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Review: New ‘Arrested Development’ episodes are daring, full of potential

Courtesy of MCT

Courtesy of MCT

If you have not watched the first three seasons of this Fox Network show which aired from 2003-2006 and has been available on DVD, Netflix and Hulu Plus for years, watch all 53 episodes right now.

“Arrested Development” earned Emmys and was lauded by critics while it was on the air, but could not get an audience to last on television. Now, after nearly a decade of growing a posthumous audience, it returned to deliver 15 new episodes at 12:01 a.m. PST on Sunday.

Season 4 of the Netflix “semi-original” sitcom is incredibly daring. Regardless of any criticism it has received — and will receive in this review — this is undeniable.

Within these episodes lies only a few major storylines. But each one twists, turns and connects all the members of the Bluth family together through multiple layers in their individual timelines.

Watching the episodes in order is still important to catch these layers and, like the original run, bingeing the show makes it easier to make connections and see jokes being brought back. Given that a lot of the events in the first episode are going on simultaneously to the last episode makes the season’s story very cohesive but convoluted. It is almost as if creator Mitch Hurwitz made a 7-and-a-half hour long movie.

The new format follows an individual character in each episode, rather than focusing on the family as a whole with Michael (Jason Bateman) as the protagonist. The first episode is centered on Michael, so it should not have been an odd transition, but it was because of the changes his character undergoes. I found this starting point for the season to be underwhelming.

A longer runtime on each episode meant more time was spent on individual scenes, jokes and characters. It seemed like a lot of unnecessary narration and bits that lasted too long. This contrasted the original run’s fast-paced comedy. It seemed like they were trying to trade quantity for quality jokes, but it did not raise the bar comically.

The individual character format also took away a lot of dialogue and interaction between characters. We got to see more of each character but less of all the characters together. Luckily, we still get a few golden scenes between Michael and GOB (Will Arnett).

A common complaint has been Seth Rogen’s portrayal of young George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), which looked and sounded a lot like Seth Rogen. This is offset by Kristen Wiig’s stellar Lucille (Jessica Walter).

Notice has also been paid to how some of the actors look different. It has been seven years, so this is to be expected, but there are still a lot of people pointing and staring at Portia De Rossi, who seems to have had plastic surgery. Personally, she somehow seems more like Lindsay Bluth after she cuts her hair short in a scene, a style she has not previously donned on the show.

Much of the Internet discussion on Season 4 has been scared fans wondering if it gets better after the first couple of episodes. The second half of the season really does step up and lives much closer to expectations. Among them is a great George Michael (Michael Cera) focused episode actually titled “It Gets Better.”

There is a lot to appreciate in the work put into the show. Fans are not forgotten, as most of our favorite lines are brought back, many of which feel as fresh as ever. Some familiar lines and sets are left behind too, which is good to allow the show to move forward. If they relied completely on what the first three seasons set up, there would be no point in continuing the story.

Characters are not forgotten either. A lot of shows that run on television too long make the mistake of turning popular characters into caricatures, saying lines to please audiences rather than advance the story. This is not the case here. While we do not get to see the full arcs of these characters in this season, we definitely go more in-depth. Plus, an all-star onslaught of new and returning side characters make their way into Season 4 as well.

This season creates a lot of potential. Many storylines and character flourishes are added to the series and left open-ended. What the writers and producers of this show are sitting on is a ton of material as this season leads up to a film.

Overall, there is still a lot of reason to look forward to the movie and anything else Hurwitz and this incredible cast has in store. Until then, there are 15 new episodes of “Arrested Development” on Netflix.

The real test for this new season begins with the second watch. If they manage to get even better with additional viewings, then the magic of original run has truly been captured.

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