It’s hard to describe Arrested Development’s 4th season. It’s even harder to describe it without an abundance of spoilers. Here’s my best effort:

Arrested Development has become a different show in the seven (7!) years it’s been off the air. Some of this is from the story, and some of this is from the harsh realities of Arrested Development having launched several cast members’ careers, making scheduling for this fourth season a nightmare.Without wading too far into spoiler territory, after the events of the original series finale, the Bluth family has fallen apart. While their paths cross often, everybody’s off living their own lives. This forces a completely different storytelling structure. Gone are the manic, laugh-a-minute interactions between the Bluths. In its place, we have a vastly different way of telling the story of this family, and it’s a little off-putting at first. Each episode largely follows one character, with little deviation from their path through the episode. We start with Michael, and return to him several times in the course of the series.

This relative isolation reduces the frequency of laughs significantly, but in its place we get something that was largely absent from the original series: character growth. Yes, the Bluths are largely still lying, scheming people who will do anything to get their own way by the end of Season 4. But they’re learning things about themselves, and their mistakes catch up to them. They each have to learn to fend for themselves and, in doing so, they (and we) learn about themselves in a much deeper way than has ever been on display before.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still laughs in there, but you won’t be laughing out loud as often as you did during seasons 1-3. Ultimately, this new season feels less like a comedy than it does a tragedy. Their lives have turned to shambles in the last seven years, and we see that play out on-screen. This makes season four far more quiet and introspective: the characters are starting to reflect on their mistakes and are actually seeing the consequences of their decisions. Another factor that contributes to this slower feeling is the new running time. Unshackled from the restraints of network television, the show has more room to work with in its running times. Each of the 15 episodes varies in length, ranging from 28 minutes (about 6 minutes longer than the old series’ episodes) to 37 minutes long (about 5 minutes shy of an hour-long network TV show with the commercials removed).

I think there will be a number of fans disappointed with season four, but I think it serves as the perfect example of how to take advantage of the new format opportunities that services like Netflix provide. Season four was created for Netflix, not just in a money sense, but in a format sense too. This season begs to be watched more than once. Throughout the course of the episodes, we see several scenes repeated with almost every character’s perspective, gaining additional insights into what really happened. It’s only after watching the entire season that you know what really happened during those repeated scenes. This is the kind of stuff that just wouldn’t work on normal broadcast/cable television, but it can work perfectly on Netflix. And if we get nothing more out of season four than seeing a new format work, I’d be happy.

The bottom line: watch season four of Arrested Development. It may not be what you were hoping for, and it certainly won’t be what you were expecting, but it’s what the show needed.

From here on out, I’ll give some additional thoughts with SPOILERS. BEWARE THE SPOILERS: THERE’S SOME SURPRISING STUFF IN SEASON FOUR YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED FOR!

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SRSLY: SPOILERS BELOW. NO COMPLAINTS OF BEING SPOILED IF YOU READ PAST THIS POINT.

So let’s break down some storylines. I’ll start with Tobias’ storyline, because it’s the one I found both the least satisfying and the most interesting.

Tobias: I feel like they very quickly undid three seasons worth of hinting with just one episode. As it turns out, Tobias was never actually gay (despite making it very clear in three seasons of show), he just is unnaturally ungifted at choosing his words. That said, his story included some great moments. Tobias becomes a much more capable man as he escapes the shadow of the Bluth family. It’s interesting to see him find someone with whom he has much more in common with than his wife. Also, the “To Catch A Predator”-style mix-up was great.

John Beard: This provides a great transition into one of the great “hidden” storylines of the series: reporter John Beard. He happens to be the host of that “Predator” show. You may not know his name, but you’ve seen him about a dozen times on the original Arrested Development run as the news anchor always reporting on the Bluth family. If you watch carefully, you’ll see him pop up time and time again in the new episodes. As time goes on he goes from being a respected news anchor, to an annoyed morning show co-host, to losing his house and his job, to being a news anchor at a gas pump news program, and eventually ending up being the reporter for Imagine Entertainment’s in-building news program. Just like everyone else, his life has gone downhill as the years went on. Now you see what I mean about needing to watch the show multiple times?

Michael: I guess mentioning Imagine Entertainment is as good a time as any to go into Michael’s storyline. One of my favorite parts about season one of Arrested Development is Michael’s attempts at finding love. While Michael’s primary story is trying to launch a movie about his family at Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment (with great bits from Ron Howard himself), this causes him to cross paths frequently with a girl named Rebel Wilson. This may be one of my favorite bits from the new season.

Maeby: I wish Maeby’s role had been a little bigger in this season. It would have been great to see her character make bigger strides. As it is, she’s basically been spinning her tires over the last seven years. She gets fired from her producing job because she never graduated high school, and  that shadow follows her for her entire (one episode) story. Ultimately, she’s still trying to find the easiest path to take, and it would have been nice for her to break out of that.

GOB: Will Arnett is a great actor as G.O.B. Bluth. GOB may have had the most interesting storyline in the whole season, and I love that his party lifestyle catches up with him. The whole thing with Tony Wonder is a little weird, but overall GOB’s episodes were my initial favorites. And the fact that Ann (her?) is such a big part of his early story is fantastic.

George Michael: I wish he had more than one episode, but the last (pre-credits) scene in the last episode more than makes up for that. George Michael has become a man. He may still be afraid of disappointing others, but he will now stand up for himself, and he’s found the self-confidence he lacks in the entire first three seasons.

The other storylines I’m still trying to form opinions on. I plan on going through and writing posts with my thoughts on each episode/person later as I re-watch season four. I’m not sure if I’ll go through the series again in episode order or by following each person. We’ll see.

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