The most hyped television event of the year didn’t occur on a network or cable station. Netflix, a company that appeared to be going down faster than the Hindenburg two years ago, resurrected themselves through the revival of Arrested Development. Their new-found approach to viewing television through on-demand original programming is revolutionary and somewhat exciting to watch unfold. While they’ve had original shows prior to Arrested Development such as the popular House of Cards, you can’t help but feel this was the Big Event to show off the New Netflix to the world and test the waters for this uncharted territory in programming. Of course, this uncharted territory is only revolutionary if the show is worth the purchase of a subscription.
So, was it worth it? In my opinion, yes. Due to the scheduling conflicts of cast members, writing around said scheduling conflicts, dealing with a different model of television-viewing, and working with what I’m assuming was a much smaller budget, the long-awaited season of Arrested Development was sure to be a different experience from its network television days. To be certain, the show wasn’t free of problems, but the fans who stuck through all 15 episodes were treated to soon-to-be classic scenes, extremely clever writing, and the luxury of watching a marathon of new episodes at their own pace. Below are a few of the things I loved about this new season and a few that didn’t quite work for me:
What I Loved:
- The Multi-Layered Storyline. After the first couple of episodes, I looked over to Chris and frowned. “I’m not feeling this. At. All.” He shook his head. “Neither am I…” I recalled that the most recent season of Archer started off slow but we wound up loving it as it progressed, expressing my hope that this would too be the case for Arrested Development. I am happy to say it was. By the time they got around to telling Lindsay Bluth’s first story, you began to see a glimpse of the greater story they were weaving. Imagine each episode as a single cartoon cel: as the season progresses, you see one cel layered on top of another until you get to the final episode, where the entire image is complete. The writing is brilliant in that it was a creative way to work around the real-life scheduling conflicts of the actors and use the Netflix on-demand format to its fullest potential. I doubt this layering of stories would have worked on a traditional programming schedule; the episodes seemed designed to be watched back-to-back, where one doesn’t need a long memory to recall a subtle joke or remark in earlier episodes. The storytelling was very ambitious while still clever and funny, so the writers get an A+ for effort.
- They Didn’t Overdo the Meta Jokes. Well, not more than Arrested Development typically did in its original run, at least. Let’s face it – Arrested Development works because it’s so meta, but unlike many shows and movies, it’s meta done right. While some of the Ann jokes got a little tired, as a whole, the recurring jokes on the show were used at the right times. There are few things I hate more than excessive meta-writing, and for a show as quotable as Arrested Development it would have been too easy for them to just make this a retread of “greatest hits.” Instead, they ran with a few of the recurring jokes, added onto old jokes (the Fakeblock storyline is a great example – I didn’t see that coming at all), and created a slew of new great moments. My personal favorites all seem to revolve around the Fünkes – whether it was the goose scenes or the cornucopia of Tobias double entendres, they created many moments deserving of a rewatch and a YouTube supercut.
- Michael Cera / George-Michael. I want to give serious props to both Michael Cera and the writers for advancing the character of George-Michael while managing to still make him the Charlie Browniest. It’s easy for a character like George-Michael to get lost in the mix when put next to the grandiosity of Tobias or GOB, but they did a fantastic job of subtly passing the baton from Michael to George-Michael to be the star and the sort-of “straight man” for the season. This had to be done; Michael has to have his family next to him to not come across as a selfish, self-righteous (hilarious) asshole. They did a good job of highlighting this in the first couple of episodes of the new season – it was painful to watch how awful Michael was. Cera jumped back into the role of George-Michael more seamlessly than I would have expected, and did a great job of interpreting him as an adult – who is still a Charlie Brown, despite his mustache and sexual um…awakening? I thoroughly enjoyed his scenes. And? “Make me cry!” “You’re a bad mother!” – huge laugh in our house.
What I Didn’t Love:
- Moments of Poor Production. Like I said, this new season wasn’t perfect. Now, I am not a “movie person.” I’m not typically the kind of person who spots the digital watch on the caveman, or sees the cameraman visible in the reflection of someone’s sunglasses. I seldom read the “Goofs” section of imdb, because that’s not my thing and I normally can’t spot the mistakes anyway. That said, there were a few really sloppy aspects to the production that I noticed. Because I don’t look for these things, I feel like if I notice them, they must have been pretty bad. There were some very noticeable continuity mistakes (for example, when Maeby is writing on the whiteboard during the real estate scene), some of the camera tricks they used to hide that the actors weren’t physically in certain scenes together were distracting, and the makeup work was really bad at times. On both Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, the yellow concealer under their eyes was very noticeable. Additionally, I felt like there were moments the camera moved away from something too quickly (especially when the viewer needed to take in a single image or read something) Did this ruin my experience with the show? No. Do I understand they had a tighter budget and the quality would be a little lower? Yes. And I appreciate how many obstacles they had to deal with to film the scenes, however I’m hoping for any future seasons or movies they can get a little more money or have a little more time to clean up these little things.
- Seth Rogan as George Bluth Sr. Generally, I was not feeling the flashback scenes of Lucille and George Sr., but I have to tell you: I really, really didn’t care for this casting decision. And I love Seth Rogan (I’m a big Undeclared fan; I pretty much root for anyone who was on that show). I just couldn’t get past thinking, “That’s Seth Rogan in a wig.” Kirsten Wiig did a pretty good Lucille, but it was more of her doing an impression of Jessica Walter’s Lucille than really being Lucille, if that makes sense. I didn’t love this. To be fair, who could be a young George Bluth? I hope they don’t do this for the movie (or any future seasons – I know they didn’t really talk about future seasons, but I’m just throwing it out there. Like The Secret – throw it out into the universe, and it will become so. Right?)
- The Lack of the Ensemble. I know there wasn’t much of a way around this, and as fans this was the only way we’d get our Arrested Development, but the show was missing something by not having everyone together. The chemistry between everyone on the show is phenomenal, and not having them share more scenes was removing one element of what makes the show magical. Tying back to my point about the production issues, the camera tricks to make actors appear in the same scenes became distracting, and I feel like some of the scenes would have had a bigger payout if they could have acted off of each other more. Funny enough, I think the Fünke scenes worked so well because the joke is how disconnected they are from each other, so this format worked perfectly into that.
Despite my quibbles, I absolutely enjoyed the season when all was said and done. I can’t wait to see what they have planned next – hopefully we won’t have to wait another 7 years to see it.
What did you think? Add your opinions in the comments below – to those who haven’t seen the new season yet – assume that the comments will contain spoilers.