Tuesday, May 28, 2013

That was Arrested Development?

Steve Holt?
The following are my initial thoughts after watching Arrested Development season 4 over the first 48 hours once all 15 epsisodes became available on NetFlix:

Beggars can't be choosers, right?

It became clear early into my binge that Mitch Hurwitz was correct in advising against marathon viewing. To that extent, I really wish he would have been able to instruct NetFlix to meter out the episodes - because there was zero chance I wasn't going to mainline AD. I also want to note that I expect the episodes to flourish with repeat viewings (I will no doubt watch all 15 episodes at least two more times) as I was so happy to have new content to behold I was sacrificing the foreground to see the background - knowing that I was choosing confusion for the promise of a later payoff.

As for the episodes, and it's overall quality, I had a rougher opinion until I read an excellent review from The A.V. Club that expertly noted the shortfalls but held it up against a new, not the same, standard. For various reasons (NetFlix budgets / actor schedules), the format of the show is different. The show remains groundbreaking with it's innovative method of storytelling, albeit for new reasons which differ from its prior seasons. The show refused to rest on it's laurels, and dared to venture out to make something larger. There was zero chance this storytelling format could have been attempted on a weekly aired network schedule.

Here lies my largest disappointment with the new episodes. The strength of the past method of storytelling utilized the show's best asset (the diverse talents of its awesome cast) to jump from 'A story' to 'B story' to let jokes snap or linger with precision. The new, still adventurous, method of storytelling is to portray each puzzle piece in great detail and hide the overall mosaic. The single character focus at the near total expense of any 'B story' and editing style sacrificed the timing I adored. Personally, in my amateur opinion, the change wasn't for the better. To further detriment to the show's pacing - each episode's increased length exaggerated the issue.

The storytelling also failed to gel the cast in the few instances in which they shared the same space. There are three major gateposts  that nearly all characters pass through: The police station immediately after the end of season 3 (which works well), a contrived premise of a hotel hosting three completely different events, and a Cinco de Cuatro festival that bookends the new episodes, but fails to give the overall season any meaning.  In fact, the major arc of the season was the incarceration of Lucile Bluth, in which the entire family is missing from the trial and the character that would most be impacted by it (Buster) is missing for the majority of the season. My misgivings aside - I actually have grown to appreciate how the final scene ended. It makes sense to me now (although did incite some rage instantly upon credit roll).

I also had issues with how the cast was treated/written. Characters like G.O.B. & Tobias felt as strong as ever, with showcasing episodes allowing them to flourish. The biggest happy surprise was the growth of George Michael Bluth and Maeby Funke. However, I felt George Sr. and his polar twin Oscar were neutered both literally and spiritually. Others have noted that Michael Bluth was alwasys, like the rest of his family, a bad person only to appear better in relation.  Without the ensemble, or the direction they provide, Micheal's character sunk to depths I felt too low (Bad parenting is not a new motif for AD, but they never took it to the shower or bedroom). Fringe characters came back with perfect notes (for example: Carl Weathers and Bob Loblaw), whereas others felt way too integral to the story (Lucile 2 might have had triple the screen time of Buster). Oh - and there was incredibly way too much Ron Howard: I understand there was a lot of lost time in need of his exposition voice over work, but that doesn't forgive the appearances.

On the bright side, Isla Fisher was awesome (and Maria Bamford to a lesser, but also stellar, degree).  Quick Sidebar: Hollywood needs to make a Anna Kendrick / Isla Fisher franchise with many installments. The rest of the stunt casting grew distracting. Why did we need to have different actors play George and Lucile in flashbacks? I would prefer to see Walters and Tambor in Wigs instead of one Wiig (although with an incredible impression).

Please know that I'm eager to watch these episodes again, and to appreciate them for what they are (instead of what I hoped). My favorite episode was the seventh G.O.B. focused "Colony Collapse" that was most definitely aided by the inclusion of Ann Veal (in recent years, thanks to Parenthood, I've become a big Mae Whitman fan). I'm confident the first six episodes - expect for maybe the George Sr. spotlights - will appear less jagged now that I understand the whole puzzle.

One thing is undeniably certain for me: I'm very happy we have new AD episodes. These past months, as many of us chose to watch our favorite episodes again, prompted an increase in Bluth Quoting (never a bad thing).

The Banana Stand is no more, but now we have Fake Block.