And now the story of an obsessive fan base and the cult television show they helped bring back to life with diminishing returns. It's arrested development and "Arrested Development"; or, Season 4 was probably always a no-win situation despite what everyone may have hoped.
Make no mistake: there is a lot to like about Zombie "Arrested Development." Each cast member is still at the top of their respective game (or better, as in the cases of Alia Shawkat, Will Arnett and Season 4 MVP Michael Cera); the jokes, when they land, are funnier than they have any right to be; the world building is impressively Simpsonian. Everything presented in this resurrected version of "Arrested Development" points to a show that still very clearly has gas left in the tank. Further adventures of the Bluth family -- whether on Netflix or the big screen -- are more than welcome. Which doesn't make Season 4 any less disappointing.
There are many reasons why this new season of "Arrested Development" winds up just (all) right of the bullseye. Creator Mitch Hurwitz was put in the unenviable position of having to do the show with one hand sacrificed to the god of loose seals. The cast, having become extremely popular after the initial three seasons, was both expensive and busy. As a result, Season 4 feels almost like a collection of DVD extras, where each character gets his or her own standalone showcase that's peppered with various other characters. (A detailed breakdown of the finances and politics behind the reunion can be found here.) Sometimes, as with GOB, Maeby and George Michael, the results are wonderful; sometimes, as with George, Sr., Lindsay, Lucille and Tobias, the results are not. (A moment of silence here for the aggressive lack of Buster; Tobias' new girlfriend, DeBrie, gets more screen time than Byron.) The "Arrested Development" ensemble was always the show's strength, but the cast is too separate and disjointed in these new episodes to connect with each other for more than a few moments. Put it this way: Would "Seinfeld" work with just George and Elaine sitting at the coffee shop while Jerry smirks in the background?
Time is another issue, but not in the way you may have expected. Hurwitz apparently wanted to keep these "Arrested Development" episodes to 20 minutes and 45 seconds, the traditional length of a TV sitcom episode. Netflix wanted the new episodes to be longer, which is why some clock in at 35 minutes. It was a huge mistake: Even the best episodes in Season 4 drag past the point of hilarity, while the worst feel like an interminable death march. Rather than add complexity to the already complex narrative, the extra fat on the new episodes just rob the show of its signature pacing. Most of the time, Season 4 feels like it's moving in slow motion.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the new season doesn't really have a central, relatable character. In the end, that becomes George Michael, but his ascension takes 11 episodes to arrive. The problem is Michael: "Arrested Development" was always filtered through his perspective, but the new episodes make Michael into just another Bluth. It doesn't really work: Michael -- and Jason Bateman as Michael -- was a great character because he could observe the Bluth madness and comment on it without completely succumbing to the insanity ("Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken?"). With the ensemble so fractured however, he's almost rudderless. Michael becomes increasingly unsympathetic and unfunny throughout Season 4, and it's a twist that doesn't work -- at least on first viewing.
Which is maybe the point. Hurwitz wanted this new "Arrested Development" to be a multi-viewing experience. That's great -- after all, part of the reason Season 4 even exists is because fervent fan interest -- but, too often, the new season feels like it forgot about the first viewing. Still, under the circumstances, should we have really expected anything better?