Arrested Development (Netflix)

The cult favorite Arrested Development returned this past Sunday after a seven year hiatus. AD was revived by Netflix, which made all 15 episodes available online at the same time, a practice the company has done for all of their original series.

Fans of the show were greeted to a different, though just as entertaining, lineup of episodes – the first to air since the show was canceled in 2006.

The fourth season of AD included all the same characters that viewers fell in love (or hate) with when the show first aired in 2003. However, the structure of the show was far different from its early 2000s set up. For the new season, show creator Mitchell Hurwitz decided to have each of the 15 episodes focus on one member of the Bluth family at a time.

In these episodes, characters build independent storylines, which eventually connect. This differs largely from the structure of the first three seasons, where episodes were centered around the zany interactions of the eccentric Bluth family as a whole. As a result, the show has lost that “ensemble” feeling that fans fell in love with during the first three seasons, since most episodes do not involve the whole cast. Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth) said in a press conference that there were only two episodes in which the whole cast is together. Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth) added that “Fans are going to have to make a friend” with the fact that not every character will be in every episode.

From a logistics standpoint, this makes sense. There are only 15 episodes to catch the viewers up on each character’s life, a setback which seems to have limited the writers from including all of the characters in all of the episodes. In doing this, the show loses a big part of the first three seasons’ charm – those often hilarious, yet always entertaining interactions between family members.

The fourth season starts off with “Michael’s Arrested Development”, who we find living in his son, George Michael’s (Michael Cera), college dorm room. While he is still oblivious to his own son’s feelings, Michael’s character does not quite seem akin to what viewers saw in the first three seasons. His character seems more desperate, doing things only his brother, Gob (Arnett), would do. Things such as becoming intimate with Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli) to get his hands on some of her money, something that Michael would have had enough self respect to not do seven years ago.

The show still breaks the fourth wall to make jokes about itself, which was certainly appreciated by many fans during the first three seasons. Many of the jokes come from the show’s narrator (Ron Howard), who, in the show’s new intro, mentions that the Bluth family’s future was “abruptly canceled”, a gentle poke at the show’s untimely ending.

Fans were also in for a (pleasant, though different) surprise when it came to the flashbacks. Instead of putting a blonde wig and a pound-and-a-half more makeup on Lucille (Walter) and saying she’s 30 years younger, they decided to cast new actors for the younger versions of George Sr., Lucille, and Gob. Stars, such as Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig were cast, perhaps in an effort to attract new viewers to the show.

Dozens of Hollywood A-Listers make cameo appearances throughout the season. Cameos include Ed Helms, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm, John Krasinski, and Andy Richter. Long time cast member Henry Winkler (Barry Zuckercorn) returns, bringing with him his son, Max Winkler, who plays the younger version of the incompetent Bluth family attorney.

Ever since the cancellation of the series, producers have long been open to the idea of an Arrested Development movie. After watching the fourth season, this seems all the more possible when Michael is given the job of “co-producer” on a movie about his family, directed by Ron Howard (who plays himself). Portia de Rossi (Lindsay Bluth) said in an interview that she believes everyone in the cast would be on board with the idea of a movie.

So despite the fact that the new season is quite different from the first three, fans should still give it a chance, as Arrested Development is one of the most smartly written comedies on television in years.

By Caleb Dorfman

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**in the following clip, David Cross talks about the “bad timing” of Arrested Development’s original run: