Monday, May 27, 2013

Digested Development: Reflections on Binge-Watching an Old Friend

(getting the family back together to see how they got pulled apart.)
Caution! Mild Spoilers Ahead! Minor Plot Points discussed!
Arrested Development Season 4 is sure to elicit a varied response from its vocal and passionate fan base. Having gorged myself on all 15 episodes this weekend, I believe Season 4 is a BIG meal - it's a lot to take in for one sitting - or even two sittings as I managed it over two days. Still I found it tasty and satisfying! If this is not exactly the AD we fans were used to, it certainly the AD Mitch Hurwitz and Co. had tried to prepare us for. The previous seasons of AD were all based around the various family members bouncing off each other and really being an ensemble. Here it's more like reading a Game of Thrones novel - where with each chapter there's a different POV character and we get see that character's choices and trials, while also intersecting with some if not all of the rest of the Bluths (interestingly enough, the Game of Thrones TV Show does not try to emulate this storytelling technique.) This point-of-view storytelling was done more for logistical reasons than artistic preference, as the ensemble cast are now all stars with busy schedules who couldn't all be together at once for an entire season of filming (and also Netflix probably couldn't afford to pay all of them to be in the full season of episodes. But ANYWAY...). So it's the same characters and the same type of storyline, but it's told a different style. If you really loved the old AD style, you might wind up slightly disappointed. 

I feel like season 4 is weird first, and really funny second. I was surprised at how much of a mystery the season turned out to be. The overarching question seems to be how did the family continue to spiral apart and why? Some of what we learn is BIZARRE, but still in line with Bluth-style lunacy. There are so many little mysteries that get uncovered throughout the season, mostly regarding how the family members all inadvertently play parts in each other stories. The show has always been a puzzle, but never drawn out to this extent. There were explanations or clarifications of events that happened in episodes 1 or 2 that came around in episodes 9 or 10 - which was like 4 hours of viewing later! There are payoffs. but attention must be PAID.
I think what they did is really ambitious, and it mostly all works.  For me, there are episodes where it feels like the writers don't try to offer any explanations AT ALL. The writers are content that it make sense later - and it does. But it makes some individual episodes feel a little... unwieldy? Aimless as its own outing? I had the hardest time with the episodes that focused on George Bluth Sr. (and sometimes his twin brother Oscar). Maybe the success of the individual episodes is based on how much you enjoy the character who is in the driver's seat and that's just a matter of personal choice. Overall for the season, I'd say some things fall a little flat, and others don't gel as quickly as maybe you'd think they would, but this is really long-form comedy and a lot of it was laugh out loud funny and really great. I'm very interested to watch it all again with an understanding of what was happening as it unfolded. The first time through, you're not in on all the jokes, but I feel like being on the inside will make things even more amusing. 
I love being able to spend more time with all of these characters. The AD universe has a deep roster of amazing supporting characters and many of them show up across the season, and new additions for Season 4 also work really well. The biggest surprise for me was how much of a key player Lucille 2 turned out to be. I would not be surprised to find out she wound up with more screen time than some of the actual Bluth family members. Liza Minnelli kills it, so I'm not complaining. I just remember there was talk on the interwebs when the season was first announced wondering IF Liza would be coming back, and it becomes very clear very early on that the storyline never could've worked without her being a solid presence.

I also felt Season 4 had a really ballsy conclusion. The entirety of Season 4 really is a set up for another Bluth story they want to tell. The family has spiraled apart and they have to be put back together. But who will do it? And how? And also there's a whole new mystery to be solved - an actual whodunit mystery! The ending of Season 3 was a totally satisfying end to a series, if there was nothing more to come from the story. The same cannot be said for Season 4. There HAS to be more. And since there is no actual deal in place for a movie or a Season 5, I think it took a lot of guts to end things as they did.

Here's hoping there's still money in the Banana Stand and we get more Bluths in the future! If not, I'd say the people in charge with all the money to make it happen would've made a huge mistake.

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