Arrested Development – Season Four (Part Two)
Since my last post ( which can be read HERE) on the series I have finished off the fourth season and returned to re-watch a select few episodes and have to say that I am now wholeheartedly behind its return. The result of the show’s editing experiment is at times imperfect but in many ways this season is more Arrested Development than even the early episodes were: its unadulterated, everything about it taken to the furthest extremes and so it takes some getting used to, but once you have the result is one of the most rewarding pieces of writing out there. And yes, as it went on the show even managed to be actually funny again.
The season’s structure has been seen by may as a simple stopgap for scheduling conflicts that arose thanks to the casts newfound star status, but I think that’s a simplification. A show could have been shot separately and still told sequentially with a traditional ensemble focus but that wasn’t what the writers wanted and so it’s not what we got; very little about Arrested Development has ever been accidental so why would this? I’ve spoken already about my issues with and interest in the sequencing of events and stand by what I said there but it became quite clear that the real flaw in those first few episodes was the single characters that they chose to focus on.
Not only are Lindsey and George Sr. two of the slightest characters but their stories were some of the most segregated from the season’s whole; the wall plot especially fizzled out into nothing. One of the hundreds of little hidden touches in this season is the fact that the theme song music highlights a different particular instrument depending on whose episode it is (listen carefully and you’ll start to catch it). This, while clever, highlights my initial issue with the season: you don’t pay to hear the woodblock, you pay to hear the band; its the ensemble not the individual elements that we all wanted to see. The thing though is that with this season the writers didn’t need to give us what we want (or what the network thought we wanted) and so they simply didn’t.
This separation of the characters is then another deliberate choice: in fact it’s the theme of the season. The show’s original credits made mention of the fact that Michael’s quest was to keep the family together and the new ones replace this by saying that each character is trying to keep themselves together. As Michael says in the first episode, he’s tried family and it didn’t work, now its time to try privacy. The first thing that many people notice, and complain about, season four is that seen on his own even Michael is a horrible person; but isn’t that the point? The season tells the story of what happens when he fails to keep the Bluth’s together, when family fails and they, like the country, separate.
The result then is a very, very dark show; a rather serious and oft-tragic season of what is oft held as the best comedy of all time. Now I’m not just talking just black comedy, but often anti-humour. There are a lot of famous catchphrases and comedic bits that only get callbacks in absentia: See George Michael tease a chicken dance and never deliver, See GOB’s final scene staring into the mirror. During that shot we all expect him to say something, a line we know off by heart, but he doesn’t and this is not only subversive but sentimentally meaningful; for once he doesn’t see what he did as a mistake and that’s really heavy when you think about it. As is the final shot of the season, provided you watched in order, and that’s not even mentioning the heavy amounts of sex-offender humor, the bleak Gulf War satire and the multiple murders that occur behind the scenes.
So if you don’t laugh quite as much at the show as you might have expected maybe that’s why, maybe its because you’re not a horrible person, because you’re not a Bluth. It is still a comedy though, its just that the jokes are as split up as the story an characters an thus require a lot of effort to laugh at: punchlines are delivered in different episodes than their set-ups, the necessary context doesn’t appear until a third and the callback actually came before all of this. You have to be patient and you have to work for it but there are a lot of laughs to be had here. I highly recommend going on the Arrested Development Subreddit or some other such forum after the show to read about some of the many, many subtle jokes that you surely missed and to share the few you spotted: from the ironic origin of the name George Maharis (and all of George Michael’s persona’s) to the Indian implications of GOB and Tony’s “Same!” through to the name of Rebel’s son. Show’s have never been this dense, never said so much in their subtext.
So while I still had some issues with the things I pointed out in my last review I occasionally came around to these too: sometimes it was the silences are overlong stretches that are episode’s strongest beats and sometimes its the way that the show wields its time-sync’s in brilliantly stupid ways – cutting back to show whole conversations occurring between cuts (and some of the most meta; Mitch Hurwitz gets in and jokes about the show’s lack of cohesion and over-reliance on narration before you begin to even think of it). Once you understand why all the scenes are there the length is no longer an issue. There problems with the whole production are still problems but they become much harder to solve as you become more and more enamored with the show; the thought of cutting an straitening are now repulsive to me.
Like Memento the season is probably only standard – maybe even below given the show’s initial brilliance – when taken straight, but straight is not how its presented and the presentation here is half the prestige. I don’t know if I need to see another season done the exact same way – I think that they’ve had their fun with the idea, as have I – but there is potential for improvement in it and given the hinted-at Murder Mystery premise of the follow-up feature/fifth season some misdirection will be required. Either way while I was initially worried and then disappointed I am now just excited for ‘The Next Arrested Development’.