Netflix Originals you should watch: Arrested Development

WITH the forthcoming and hotly anticipated release on Friday of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, we bring you the second part of our summer season of Netflix recommendations you may have missed. First up, we have Joel talking to you about the revival of Arrested Development.

Arrested Development, the cult sitcom that charted the fall and further failings of the Bluth family was cancelled in 2006, despite the critical acclaim it had garnered. The show, like others that didn’t have mainstream appeal, fell victim to the effect of the Nielsen rating. However, following successive DVD sales and Netflix binges, the rights to the show were bought from Fox by the very same burgeoning media entity. The show was no longer “abruptly cancelled”. Arrested Development follows central protagonist Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman); a generally good guy, caring and moral who finds himself at the helm of the family business. The Bluth Company is as dysfunctional as its unique owners, most of whom are in the midst of an SEC investigation and court case dealing with just a hint of some “light treason”.

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In many ways, the show was doggedly unconventional. All curse-words are beeped, scenes end with fade-to-white transitions, and the incredible use of foreshadowing in its gags made it a tough sell on a possibly casual vieweers. The show might actually be best enjoyed when watched for the second time, in that the jokes are so densely layered; the entendres are so subtly double that one gets more out of the show with multiple watches. And to think, that creator Mitch Hurwitz was, at this point, limited in what he could do with the show by his former studio executives.

This is why, on the morning of May 26th, 2013 I was so excited to begin watching season 4, one of Netflix’s initial advents into (semi) original programming. The show was finally returning after seven years of ifs, maybes and possible movies. That was of course, exciting enough, but here’s the biggie: Netflix famously and transparently gives its creators 100% creative control over their work. For this show, for the fans, and for Mitch in particular, this would be of incredible importance and opportunity. The show suits Netflix beautifully in two distinct ways. Not only were the show and publisher akin in terms of both platform innovation and critical respect, the show is incredibly well-suited to the binge-watcher.

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Season 4 begins in medias res. This is both comforting and strange – as much as it treads on familiar ground, it provides a slightly jarring but understandable feeling in regards to the increased ages of the characters – in particular, Michael’s son George Michael and his cousin Maeby. This choice also marks the initial point at which the audience is subjected to the main difference between this new season and the previous three.

In its initial run, the show followed a linear structure that began at the arrest of company founder and Michael’s father George. Amidst all the setups, payoffs and (Narrator and eventually guest star) Ron Howard’s “on the next Arrested Development”s that are never actually followed up, there was a defined start and end to the journey contained in both entire seasons and individual episodes. In this new season, each episode follows the exploits of an individual character both before and throughout the new story, leading to retellings of the same scene within different episodes.

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This was, upon release, a divisive factor, and understandably so – it came back as a very different show. But staying the same is not what the show is not what it was known for. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. This structural change also had a knock-on effect on the show further down the line. One of the most endearing things about the show is how incredibly flawed each character is. These characters find themselves in situations most of us would never, but they are each fundamentally certain kinds of people that we can relate to knowing. We all know a Gob, or a Lindsay, for example. Herein lies the weirdness regarding season four though – a whole episode of one flaw is a lot to take in.

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In previous seasons, the flaws of the family were masked by its collective comic relief. Matriarch Lucille’s (Jessica Walter) ambivalence towards Gob (Wil Arnett), for example, could be hidden somewhat by Gob’s reaction, or retaliation to the wrong person. In season 4, if we don’t gel with the actions, or disposition of a character, we have to deal with it for a whole episode. Such is the case to a large extent with Michael, who, away from the ineptitude of his family, is now seen in a different, and less forgiving light.

Not to say that the season isn’t enjoyable. In fact, it is massively so. It’s a treat for long-time fans, different in structure but true in humour. The show was now made to benefit the viewing style that the previous seasons just happened to be great for. As opposed to Michael’s episodes feeling strangely negative at points, Gob’s and George Michael (Michael Cera)’s stand out – we explore new facets of every character by having whole episodes dedicated to them, and these two shine. Like the previous instalments, the show is best enjoyed at least twice. You should watch it, see what you think, and then watch it again. I guarantee you’ll have a different opinion, and I bet it’ll be for the better.

You can follow Joel on Twitter @joelhvghes

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