The premiere of the long-awaited 4th season of Arrested Development might constitute the first video on demand “event” in streaming television history. The whole point of VOD and online streaming is that you don’t have to watch the same content as everybody else at the same time. And yet, fans of the cult favorite found ourselves on the Netflix website at midnight May 25th, eagerly clicking refresh until the new season dropped.
It’s appropriate that the show is making its triumphant return as a streaming series, as many of its fans first discovered the show online. But back in 2006, streaming television was not a mainstream form of consuming content. Streaming was something underground, illicit and maybe even a bit illegal. In order to watch the shows you wanted, your friends had to send you links to secret websites and you’d have to gobble up your content before they were shut down for copyright infringement. Learning from the music industry’s post-Napster implosion, network TV decided not to fight the new wave of online streaming, but rather join in.
The return of Arrested Development is proof that VOD has come of age and has a bright and profitable future. The “premiere” was a big hit, and Netflix has expressed its willingness to continue producing the show for another season. But enough about who’s making money off the show and how, let’s answer the question on everybody’s mind: Is it any good?
The first episode of season four is not the falling on the floor laughing affair that was the original pilot in 2003, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The pilot had to be the first hit off the “big yellow joint” of Arrested D, and it had to get you hooked right off the bat. This first episode has a lot riding on it to be sure, but show creator Mitchell Hurwitz knows that even if the season opener is a total dud, everyone is going to keep watching to the end.
Sure, Hurwitz and co. could have made S4.E4 a cavalcade of inside jokes and crowd-pleasing references to previous seasons, but instead they decided to make it a slow build towards a big payoff. As the season progresses, this turns out to be a wise choice, and Hurwitz’s talented ensemble proves they still have the same skill of adeptly weaving together a complex tapestry of mishaps and misunderstood double entendres into a hilarious comedy of errors. And this author suspects that just like the previous seasons, rewatching the shows after seeing the whole season will expose layers upon layers of additional jokes and Easter Eggs that you may have missed the first time.
Although it’s been a decade since the show premiered, the new Arrested Development has adapted well to the changing face of American popular culture. George Michael’s arc of the story is a clever parallel to the rise of Mark Zuckerburg, Michael has trouble using his iPhone calendar and drives a Google mapping car, Buster and Lucille have fallen in love with the term “hot mess” and Tobias has moved from the Blue Man group to musicals based off of the Marvel Universe.
The new season goes even deeper into the world of industry in-joke meta-awareness, with some hilarious success and occasional misfires. Narrator and producer Ron Howard has a large supporting role as himself, roping Michael into a scheme to produce a movie based on the Bluth Family. As a testament to the shows latent popularity, many comedy mega stars have cameos in the show, most notably Kristin Wiig and Seth Rogen as young Lucille and George. Ben Stiller returns as Tony Wonder, this time playing a more major role in the story.
Each episode centers around a different character of the family, with each of their stories weaving in and around one another as the plot thickens. This inventive format really pays off in the “back nine” of the season as everything comes together with hilarious results. Gob’s episodes are probably the funniest and certainly the truest to the original run. There already some running jokes that are just as memorable as those of the earlier seasons, especially Gob’s new theme song “Getaway.”
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this new run is that it ends on a cliffhanger, assuring audiences that the cast and crew is ready to continue the (mis)adventures of the Bluth family. It has been reported that Michael Cera was the last hold-out to sign-up for the new run, and it seems he has come to his senses. His career has plateaued a bit since his Juno/Scott Pilgrim/Superbad days and he has hopefully been humbled enough to remember that Arrested Development is the show that got him where he is.
So mix a martini, dip a frozen banana, cozy up next to your cousin and enjoy the long-awaited return of the Bluths. It’s worth the wait.