So after seven years in an Aztec tomb, “Arrested Development” has reappeared, with all 15 episodes of season four available on Netflix beginning May 26. Will Emmy voters find the wait worth it? Vote in our poll at the bottom of this post.
The show debuted in 2003 and fast became a critical hit. However, it failed to pick up a large audience. Despite not striking a chord with the public, “Arrested Development” staged one of TV history’s biggest coups by taking down three past winners — “Will & Grace” (2000); “Sex and the City” (2001); and “Everybody Loves Raymond” (2003) — to claim the Best Comedy series Emmy for its debut season.
That Emmy win coupled with critic support and passionate fans kept the show on the air for another two seasons before it was finally cancelled due to poor ratings.
Now, “Arrested Development” is back and competing once more at the Emmys. Although it’s seven years out of practice, it has been able to build up an even bigger fanbase and establish a legacy as arguably the greatest sitcom of the modern era.
Before its return, anticipation was palpable and Netflix was doing everything they could to hype it, setting up Banana stands in New York and London and driving the Bluth stair car around Los Angeles.
However, as soon as the episodes dropped, the complaints started. While several reviewers praised this new season, enough expressed criticisms that it merited a score of only 71 at MetaCritic. Among the most vocal was New York Times scribe Mike Hale who said, “it’s hard to be anything but disappointed.”
“Arrested Development” is in uncharted water as the critics are not unanimously singing its praises. So, one must ask, was coming back a big mistake?
Yes, it does seem like there is a little something missing.
It is weird to see a season — and yes I know Jason Bateman doesn’t think calling it a season is the most helpful label — of “Arrested Development” without the banana stand or Gob (Will Arnett) doing his chicken dance. And I don’t know what contract negotiations got in the way of Franklin appearing on the show, but they should have paid whatever he was asking. Come on!
However, what Mitch Hurwitz and his team have crafted is nothing short of remarkable.
The show is structured so that each episode focuses on a different character but still interweaves with the others. Throughout, they are juggling nine main characters as well as a slew of recurring ones over a seven-year period (move over “Game of Thrones”). This has to be one of the most ambitious undertakings ever on television as references from early in the season don’t gain relevance until later in the run of 15 episodes.
And it is funny. There are big moments like Gob’s Christian magic show but also little running jokes such as confusing Ann’s name with the word ‘an’. They have brought back some classic concepts from the earlier seasons like Gob’s bee business and created great new ones such as the “Getaway” song.
Yes, it is a darker show as Michael and George Michael’s relationship fractures and the family split up but that mostly works. And the performances are top notch across the board.
Sure, these 15 episodes lack those incredible knock-out-of-the-park moments from the first three seasons like the burning down of the banana stand, the fake house ribbon cutting ceremony the tiny town mole vs. Jetpack fight and the J. Walter Weatherman lesson. However, there are still strong moments.
The biggest problem I had was the ending. “Arrested Development” always excelled at bringing storylines together and providing satisfying conclusions. The ending this season was abrupt, left everything up in the air and was anything but satisfying. I understand this was just the first of three acts, but still more needed to be tied up. There just has to be a season five.
Watching this season requires patience due to its length, structure and density, but, it’s as rich as it is dense. It may not have the best payoff but it is an incredibly rewarding none the less. The writers have crafted a rich tapestry of characters and plot that is unlike anything we’ve seen. It’s not quite at the level of its first run, but it is still the best comedy on TV. I would not be surprised if time is kind to this re-incarnation and the critics who are lambasting this right now will be the laughing stocks of the boardwalk.
Looking forward to the Emmys, there are big questions looming. Can “Arrested Development” win without the backing of all the critics? Can a show structured in such an inaccessible way take the top prize? Will there be a bias in the academy against Netflix?
In its favour is a strong legacy is the Emmys. The industry loved the first run of the show and with so much buzz for its return, academy voters may be nostalgic enought to give it a bookend to its 2004 award for Best Comedy Series.