Review: ‘Arrested Development’

Arrested development netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix revival of cult comedy plays like a TV reunion - fun initially, without much to say

There are two questions regarding “Arrested Development,” which returned this weekend via Netflix: Is it good — or as good as it was — and does that really matter? Regarding the second, probably not. That’s because Netflix is emulating HBO by playing the attention-getting game, and as with “House of Cards,” reviving this Emmy-winning comedy has brought the service ample media coverage, reinforcing the perceived value of its original-programming efforts. So a vacillating answer to the first part is virtually irrelevant, especially since Netflix opted not to make episodes available in advance, allowing die-hards and critics (in this case, a group with considerable overlap) to weigh in simultaneously.

Unlike “House of Cards” — a fine if hardly groundbreaking serialized drama — the prospect of binge viewing (Netflix’s main distribution innovation) this new 15-episode batch of “Arrested Development” feels less like a treat than a rather numbing burden. The program’s arched eyebrows, rapid-fire gags and snark actually play better when spread out, and trying to power through multiple episodes felt exactly like that — a bit like cramming for a test the night before.

That’s not to say the cast and series creator Mitchell Hurwitz (who directed with Troy Miller) don’t deliver their share of moments, although the format has a way of blunting them. Each episode essentially focuses on one of the characters, but they frequently intersect — an ambitious narrative approach, if one also seemingly designed to narrow the program’s appeal even further. Inasmuch as the show was canceled for precisely that niche quality despite all its accolades, it’s perhaps advantageous Netflix has resisted releasing user data, allowing the media to create its own echo chamber amplifying the show’s impact, irrespective of the reality.

Ultimately, this “Arrested” revival plays a bit like a reunion special, where the individual cast members come out and take their curtain calls. After the warmth of seeing them reunited (or semi-reunited, given how rarely more than one or two are featured in a scene together), there’s a sort of awkwardness to it, as if nobody really has much to say. We’re meant to bask in the nostalgia, while the particulars are of relatively little consequence.

Beyond Jason Bateman — who has established a busy film resume since the show — the producers have also stocked these episodes with plenty of celebrity cameos, which are alternatively amusing and distracting. Chalk that up, perhaps, to the “Arrested Development” movie that was discussed before the producers settled on this long-delayed “fourth season,” which, given the cultish limits, probably made more sense.

All told, it’s hard to fault anyone involved for making this happen — from Netflix for cashing in on the name to Hurwitz for revisiting the best gig he’s likely to ever have to the cast, who have almost uniformly stayed busy since the show ended but clearly appear to relish re-inhabiting these roles.

Still, wading through the episodes themselves, it’s hard to enthusiastically applaud them for it either. From that perspective, “Arrested Development’s” long-awaited encore is like a lot of TV development — namely, an interesting idea that was more exciting on paper.

Arrested Development

Production

Produced by the Hurwitz Co., Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television.

Crew

Executive producers, Mitchell Hurwitz, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Jim Vallely, Troy Miller; directors, Hurwitz, Miller.

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  1. I’m fairly sure you haven’t given this enough time.

  2. Lisa says:

    I loved it. The first few episodes of the new season I felt like maybe it wasn’t as good, but then after about the 4th or 5th episode when all the stories started to intertwine it became every bit as hilarious as before. Sheer comedic genius, one of the best comedic tv series ever!!! I hope they make more!!! I bet the reviewer didn’t watch the whole series.

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  4. rockchalker says:

    Perhaps the reviewers viewing experience felt like a “cramming for a test” and a burden because he approached it that way. Watching 8 hours of anything is bound to be tiresome and feel like a chore, even if it is something you typically enjoy. I can’t imagine watching 8 hours of anything and then having to write and publish a review on it in a 16 hour span of time could feel like anything but a chore.

    Congratulations to the author of the review on being “first” to publish a review (albeit very brief, vague, and light on any substantive criticism other than he didn’t enjoy “powering through” them and there were too many celebrity cameos).http://variety.com/v/voices

    I agree with some of the authors sentiments (the new season doesn’t make itself any more accessible to new viewers and further embeds itself in that “niche” that got the show canceled as the author mentions.)

    I would have hoped for a more thoughtful and comprehensive review. However, just as the author approached watching the episodes as if he was cramming for a test, it seems he approached writing this review as if he was rushing the submit a college essay at the last minute in time to make the deadline.

  5. Eliezer says:

    Arrested Development: After reading the comments of my friends on facebook, I became quite scared. However, after watching the first episode, I became very happy. They stuck to their roots and kept the comedy the same as before and even progressed Michael Bluth’s character to have him become the very thing he despises….one of the Bluths. I think that they are not going to be successful due to the pressure of the now much wider audience. They kept the show pure and didn’t try to cash in on the notoriety it currently has. I think that some fans might have thought they liked the show because they heard such good things about it from the cult fans, however, now watching it first for themselves, I think they realize why they were never interested in the show in the first place. I for one loved the first episode and cannot wait for the rest. Also, the workaholics crew at the end just topped it for me and kept the show filled with the meta references it is famous for.

    • H Dubz says:

      I’m excited about the show. Haven’t got the chance to check it out. I want to see the documentary too. It’s on VOD :)))

  6. Pinky says:

    Oh yeah–and was that whole Rebel Alley character supposed to be a nod to the Jessica Chastain (unfounded and debunked) rumors? That was supreme brilliance. I bow. I bow deeply.

  7. Pinky says:

    Disagree with this review entirely. I think the problem is that you watched this on a deadline and doing so felt like work. To be fair, one should watch the show in large chunks–several episodes at a time, but then feel free to take a break and return to it when one is feeling there is nothing in the world he/she would rather be doing than spending time with the Bluths. And that feeling will return quickly. This season was genius in its structure, content, and presentation. Granted, the first few episodes were more like a race car driver revving his/her engine, but then the series goes from zero to 100mph in the blink of an eye. I loved it and will watch it again very soon–once I get through telling my friends and the whole Internet how great it was.

  8. I couldn’t disagree more with this review. I implore you to rewatch the season, at a slower pace.

  9. KingsX says:

    Your review is at best vague, with details about the show’s setup that could be found in any entertainment magazine or website article from the past few months. It makes me wonder how many of the new episodes you have seen. A few? One? None? Certainly not all of them. The “curtain calls” mentioned in your article shows just that, as if each one of them made a brief appearance to say “here I am!” and took a bow, rather than working together to make a new season of episodes.

  10. Gavin Glennon says:

    You are way too kind. The new season is an incoherent mess. I’ve watched three new episodes which ran completely off the rails. There were too many references to previous episodes and trying to milk scenes and jokes beyond their due date. One example – in the first episode the “joke” about how to fix the dorm room vote went on about 10 minutes too long.

  11. Bugs Sam says:

    You do realize you did not have to “power through them like cramming for a test” to review them, right?

    Seems to be a rather unfair criteria as there are no dictates saying “all episodes must be watched in their entirety, one after another until complete”.

  12. Eddie says:

    Well, what can I say? I couldn’t disagree more. It was amazing. While I have some criticisms and notes (something I can hardly say about the original series) and the editing could have been tighter, it was fantastic. More please! Just a joy throughout and a perfect addition to what came before.

    Okay, one note: it did miss the group interactions, if everyone could free up their schedule for the next three years to make a few more series, that would be just fine!

  13. Fred Flintstone says:

    I loved the series, have watched it countless times. Season 4 was terrible. The jokes aren’t funny. It comes off as a bad finale or reunion “look back”show. The plot lines are terrible (does anyone buy Michael as a dumb Hollywood wanna be who is too stupid to live in one of his own homes?). The cast at times seems to be forcing it. Total disappointment.

  14. Mandy says:

    The show was awesome…and I was really wondering if it was going to be a stupid Brady Bunch reunion type show, which would have been a shame for such a great sitcom. Cindy didn’t get married, Gillligan didn’t end up re-marooned on the island. George Michael punched his dad in the nose. Brilliant.

    I applaud Netflix for picking this up…streaming is where it is at. I canceled my cable subscription almost seven years ago, when Fox proved to me that only morons tune in for their drivel. We very seldom even turn on the TV for the free stations anymore. Why bother? Netflix and Amazon Prime give us the power to choose what, when and where.

    This show was brilliant, as was the 4th season. Time is precious, and if I’m spending mine watching a show it has to be worthwhile. I’ve waited seven years for this season (or the movie) and now I just pray they make season 5.

  15. Hello Darkness My Old Friend says:

    I guess I’m apparently in the minority but I thought this review was spot on. There were a few laugh out loud moments in the show but overall they relied too much on old gags and the story was difficult to follow. The format really makes it suffer. I’d venture to say that the people wildly defending it and going so far as to insult someone for daring to write a review they disagreed with are probably just desperately trying to make the show live up to their seven years of wanting it.

    The one character per episode format was a really piss-poor choice. This is an ensemble cast. Also the fact that each episode spanned the same time period made it hard for it to build on itself. They managed that a little with the different viewpoints but it fell far short of its potential.

  16. Alice says:

    Did You Even Watch The Show???? Poorly Writfen And Completely Off The Mark. This Show Has Kept To It’s Original Humor And Added Some Great Insights To The Characters. If You Were A Fan Of The Previous Seasons You Will Thoroughly Enjoy This New Season And You Will Crave more.

  17. JohnS says:

    Gotta say the review makes the season sound very disappointing. Still, I’ll watch it and make up my own mind.

  18. variety is irrelevant says:

    Good God how does this even pass as a review? I hope you didn’t get paid for this. While I enjoyed the new season and love the show, it’s not without criticism and was hoping for an intelligent discussion in this review. Instead, you make a few sweeping generalizations and call it a day. Perhaps you’re better suited to Twitter.

  19. Pat says:

    Terrible review, not just because I disagree, but because it is terrible.

  20. Tony Wonder says:

    Thank goodness the current trend in adaptive content distribution models is making publications like this more irrelevant every day. With an article this premature and self-indulgent, the author has likely written more poignant and thought-provoking grocery lists than what he slapped down to keep up with mounting Google alerts from competing rags.

  21. Tom Strong says:

    It was fantastic. You are an idiot.

  22. calvin says:

    so far my review is similar. and @Luke the reason people watched ‘arrested’ episodes again and again was because they were so funny the first time. the fact that they stayed funny (and often got funnier) was the miracle.

    that said, this season will probably benefit greatly from a few rematches

    • Joe says:

      I watched them because a lot more hilarious things happen in the background if you pay attention. It wasn’t a miracle, they were written with these little forward looking jokes/hints. The same is true for this season, the first few episodes are boring the first time you watch them, but if you know what you are looking for are much more rewarding the next time.

  23. Luke says:

    I’m with wesleysn1per on this one. Did you watch the entire season? I did and thought It was really good. Not as good as the first 3 but that may change once I’ve seen them a couple of dozen times. I’ve already rewatched the first episode of the season and like more than the first time through. Remember, this is the show that not many people liked at first and only became more popular after everyone watched each episode over and over again.

  24. wesleysn1per says:

    No offense, but I don’t think you can accurately review a whole tv series after its only been released for a few hours. I’m about halfway through the series and disagree with you on several issues, namely that this feels like a “curtain call”. If anything, this feels like the beginning of something more grand. Ultimately, this whole article sounds like just a ploy to create drama and get more people to read it.

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