Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eliot's reaction to Arrested Development's fourth season

I'll try to keep this short so I don't have to write so much. I'll also try to avoid making any Arrested Development joke references in this post because that's cheeky.

I fell asleep during the 14th episode of the fourth season of Arrested Development. I wasn't sure whether to be disappointed in myself or disappointed in the show. It was a little of both.

The Funniest Show's fourth season had a distinctly different feel to it than its previous three seasons, which were a dream. It was sitcom television reinvented. To compliment it to a just extent is unnecessary at this point, which is ironic, yeah.

This fourth season was something different. It wasn't more Arrested Development. It was a new mold, another innovation. And it doesn't leave you the same way the original seasons left you. Here is a really fair argument against the show.

In summation, here were the gripes:

• It wasn't as funny as the first three seasons
• The episodes dragged on sometimes
• It got boring seeing the same scenes repeatedly with an extra line or so of information
• Its self-awareness was gratuitous and detracted from the story
• Celebrity cameos were overabundant and forced in some cases
• Netflix's style of releasing shows to the masses prevents united consumption

I agree with all those things. All those things passed through my mind while watching the 15 episodes.

But in the end, my heart sided with Arrested Development and its creators, Jace Lacob and The Daily Beast be damned. Seriously. They can go to hell.

Here's why you can box up your complaints and ship them up your own ass.

 • No one watched Arrested Development at the same time anyway.
Arrested Development was like a disease to which the masses were exposed and of whom very few were infected. They spread the disease directly to others and soon the entire country had the itis for AD. Sure, if they released episodes one at a time, it'd be cool to watch it as this giant family of infected Arrested Developers, but that's not what the show was about, nor was it what we missed about it. It was never a communal experience, and it has become one now, more or less, with everyone racing to various devices to see it within about a week or so. An hour (or half hour) per week doesn't really fill the hunger of TV fans. People always watched AD at their own pace. This keeps that up.

• The show was saturated with celebrity cameos out of respect.
Everyone wanted to be a part of this show because everyone loved it and wanted to pitch in. I thought it was adorable. Dozens of new funny people scraped out screen time, and I think it's great because it allowed the show a massive cast. It was a comedic inspiration, and everyone wanted to pay respects by playing a part. I think the real winners here were Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen, who landed the parts of flashback-Lucille and flashback-George Sr., respectively, and did well with them (I liked Wiig better than Rogen, for what it's worth). I didn't necessarily like all the cameos. I didn't light up when I saw the boys from Workaholics on screen, but I was sure they were really honored to play roles in the show and it made me think about what this season meant to television comedy as a gesture, if nothing else. It was like a living funeral.

• The fourth wall has been broken on this show for a long time.
The reason they couldn't reel off a smooth fourth season is because their previous season was cut short awkwardly as they made subtle jabs at their own cancellation and general doom, and also was seven years ago. The time element is impossible to ignore, and with that, you have some gray area there that, if ignored, lowers the quality of your show. Had they just made the narrative, and ignored the gravity of their resurrection as having a tangible impact on their story, they'd be ignoring the most triumphant aspect of the return.

• The structure of the storytelling was a good thing.
Like it or not, this season had to go in circles because the premise of it is "What happened?" So they have a lot to explain, and it wouldn't be AD's style to lay it all out chronologically and run out of breath exposing the next event in the story repeatedly until we're done. That would be boring. Instead, the writers gave fans something to do, keeping with the same active watching crowd that praised the original works. Now viewers are trying to keep the whole timeline in their head, piecing together events and scenes as a means to enjoy what is a fairly arduous expository story. It took a lot of effort for the show to separate itself from the season three ending that all its fans had come to understand as the end of the show. And then to create a position for the finale (being the movie) to take off from was more effort. A lot of basic moves needed to be made, and they found a way to do it interestingly.

• It serves no one to limit the show in any way, timewise.
The episodes dragged on. They were longer. The older ones were shorter. Yes, the quick editing made for a wittier dialogue between show and viewer. But given the opportunity for more show, there's no reason to turn it down. I truly believe that as much as anything else, this show's return was about catharsis. Being able to watch the Bluths again, to see the characters be their hilarious selves was the real win. Fans had gone so long without seeing them do new things, and now, blessed with that opportunity, the writers took serious advantage, and I don't blame them at all. We now had more time to spend with them. No one was pining for shorter episodes. Perhaps quicker editing could've been utilized but that doesn't mean I'd rather cut out dialogue that helps me get to know or affirm what I know about these characters.

• At a certain point, the quality of this season didn't matter.
There were things about this season that were really hard to accept, watching strictly as someone who watched as many of the old episodes before the release of season 4 to immerse myself in AD. I found myself laughing less toward the end of the series, as things became gradually more clear in ways I was expecting, rather than the AD tradition of things becoming suddenly clear in ways I didn't expect and had only subconsciously considered. But while I wasn't laughing out loud, I was smiling. This goes back to the catharsis of having a fourth season. Arrested Development was always unique for being a plot-driven sitcom, and its narrative momentum was gutted by years of hiatus. But when the bell was rung for the new season to begin, every single person involved with the show's initial run came back. Not just the main characters, but a majority of the smaller characters as well. Short of J. Walter Weatherman and Wayne Jarvis, I didn't notice anyone missing that I wanted back. The important thing of this season was that it happened, and that it didn't compromise the spirit of the show. It was pretty much a lock that its spirit wouldn't be compromised because everyone came back to put it back together. I don't think anyone expected to go in and make Arrested Development's best season yet, but to right the wrong of the show's cancellation. The show was back. It was itself, only a little aged.

So yes, in regards to season 4 of Arrested Development, there were some things that I wish were not. The majority of them had to do with circumstance. Those that didn't were understandable choices. At this point, we — the beggar crowd that blamed the rest of the country for canning our baby — cannot complain. If there is a loss suffered at the release of this show's fourth season, it is lost in the time elapsed since the last new episode, and nothing more. We got what we wanted, which is more than we expected, and it couldn't have been done better.

--Eliot Sill

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