Arrested Development – Season 4

Arrested Development Season 4 Netflix

When Arrested Development first began it took situation comedy to another level with multiple strands of layered gags that come thick and fast be it with satire, visual gags, great lines, self-referential in-jokes, nods to popular culture, farce and at times dark humour; it was the freshest thing to happen to comedy on television since The Simpsons, and it was confident enough to never feel the need to sentimentalise that its close relations – The Office (UK) which preceded it and Modern Family which followed it – felt obliged to.

Its fourth season, released in its entirety yesterday, is totally groundbreaking in its own right; Netflix have made it a global TV event via the Internet, with the simultaneous release of all new 15 episodes, a sharp contrast for a show that was previously shunted around schedules and a welcome antidote to modern day fragmented viewing habits.

Like all great comedy, the gags come easy because the characters are so well defined. Not that they are likeable characters – even Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, the previously supposed moral compass of the show, early on bemoans undergoing a rigorous security check at an airport because woman in burkas are allowed to pass, plays loose with his scruples throughout the new season, and deliciously delivers a cruel dig at the English; so when Isla Fisher jokingly introduces her character as a narcissist early in the fourth season, the viewer knows she going to fit right in with the self-obsessed assembly of core and subsidiary characters.

There are early signs of the old genius writing as Lucille (One) gives a new meaning to chain smoking while there is black comedy in abundance, notably as Tobias continually tells all and sundry, including passing children, about a sex offender conviction earned earlier in a misunderstanding. Misunderstandings and confusion are staples of conventional sit-coms, but they are delivered far more elaborately in Arrested Development and with as much style as in Curb Your Enthusiasm (a show which also gets a very direct nod as the fourth season develops).

The episodes are centred on the back story of the main characters, filling in the gaps of what they have done over seven years to get to a fourth season that never materialised until now. It is a story that’s told in a mix of flashbacks and intercut timelines, like chapters in a Tarantino film, meaning many references, lines and scenes only fully make sense in later episodes. It is a style that rewards a marathon sitting as the pieces come together like a jigsaw as each episode progresses.

It is undeniably very clever writing, as around seven-and-a-half-hours are woven together in a circle that tells a story of a number characters, that will surely benefit repeated viewings, with the rich layered comedy behind it. Even the initial impact is strong enough, however, to implant “Get away, Getway” in a constant loop in the head and educate non-geeks about Showsteeler software.

The targets of satire are varied, including the drone bombing of civilian targets, dumbed down investigative television, corrupt politicians and economic policy from 2006 in “a time when banks were happy to incur as much debt as possible”.

There is also plenty for loyal fans, with a brief update on Annyong and the return of many of the brilliant ancillary players including Judy Greer’s Kitty Sanchez, Carl Weathers as himself, Liza Minnelli’s Lucille (Two) and Henry Winkler’s Barry Zuckerman. Also, Michael Cera’s George Michael mentions a film called ‘Dangerous Cousins’ is what first made him sign-up to Netflix, in the knowledge many viewers of that line will have subscribed themselves that day.

Arguably, if the fourth season lacks anything it is big ensemble pieces which were logistically difficult when shooting. But the acting, particularly from Portia de Rossi, David Cross and Jeffery Tambour, continues to be first class. And that ensemble piece may yet come. The fifteen episodes of season four now have us up-to-date with all the characters with plenty of plot-developments to be expanded on. One of the many strands involved Michael Bluth trying to get together a film and it seems inevitable that this fourth season is precursor for that, which was always rumoured to be the comeback. But as Maeby knowingly suggests to Michael, “I think movies are dead. Maybe a TV show?” Arrested Development’s highly skilled use of time and pacing has shown in this fourth season, they are already on the superior medium.

MG

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