Arts & Life

Navigating Netflix: Arrested Development, Season 4

It would be hard to write a column about movies and TV on Netflix without mentioning one of the biggest releases in the history of streaming. That’s right, Ice Age: Continental Drift is finally available! If you were looking for all the answers to the questions left behind in the first…I’m going say 17 Ice Age films, then you’re in luck.

Oh, and Arrested Development, Season 4 hit Netflix this week.

Originally airing from 2003 to 2006 on Fox, the acclaimed show was a critical darling that was unable to gain the ratings power Fox wanted. It went off the air after three seasons.

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Cut to seven years later, and Netflix has resurrected the Bluth family for another round of adventures in the form of a semi-original mini-series. Like Family Guy and Futurama before it, Arrested Development can now count itself among those programs cancelled by Fox only to be brought back by a devoted cult following and strong performance in DVDs and syndication.

The original run of Arrested Development was highly serialized with arcs that ran within episodes, over multiple episodes, through seasons and even across the entire original run. That serialized nature has definitely been carried over to the new episodes.

Each episode focuses on the story of one specific character with others briefly appearing or passing through the story, but all are interconnected. Sounds convoluted? It is a little. As enjoyable and funny as the new episodes are, the story can be hard to follow throughout the arc of the new season. The complete picture is unique and interesting but you have to stick with it to get there. And it’s definitely worth it to do so.

Another change is in how the cast is utilized. One of the core strengths of the original seasons was in its ensemble cast, something they couldn’t pull off here due to the conflicting schedules of the actors. There’s only one scene, which we see from different angles in different episodes, in Lucille’s apartment where everyone is together. The focus on individual characters away from the family unit creates a much different vibe and narrative style than the original run. As an example, Buster is barely seen throughout the season, though that makes sense given that he’s a Milford Man. Also, narrator and producer Ron Howard takes a much more prominent role, appearing in several episodes in addition to an increased amount of narration. I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a positive or negative.

The ending of the new season is awkward. As the episodes wind down, they start telling us the story rather than showing us the story in an attempt to fit everything in. It leads to an incomplete ending where the various plots finally intersect in one place but just sort of stop rather than tying up the loose ends. This is presumably because they’re moving towards more episodes or, more likely, the long-rumoured feature film.

Even seven years later, the characters are still funny, interesting and, at times, strange beyond comprehension. As we’re caught up on what they’ve been doing for the past few years, we get to see that they have neither grown nor changed, and are still some of the most deluded, self-involved characters on TV who don’t work at a bar in Philadelphia.

And the new series is chock full of great cameos and guest stars. Liza Minnelli, Ben Stiller, Henry Winkler, Judy Greer and many more of the key recurring actors from the first run return, giving the new season some of that same, old vibe we’re used to. New to the series, Terry Crews plays a great, key role as do Tommy Tune and Isla Fisher. It’s hard to explain their characters without ruining the plot. And the casts of shows like Workaholics and Outsourced each make appearances in an episode. In an interesting casting turn, SNL alum Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen respectively play Lucille and George Sr. in flashbacks.

Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) talks to an airline employee played by Workaholics’ Adam DeVine

You may not be shocked by this but Wiig is far more convincing in her than role than Rogen is in his.

For all of its flaws and imperfections, this is still Arrested Development and its worst episodes are better than most TV. And these are not their worst episodes. The new season is a different, darker style of storytelling than the original run but it’s still a great story nonetheless and is full of fantastic, absurd laughs.

And just like the end of the original run, Arrested Development, Season 4 will leave you wanting more.

Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at