Naturally, I watched the new season of Arrested Development immediately, finishing it in a few days and already wondering when I’ll watch it again. What’s most impressive about the new season is simply how it doesn’t collapse under the enormous weight of expectation. It’s an easy choice to hate it for how confusing and different it is, but I found the bold decisions to be refreshing. There’s very little that’s familiar or comforting about season 4 of Arrested Development. Fan service was the easy way out, but I’m happy to report that it’s not a path that creator Mitch Hurwitz chose.
In fact, what’s most surprising about the new season is how much I missed it appearing on network television. There are a lot of advantages to having it on Netflix — it’s neat that it’s simply up all at once, and the episodes didn’t have to adhere to a strict 22-minute time limit. That said, I wonder if the season would’ve been better with some limitations, particularly related to run time. Several episodes earn every second, but too many don’t. I’ve read complaints about several long bits falling flat for viewers, but I didn’t mind them so much, as many were funny and all were simply taking advantage of the new format. What I found more tedious was the copious amount of hand-holding and explanation: the season is complicated and occasionally confusing, but a more traditional sitcom running time would have forced Hurwitz and company to be a bit more ruthless and creative in their cuts.
I hope any additional future seasons — or simply other series that begin to appear on Netflix — push even further past the traditions of network and cable television. Arrested Development certainly blows past length and narrative structure, but has hits and misses with other decisions. Bleeping profanity, for instance, was a great choice: it preserves series continuity, and is frankly funnier than hearing the actual words. But the show also preserves act breaks for commercials, which simply serve as awkward ways to jump out of one story and into another.
The best way to sum up my reaction: Season 4 manages to be both the best and worst season of the entire series. While individual episodes may not compare one-on-one to top episodes from previous seasons, the season as a whole is big and daring. Upon its completion, it begs to be watched again, just to marvel at how it was all put together. And while the show looks different and plays differently, that sensation — the admiration of something well built — remains the same.