I sort of told myself that I wouldn’t do this because of adulthood and things like that. That I didn’t need to wake up or stay up till 3 a.m. and binge on new Arrested Development Episodes, but it was hard to pass up on that kind of nerd obsessive opportunity. I didn’t watch all the episodes, but I watched more than half (9) and I watched at least one from each individual character. The show is fun and funny made me consistently smile, and it’s not that it’s not good enough as the earlier episodes, they are just different, perhaps too different. The most evident differences are the structure of the show and the turn into darker plots and tones.
The problems with these episodes arise in the first episode, after which you wonder if maybe they changed the style and format of the show just for this first introductory episode. One flaw or problem or just important change is the decision to focus episodes on a central narrator, to follow that story alone throughout a 30 minute episode while neglecting most of the other characters. Consequently, it asks for too much from the plot and personality of the character of a show that always relied on cartoonish elements. So much of why the show worked in the first place had to do with these cartoonish parts: the lack of consequences, the non-sequitur in plots, the outlandish sketches, the tightly crafted stories that fit too well all working with overlapping smalls appearances from all the characters, not a focus on any one. It really feels like watching a different show inspired or based on the characters of Arrested Development - the new episodes lack the sharp editing cuts, layered plots, and the webs of quick, dense and fitting allusions.
The show worked best when there wasn’t a focus on plot, but when plot served as a stage for the characters’ antics. But here, there is an obsession with exposition and plot. I respect the ambitiousness and intricacy of the attempt to weave together past and present, but we barely ever see them together, they can’t play off each other as a group and so it is just less dynamic and funny. One of the best scenes of the series works so well because we get to see everyone in contrast and in collusion with the other. The family sits in the living room, awaiting to hear from the P.R. person Michael hired: Lucille looks bored and judgy, George Michael awkward and nervous, Tobias happy and oblivious and then the scene just builds off of that. The P.R. agent runs through each character, including George Bluth skyping in from Jail wearing a purple yarmulka. This situational setup allows everyone to be perfect. But in the batch, none of this occurs, and it puts to much weight on individual characters as opposed to the brilliance of the group interactions.
It’s hard to say where the next big shifting decision came from, maybe from the decision to focus on one person, and therefore a need arose to create deeper and larger personalities than the comic portrayals of the first three seasons. There’s a strange seriousness and darkness in the new season that was completely absent and delightful in the first substantiation. Nothing mattered, no one fell too low, or was too degraded to care, and no one really got hurt or did anything terrible and demeaning. There was a real seriousness here that just felt jarring and at odds with the lovable insanity of the other seasons. There is now a sadness and humanity to the show that just makes it a different category of comedy and maybe that has it’s own value, but it doesn’t feel like Arrested Development. This has its benefits, most of the characters don’t work when we try to treat them like real people, but one storyline works wonderfully with some development. The parts of Lucille and George, especially the pretty spectacularly and shockingly mundane marital life, is just compelling and beautiful acting and writing. They sit and drink coffee together, or just talk, and it feels tender and you understand their love for each other, which was the first time I had a feel and deep emotion for any of these people. They sit and talk about themselves, about their children and lives, and while funny also just moving and sweet.
The show chose to explore different emotional and narrative terrain, and that’s interesting and potentially creative, but that it feels different, qualitatively so from the first three seasons feels actually like a let down. So much of the excitement, and this is probably not a fair to standard to use, was to just have this awesome family back in our lives, with their strange idiosyncrasies and idiocies, and while there were moments and even episodes that felt like the old ones (Tobias and Lucille are pitch perfect), or even shadows of the old one, they often feel too different. It’s great to have them back, but it feels like they changed too much in the interim.