary and disappointed, but still happy it’s back at all. 
One major difference is that they really couldn’t get the whole cast in one place at one time, so the show had to focus each episode on mainly one character. This changes the format of the show greatly, and it takes a while to get used to. A few of these characters are great in an ensemble but thin on their own (*cough* George Sr. *cough*). 
Remember that movie, Vantage Point, which has one event that you see through the eyes of several characters? Well, the format turns this season into that, only more than one event is covered (obviously), it’s way cleverer, and it works much better. We’re impressed with how things came together, but it was rough at first when they were starting to lay the pieces.
Lindsay’s second episode is good, and so is George Michael’s first. We were also impressed with the Buster and Lucille episodes. We really wish that Buster had gotten more than one episode. George Sr.’s episodes were the worst of the bunch, Michael’s were ok, and Tobias’s were somewhere in the middle. We expected much more from Tobias. The Gob episodes were mind-blowingly clever and hilarious.
We love that the writers didn’t rely on old jokes as crutches. There were a few callbacks, but they were appropriate and infrequently used. Also, season four had its own running jokes. The humor is still the same. Recurring jokes, puns, cold wittiness, deadpan, etc. 
The characters have had a little growth, but they are still themselves. Thankfully, the Bluth business mechanics and drama are almost completely dropped, leaving the characters to focus on other things and more interesting and accessible plot lines. 
There are so many good guest stars and cameos. They include Isla Fisher, the Workaholics trio, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Judy Greer, John Slattery, Jon Krasinski, Ed Helms, Seth Rogan, a pitch-perfect Kristen Wiig as a younger Lucille, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Busy Phillips.
The season ended with more than a few things unresolved, so we think Netflix wants to make more (provided this season is popular, of course). The writers still have it. It’s still great. It’s still Arrested Development. Everyone was so afraid this would tarnish the show’s legacy, and anyone who has made it through the entire season knows that fear was proven unfounded.
The show really needs to have next season or a movie with the whole cast in the same filming location at the same time though. They made the new format work this time, but they won’t be able to do Vantage Point again.
One piece of sad news: Having read Portia’s wonderful book, Unbearable Lightness, about her life and struggle with anorexia, we were upset to see that she has most likely relapsed. She’s a beautiful girl at any weight, but in order to weigh as little as she does in season four, she has to have slid back into destructive habits.
From the book, we know how sick she got the last time she did this, how low she has to be emotionally, the particular struggles she’s faced in her life, and how dangerous her eating disordered habits are. We hope she gets the help she needs and gets back into a healthier mindset. Eating disorders are painful mental disorders that destroy lives, and we hope one doesn’t take Portia. We hope that we're wrong about a relapse. She’ll be in our thoughts and prayers. 
Now, we are going back and watching each of the 15 episodes over again. We’re going to do one per day, because we could tell right away that the season will improve and reveal more foreshadowing, hints, clues, gags, and puzzle pieces upon a re-watch. We can bet you’ll want to re-watch it too. 
Season grade: B+
For comparison- Season one grade: A-, Season two grade: A, Season three grade: B-

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