So here we are. After 7 years of persistant purchasing/torrenting/renting; in-jokes amongst friends, message boards and pop culture blog comment sections and whispers of will-they, won’t-they: it’s finally here–new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: there was no way that Arrested Development would truly thrive in this type of situation. The fevered anticipation of the series’ return as well as its increased popularity, thanks to the internet, made expectations way too high–not to mention the fact that, due to scheduling conflicts, all of the cast members weren’t able to consistently film together so instead the entire season is full of episodes dedicated to each character. As much as we’ve clamored and dreamed for this, nobody actually believed it would happen… and now that the day is here, it’s hard to know how to feel. There’s excitement in the air, as well as trepidation–even now this unedited babble is merely spilled over glee and conflict over what I’ve just watched and the aching need to write about it. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald posited on his mailbag the past Tuesday two questions (technically three, but only two matters): 1) Will the new season be any good? and 2) Will the new season be good enough?
The first one is an easy one to answer: Yes. It won’t shake up the world and it wasn’t without its duds. One of the things that has always helped AD is that, even in its weaker episodes (i.e. most of season 3), the show thrived off of B, C or D stories from the other members of the Bluth family. Now, with each episode focused on specific characters, there are no B, C, or D stories and as a result–the duds really stand out. Not every character is meant to carry a full episode–especially full episodes that don’t adhere to a strict time format–and some of the storylines just don’t seem to stick, but the new season is definitely daring in its approach. It’s not just content to provide fan service (although there’s plenty) and it’s admirable that the show would take a risky approach like this. It doesn’t always work and it’s full of over-explanation, in an effort for a more “mainstream” audience to keep up. It gets grating at times–AD has always been great about respecting an audience’s intelligence–but overall it doesn’t get too out of hand. The pacing is a bit off, due to the way the episodes are structured. Most noticeably, the season is really, pretty dark. AD has always been great at balancing the heart of the show along with the dark undercurrent. There’s always a sense that these people love each other–even if it’s only because they have nobody else to turn to–but the new season focuses only on the darkness. At times it can be jarring. A lot of times. And you do get a very real sense that they’re building to something more: whether it’s another season, a movie or who knows (maybe a christmas special). It’s definitely the “empire strikes back” of seasons.
But let me get to the positives: this show is still very funny, very well written and well constructed. The world in which AD lives is a rich one and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in it. The standout episodes involve Tobias and Gob and Maeby (who is SERIOUSLY underutilized always). It’s always a joy to see Michael and George-Michael together, their relations goes through a lot of rough patches this season and it’s great watching the dynamic switch around. The season all together is a B+. Even with the duds, there’s enough comedy to make up for at least a few shortcomings.
Alas, now we get to the tough question: is it good enough? In a recent interview, Damon Lindelof (writer; “Lost”, “Prometheus”) stated, “my advice is you can’t win, and just tell your story.” He further added, “…a lot of them are going to be wrong, and it’s very hard for a human being to say, ‘I was wrong. You got me! Your way is better!’ Most people say, like, ‘My way is better, and because my way is better, I know your show better than you know your show.’” There’s no way for Mitch Hurwitz and company to win. There are millions of things that different fans want and feel entitled to receive from the show. There’s no way to meet all of them nor should they feel the need to. All they can really do is make the show they wanna make and see if it can stand up with the rest of the series. It’s pretty clear that–all constraints considered–they made the show they wanted to make. So while the show may not be “good enough”, it’s still fine. There are bits that are amongst the series best and are better than anything else on TV this past season; I’ve already found myself quoting things from the new season and there are plenty of sight gags and callbacks that work effectively.
You can’t please everyone nor should you try. There will be those who absolutely love this season and there will be those who deplore it. There will be debates, arguments, backlashes, backlashes to the backlashes and think pieces much longer, much more eloquent and well-written then mine. Ultimately, it will be time that has the final say so on this season. I think time will be kind to this season–there’s still a lot here to love–and I don’t think it’s far off from its complicated and rushed third season. Hopefully there is still money in the banana stand and we do get that movie but for now this will do: a sometimes good, sometimes underwhelming return to form. It may not be the height of excellence but, for me, I’m so happy to be around the Bluth family again (I’m getting ready for a second run through). Who would’ve thought a lowly rated show that FOX tried to burnoff in a two-hour block on the opening night of the Olympics would make such a huge impact on the lives of so many people. What a fun, sexy time for all of us.