Negative “Arrested Development” Season 4 Reviews Are Wrong

After watching all 15 episodes of Arrested Development Season 4 yesterday, I woke up this morning to read reactions. How did so many people miss the beauty of it?

Many critics’ reviews laid into the show for not being enough like the first three seasons. Reviews complained about too much exposition, the binge-ability of the Netflix distribution model, and more.

Here’s why I think the common complaints are all wrong.

“It’s too much at once.”

Seriously? If you want to watch one episode a week every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm, go right ahead. No one (except maybe critics’ editors) is forcing anyone to watch the show in a way you don’t want to. Want to savor it? Go for it. I had guests at my marathon viewing party that left early for just that reason. That’s your choice.

The thing is, many Arrested Development fans never watched the show episode by episode. If we did, it would have had better ratings and stayed on the air longer. But that’s not the truth of AD’s history. The truth is, the show’s DVD sales were going up even as ratings were going down, suggesting that even when it was on air, fans wanted the freedom to binge. It found many more fans once it was available on Hulu and other online sources. For those of us who found AD AC (after cancellation), binge viewing is how we’ve always watched the show. To insist that our viewing model somehow takes away from the viewing pleasure of those who want to savor the show is nonsensical.

The show is intensely layered, with joke upon joke that you won’t even understand until you’ve seen episodes that come much later. Season 4 is no different. Though I’ve seen all of Season 4 already, this is but the first of many viewings. And I have no doubt that I’ll savor each new joke I discover upon repeated viewings, the same way I  savored the first three seasons time after time.

Yes I am.

Yes I am.

“It’s not like the first three seasons.”

It’s not supposed to be.

This season was never intended to be considered as a stand-alone entity. It’s a bridge between the original three seasons and the movie we hope to see someday. Mitch Hurwitz started work on the movie long before this he intended this season to exist at all; it came into existence as a way to catch the viewer up on what the Bluths have been doing. It’s Act 1, with the movie encompassing Acts 2 and 3. With that in mind, you really have to expect that season 4 would be a different kind of beast from the first three seasons.

Much of the first three seasons relied on the interplay between the various Bluths. This season was limited in that aspect because they’ve been separated. With a format that focused on one character at a time, each character had to stand on his/her own. We saw them question who they were, over and over, without the expectations of their families defining the character for them. It’s a clever character development device for characters in arrested development, lower-case a, lower-case d. Given that Hurwitz already knows how the movie will go, I expect we’ll get good payoff in Acts 2 and 3 for the lack of interplay in Act 1.

As this season is meant as a backdrop, the first few episodes are naturally exposition-heavy. There is a lot to set up, as we’d expect from a show that has consistently been so complex and intertwined that even the actors weren’t sure what was happening. But stick with it. It gets better.

I can’t tell you how many times we stopped to rewind the show yesterday. We laughed through jokes and had to replay the last few seconds so we wouldn’t miss anything. Eagle eyes spotted old props that demanded a second watch after someone shouted “Did you see that?” And that’s just on the first viewing. I’m sure there are many, many more gags that will be easier to catch once you know what comes later.

“Michael is pathetic.”

For the first few episodes, this thought made me very skeptical for the season. Michael had gone from being the family’s moral compass to arguably being its saddest member. The higher the pedestal the further the fall, I suppose. I hardly laughed in the first few episodes, more mortified than amused by how our favorite Bluth had tarnished.

The more I thought about it, the less I disliked where Michael was. Michael has always been the family’s moral compass. He has tried and tried and tried to bring them back to center. He has often threatened to leave but was always dragged back in. When he finally leaves – really, who could blame him? – we see that perhaps the family does as much for Michael as he does for them. Without the family, he loses his own sense of center – something I never expected, and Michael obviously didn’t expect either. “Family is the most important thing,” indeed, and when Michael loses that core belief, he loses himself as well. I’m anxious to see how the rest of this arc plays out in the movie.

“There are too many cameos.”

Let’s reexamine the first three seasons of cameos:

Liza Minnelli, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Charlize Theron, Ed Begley Jr., Amy Poehler, James Lipton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zach Braff, Richard Belzer… the list goes on. Inserting famous actors here and there has always been part of the joy of the show. The same thing happens in season 4, so I’m a bit lost as to why this is a complaint.

The one issue I have with season 4’s cameos is Seth Rogan as Young George Senior. On its own, it’s fine. The only problem is continuity, as in the previous seasons Young George Senior was played by Jeffrey Tambor. They were aware of this, carefully editing a throwback so as not to show the original Young George Senior.

This was mitigated by Kristen Wiig wonderfully capturing a plotting Young Lucille. I’m not a Wiig fan at all, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed her here. With someone other than Jessica Walter playing Young Lucille, the show was virtually forced to cast a new Young George Senior. It’s understandable but a bit irksome on a show that takes normally continuity to new heights.

“I’m judging you for not being a fan like me.”

Don’t want to watch it all at once? Fine. Didn’t like that it was not exactly the same? Fine. I think you’re missing out, but that’s your call. But my hand to Gob, leave the judgment of other fans at the door. “…if you truly loved them, it’s hard to imagine being anything but disappointed with this new rendition.” This, coming from someone who hasn’t watched the entire new rendition.

We can disagree. Just don’t discount my love for the Bluths. I’m already anxious to rewatch season 4 and hear movie rumors.

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