Development Arrested: What we learned from watching all 15 episodes of “Arrested Development” at once
Well how are we all feeling after “the binge”? Process it all? Doubt it. But man it felt good to see Arrested Development back with fresh episodes. Yes, we know Mitch Hurwitz warned us about opening up and playing with all 15 new toys at once. Saying we’d get fatigued and tire quickly but did he really expect us to behave ourselves in such a way after 7 years of waiting? Sorry uncle Mitch, we did it anyway.
Arrested Development was the ultimate DVR show. The thing was, it was on the air when nearly nobody had a DVR. Had it aired a few years later, it might’ve gotten the public recognition it deserved and still been on the air, but by now we know the fate of the show.
First off, props to Netflix for it’s pretty incredible marketing of the new season. Expectations were high and getting the word out was key. I can’t imagine ways they could’ve made the build up to the show more fun and engaging for fans – from articles, images to share, stunts, clips, it was pretty spot on. It was an exercise in the fun fans would’ve had with the show had it been on air when a generation of TV watchers is fully able to wrangle social tools like Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter like they do with current shows like Community or The Office.
It’s almost as if the marketing folks at Netflix watched the season 2 blooper reel with David Cross’s rant about FOX’s lack of marketing during the show’s original run and vowed to not have a repeat Cross rant. I haven’t spoken with David but hopefully he’s pleased.
Getting 15 new episodes at once is a bonafide treat for a fan. However, as someone who writes for a comedy website it’s daunting. While I don’t want to ruin all the details for those that didn’t go on an obsessive binge like I did, here’s a bullet list of great things, broad strokes, ideas and moments with as few spoilers as I can possibly get away with.
- The timeline jumps all over the place: Basically it picks up from moments right after the final episode of season 3 with the cast gathered in a room post Lucille Bluth’s run from the law via boat. That moment serves as the departure point for cast members to go their separate ways for the years following, they interact at different moments to varying degrees but then reconnect at two other pivotal moments – George Michael’s college going away party at Lucille/George Sr.’s apartment, and then lastly at a Cinco De Quatro event that takes place in present time. Cinco De Quatro is the day before Cinco De Mayo, established by Lucille Bluth to undermine Cinco De Mayo. These three moments act as a start, midway, and end of the season’s entire story.
- There are singular character storylines: While the season has been billed as having singular character stories to catch us all up on what each character has been up to, there’s a lot of interaction with other cast members. In fact, if it wasn’t billed as such, you’d probably not realize it. Think of it like a Homer, Bart, or Marge episode of The Simpsons, just because they’re the focus character doesn’t mean you don’t hear from everyone else. Note: we should never think about any Lisa episode of The Simpsons.
- The pace takes getting used to: One of the biggest complaints people had about the show when it was first on the air was the documentary style camera and face pace of the show. While shows like The Office and Parks And Recreation have made the documentary style more palpable, I have to admit, it took 5-10 mins of the first episode to re-adjust myself to the pace in which the show moves. Power through it, for it is totally worth it.
- Each episode is not the same length: Most network sitcoms are 22 minutes + commercials to fill a half hour block. Since Netflix does not need to worry about this, they take advantage of longer episodes. While all of season 4 is about a half hour, some are 28 mins while others are 35. Whatever is needed to get the job done. And of course, there are no commercials
- The story is ambitious: Ambitious like it was all shot at once and then edited into its individual episodes. Hurwitz really did something incredible that is only possible shooting in this manner. I’d imagine he kept track like a big bulletin board you see a detective use in movies that has red yarn stringing through connections and faces. It’s like watching an episode of LOST, if LOST were funny, and actually answered questions.
- The Arrested Development world is growing: There are plenty of returning characters from the first 3 seasons. Familiar faces we know and love. Season 4 also takes time to not just get us re-acquainted with old characters but has them interact with new ones we’ve never met, giving them plenty of screen time.
- There’s not much back story needed: Yes, it helps to know the history of the Bluths to be able to completely geek out at moments. But if you were to watch just Season 4, you’re given enough context of each character to follow the action. The story is self-contained enough to work for newbies.
- There are Easter Eggs, lots of them: In typical AD fashion there’s plenty of foreshadowing, inside jokes, back ended jokes, and even jokes told in one episode where we don’t get to the punchline until a few eps down the line. There’s plenty in there to hold up to multiple watching. I’ve also noticed one introduced in the beginning of the first episode but was never answered.
- It flashes forward and backward: Depending where the story is per character, there are flashes forward and backwards. There are even times where the same part of the story is told just from a different character’s perspective. The actors cast to portray young Lucille and George Bluth were particularly inspired.
- There are guest stars all over the place: Take any number of guest stars you have in your head, then multiply it by 3 and you’ll get the number of guest stars in season 4. Some are non-speaking roles, while others get major screen time. Keeping a list of them all is fun, we tried and pretty sure we missed a bunch.
- Returning Characters do return: Lucille 2, Stan Sitwell, Barry Zuccerkorn, Tony Wonder, Steve Holt, Andy Richter, Carl Weathers, Gene Parmesan. Many of our favorite fringe characters from the show drop in here and there. Some, like Ron Howard have much larger roles.
- Running Jokes: We all love a good AD running joke that goes through multiple episodes and some in season 4 are as good as any others. Tobias’ storyline has a few particularly incredible ones.
- You probably shouldn’t watch them all in one sitting: Alright we’ll admit Mitch Hurwitz was right on this one. Fatigue does set in eventually and you will miss something by watching all 15 episodes consecutively. But there’s great fun in losing an entire day watching Arrested Development, something that I’ve done numerous times with the DVDs of previous seasons.
- They did miss some things: Obviously, the show can’t be everything to everyone, that would be stupid and make for sh*tty TV. But with that being said, there were a few recurring characters we didn’t see that would’ve been nice to. There were also some Bluth classics that didn’t get much or any screen time at all.
- Not every plotline is wrapped: Many characters end up in a position where they could have more episodes written about them. There’s also a few, “what happened to?”-type plot points that aren’t answered. Maybe this is because of the possibility for more episodes/a movie, maybe it’s not. But for those that like to over-analyze things, you will have questions once it’s all over.
- There is a movie element: Saying any more than that would ruin plot points. But the long-rumored movie is addressed and of course this is Arrested Development and it doesn’t turn out as expected.
- Second viewings are required: Some parts move so fast, you will have to watch episodes again to get catch or appreciate everything. Most notably to me is the very first episode which features Michael. There’s a lot of exposition needed to set the story up so there’s some great moments that are revealed on a second viewing.
- Haters are gonna hate: Before I even finished the binge watch there were people online looking to be first rip apart the new episodes. Really?! Seven years of waiting and we give it no chance to let sink in? Do we only like the idea or struggle for a cult show’s resurrection and not its actual return? I’m not saying this season was flawless but with new episodes we got ourselves a rare win. It doesn’t happen often, so let’s at least give a second viewing rather than a rush to hate first.
What did you think of the new season? Did you binge watch it? Leave thoughts, reactions, and favorite moments, in the comments.