Streaming TV review: 'Arrested Development'

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 02:10 PM Written by 

arrested netflix

I returned from a long-planned vacation late Sunday and began diving into the new Netflix streaming episodes of "Arrested Development" Monday morning.

After watching the entire new season, I can say I enjoyed the new episodes pretty well but also have some concerns. Read more (no plot spoilers) after the jump. ...

So I loved being back in this world with these characters and the whiplash comedy of jokes that go speeding by at 80 MPH. But the format of the new "Arrested" takes some getting used to. And, honestly, this season is strictly for fans. If you haven't watched the show before, go back and watch the early seasons before attempting the new season. 

And if you don't remember the last episode of the show's third season on Fox, it's best to re-watch it before starting the new episodes. The new season goes back in time to wrap up the storylines from the 2003-06 series and then advances forward through time to -- well, I'm not sure to where. It doesn't seem like seven years have passed on the show, but for lack of certainty, we'll say it's the present.

Each episode is devoted to a different character -- some characters get more than one episode in the Netflix season -- and viewers often see the same scenes from a variety of viewpoints. It's sort of a comedy "Rashomon." Slowly the plots for all the characters advance with the more episodes you consume but the new season has to build. It gets off to a slow start and then takes a while for the whole enterprise to get up to speed. At about the third episode, enough of a foundation has been set that the jokes start to come more easily and more quickly.

That said, even a viewer paying close attention will need to re-watch the whole season to get all the jokes and gags. But that may be asking a lot. At the halfway point, as much as I liked being in the world, I was a bit exhausted by it. (Would fewer episodes of this new season have been better? Or maybe shorter episodes rather than these that run 27-37 minutes, much longer than the 22 minutes comedies generally run on TV?) And I can't really put a finger on the best way to watch this season. Watching it weekly seems ill-advised because you may forget some of the planted gags as they pay off episode-to-episode. But watch them all in one sitting and you might be worn out, too.

Regardless of how you watch, it's hard not to marvel at how series creator Mitch Hurwitz and his writers have layered the season. It's easily one of the most densely, pain-stakingly packed pieces of entertainment ever created. And the devotion to even the most minor characters from the original show is astounding and admirable.

Of course, not every joke is going to work. Much has been made in social media already about the gag that any time footage from the old episodes is used it carries a watermark that says "Showstealer Pro Trial Version." Although some viewers were confused, I get that it's a gag, but I'm not entirely sure how/why it's funny.

Luckily, more of the humor in the new season makes sense, from Tobias' ill-fated visit to see his daughter where he finds a local "To Catch a Predator" video crew lying in wait (Tobias opens the front door and calls out, "Is there a little girl here all by herself?") to the Bluth's new scheme to build a wall along the American-Mexican border and George Sr.'s attempts to bribe a Herman Cain-like political candidate (Terry Crews).

Fans of "Outsourced," take note: Half the cast of that canceled 2010-11 NBC sitcom shows up for scenes set in India in the new "Arrested" season. And Pittsburgh even gets a shout-out in the first episode when Michael, trying to get a copy of an in-flight magazine, asks an airline ticket counter clerk for a ticket "to your cheapest destination."

"You lucked out today," the clerk says. "It's Pittsburgh."

"What's your second cheapest destination?" Michael quickly shoots back.

Ouch, Mitch Hurwitz, ouch. But that's a testament to the style of comedy in "Arrested Development" -- fans will laugh until it hurts. And then they'll laugh some more.

If there's one particular downside to the new season of "Arrested Development," it's that it has an unsatisfactory ending. Or, rather, a non-ending. Hurwitz has always talked of how these episodes are a set-up for a movie but there's no one, clear movie-ready plot that the end of the season appears to be leading toward. Instead, myriad plot threads are left to dangle.

It's also not clear that "Arrested Development," with its dozens of characters, would be well-served by a movie format. In a series, there's time to get to all those characters; in a two-hour movie, many would have to be left out. 

Fans can worry about the future of the "Arrested" franchise down the road. For now, it's enough to simply enjoy this fourth-season ride, appreciating how different it is from the Fox series but also how scrupulously it rebuilds a universe that's been dormant for seven years. 

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