Fans of Arrested Development spent Memorial Day weekend in front of their screens gorging themselves on new episodes of the show that, despite critical acclaim and numerous awards, FOX’s marketing department couldn’t seem to push. But thanks to a deal with Netflix, Arrested Development has been revived. It’s darker, it’s different, and it definitely has fans talking about the Bluth family again. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
In previous seasons, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) was always the show’s moral center. He didn’t make all the right decisions, but he generally acted without malice or for his own gain. However much Michael was tempted to stray from his sense of ethics to improve the business or the reputation of his family, his compulsion to set an example for his son always brought him back. Still, it can be argued that although he tried to be the model parent, he was ultimately neglectful of George Michael’s (Michael Cera) needs.
Groomed from a very young age to take over the family business, Michael never had a job outside the Bluth empire and seems to have few friends. Despite his frequent claims of leaving the family, he never actually makes the break. In the final episode of the first season, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) tells Michael, “Maybe it’s because you need us more than we need you”. As season four begins, she seems to have been right. Without his family’s moral atrocities to rise above, or his son’s opinion to hold him to the straight and narrow, Michael no longer has any sense of balance in his life.
This lack of balance is also a big part of what makes the new format of Arrested Development, with each episode generally following one specific character, so off-putting for many viewers. In previous seasons, each episode bounced between the story lines for several characters, making the jokes lighter, faster and funnier. With the focus on a single primary character, jokes that are set up in one episode are sometimes too far removed by the time they reach their punchline.
When multiple strands begin to weave together in the later episodes, it does begin to feel more like the series of old. But it seems like the writers were on a mission to turn everything upside down for the characters. There’s little growth for them—certainly not any positive growth—and almost all the characters seem much more selfish than before. And if you’re expecting a resolution to all the story lines by the last episode, you’ll be very disappointed. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz describes season four as act one of a larger story, but where (and if) the rest of the story will play out—on TV, in theaters, or on the Internet—is unknown.
Character Highlights and Lowlights
Tobias’s (David Cross) story line is perhaps the most disturbing. He’s so blinded by making his dreams come true that, even as a former doctor, he confuses a methadone clinic for an acting class (The Method One Clinic). He connects with DeBrie, an addict, and it’s nice to see him with someone who finally “gets” him. But his total ignorance of her problems makes the formerly sweet and confused Tobias seem callous and self-centered.
Gob (Will Arnett), as the most sensitive of the Bluths, has only ever wanted to feel like he mattered to his family. He makes a lot of “huge mistakes,” but those are nearly always the result of his attempts to increase his standing with the family. In the new season, he is welcomed with open arms into Ann’s family, but it’s his own family Gob wants to embrace him. The kindred spirit he finds in archrival Tony Wonder, though played for laughs, is a nice payoff for a character looking to make a genuine connection with someone.
We always knew that Buster (Tony Hale) was terrified of being left on his own, so when his greatest fear is finally realized, he goes a little crazy. Maeby (Alia Shawkat) has also spent too much time on her own and isn’t making much headway into adult life. Though she has been out in the real world and earned her own money, she continues to look for attention from her parents and makes a series of bad calls that are in stark contrast to her ability to always land on her feet in previous seasons.
Lindsay makes the choice she’s always threatened when she runs off with “face blind” ostrich farmer Marky Bark (Chris Diamantopoulos). Perhaps conditioned from so many years of living with a man who had impossible expectations, she is actually tolerant and understanding of Marky and the squalor she finds herself living in. Lindsay eventually embraces her Bluth-ness, accepting herself for who she is without apology.
Lindsay’s acceptance and transformation can be viewed as a metaphor for the entire fourth season. This is who the Bluths are now, and they make no apologies for it.
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