Like a certain percentage of patriotic Americans, I spent the Memorial Day holiday paying tribute to the makers of “Arrested Development” by sitting on the couch for seven and a half hours and devouring the entire fourth season on Netflix. OK, so that’s not the most traditional observation of the holiday, but it turned out to be a very popular one this year.
As any dedicated Idiot Boxer knows, the much-loved FOX series returned to Netflix with 15 new episodes after an absence of seven years. That’s quite a hiatus. Expectations for a fourth season of the cult series have been quite high. How much your expectations are met may depend on how you watch the series.
Producers have suggested parceling out the episodes, watching them as you would a regular weekly series. This caution against “binge viewing” seems like a wise one. It allows the viewer to extend his or her consumption of the show. It also forces people to linger on Netflix, giving the content provider time to lure viewers into other addictive series. It’s also terrible advice.
Season 4 of “Arrested Development” picks up exactly where the third season left off—with the much-troubled Bluth clan sailing off into the sunset aboard the Queen Mary. Each episode of the new series concentrates, more or less, on one single member of the family, tracing what has happened to them in the intervening years.
Some observers were quick to jump on the bandwagon condemning the show for not being as funny as it once was. Admittedly season 4 is a slow starter. The first episode, focusing on family leader Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), is pokey and disorienting. It points out some of the flaws inherent in the new season. There’s a great novelty in giving an episode to each character in a sitcom, but it kind of undercuts the idea of the ensemble. The cast of “Arrested Development” had gelled into such a brilliant comedy team by the end of the show’s third season, it’s a shame not to have the band together as one. This is demonstrated most prominently in the character of Michael Bluth. Bateman’s self-centered, holier-than-thou character comes across as rather pointlessly narcissistic when he doesn’t have the rest of his messed-up family to act as a sounding board.
Here’s where the binge viewing comes in handy, though. Watch one or two episodes of “Arrested Development” and you might not get the joke. (The same could be said of the original run.) Watch a bunch in rapid succession, and you’re liable to be hooked. The episodes in season 4 are all happening at more or less the same point in time. A small background image, cameo or joke will come back around to great significance three or four episodes down the line. It takes until the Tobias Fünke (David Cross) story in episode 5 for the series to really hit its stride. That’s when storylines the show has been carefully laying out start crashing into one another. By the time we hit episode 7, concentrating on newly rebranded “Christian magician” Gob Bluth (Will Arnett), the show is a riot of running jokes and brilliantly constructed plotlines.
Everything caps off with a breathless final four, which brings all the storylines (and the family) together. So go ahead—watch all the episodes at once. Who ever said moderation was a good thing? Certainly not the Bluth family.