Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Developing Story

Though it was made available on Netflix last year, I only just watched season 4 of Arrested Development.  The show, a critical hit that won several Emmys, including Best Comedy, was on Fox for three seasons previously from 2003 to 2006.  It was never a hit, but it had a strong cult following.

Including me.  So I was excited when I heard there'd be new shows.  And after watching it, I'm a bit surprised at the relatively tepid response from many critics. I thought it was great.

Perhaps this is due to the phenomenon that once something is deemed a classic, fans always say the latest episodes aren't as good as the old ones.  This is even truer after a show goes on a lengthy hiatus.  When John Cleese came back four years later with a second season of Fawlty Towers there were plenty of complaints it didn't compare, but if you come to the show fresh, the second season is the stronger one.

Not that I'm in favor of just any comeback.  Some shows are about a place and time, and the magic can never be recaptured.  Which makes AD4 all the more amazing.  First, everyone is back--all the original leads, not to mention numerous recurring characters (plus some new guest stars like Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, John Slattery, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Terry Crews, Tommy Tune and Isla Fisher, not to mention a reunion of the MST3K gang)--even though many of these people have gone on to movies or other hit shows.  Even more important, creator Mitch Hurwitz is behind it, along with other writers who made the original great, such as Jim Vallely and Richard Rosenstock.

The format is a bit different.  There are 15 episodes, but they tend to be longer than normal sitcom episodes--most are more than 30 minutes long, with no commercial breaks.  And the whole season deals with one basic story--a complicated, multi-part story, but one all the same.  What I think threw a lot of commentators was that each episode centers on just one character. Every one of the nine leads--Michael, Lindsay, Gob, George Michael, Maeby, Buster, Tobias, George Sr., and Lucille--gets at least one episode devoted to their travails.

This has a cumulative effect, as we go over the same events from different points of view, revealing more and more of the story each time.  In fact, the whole thing is almost bewilderingly complex.  It reminded me of nothing so much as the novel Catch-22, when you keep going back and forth, and returning to the same moments but with a different understanding each time.  It's also similar in that problem no one keep the entire plot in their brain at one time.

But forget that. Is the show funny?  Yes, very.  As funny as the original three seasons? Hmm. Maybe slightly less joke dense (though that may just be the halo effect), but still funnier than most of the shows out there right now.  (The original show was probably too joke-dense and just a little cold, which may explain why it never really caught on.)

I do have one big problem.  There are numerous schemes, generally regarding money or love, and every character is trying to accomplish something. But the season has no ending. I thought it was coming to some sort of climax--probably Cinco De Cuatro celebration where everyone gathers--but we're mostly left dangling.  With so little resolved, is Hurwitz planning another season?  Or a movie to tie it up?  Maybe, but I still think he should have done it all here.  Who knows if everyone can get together again?

PS  All the actors are in fighting trim.  The only oddity is Portia de Rossi, who looks like a different person.

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