13 June 2013

Discontinued Development

So they've been litchrally years in the making, but now we have our fourth season of Arrested Development. Being a relaunch of one of our favorite shows on a holiday weekend without commercials, we opted to make a big deal out of it. We dressed up, had some friends over, made some spicy club sauce, and otherwise rolled out the proverbial red carpet. This proved and interesting litmus test, as 50% of the time we'd say, 'Hey, did you ever watch Arrested Development? You should come over Memorial Day and watch some of the new episodes with us!' the response would be 'Yeah, I didn't really like that show' or 'I didn't really watch that show'. A-what? You mean you, my dear friends, don't watch and love the exact same things I do??

It's true.

The few and the proud carried on, though, and watched the new episodes for the rest of you. And they were good. Real good. But real good in the way that I would say 'real good' in response to the question 'what did you think of that student contemporary art exhibit?'. I understood roughly half of what was being done or attempting to be communicated, but I like the way I felt when I left. An in-depth analysis isn't really necessary here. My betters will have done it elsewhere by the time this goes live. Let's suffice to say that it seems Mitch Hurwitz & co. either (a) came out swinging with something to prove and decided to press their storytelling to a breakneck pace to show that it could be done or (b) felt the pressure of tidying up a 7 year absence and so decided to press their storytelling to a breakneck pace to bridge the distance.

Either way, the normally dense Arrested Development episode, meaty with snappy dialogue, internal references, subtext, subtle external references, and thinly-veiled dirty jokes, are now made doubly dense with a layer of seriousness that wasn't quite there in the other 3 seasons. The joyful feeling of getting that deep humour and being washed from joke to gag to joke wasn't apparent for me until episode 6, the first Tobias episode. It's like going from frosted mini-wheats to just plain shredded wheat...or just plain wheat stalks, for that matter. Even if you didn't have the tooth or the interest in getting into that hearty shredded wheat, you could always just lick the frosting off the top or drink the sweetened milk. Now, with season 4, that frosting of easy-to-catch references or simple jokes or plain ol' silliness is missing or sparse, leaving us with a hodgepodge timeline and cerebral humor that doesn't click (for a dummy like me, at least) until the show leaves you behind for the next gag.

I do, however, admire the method of story telling that this season has taken. Having all/most of the episodes tell the story of the same timeline in different ways and from different perspectives, each revealing something new about the goings-on of the last, is really fun to watch unravel. I'm thinking particularly of Michael Bluth's black eye. We're introduced to the season by an image of Michael slurping down a (presumably alcoholic) drink and sporting a black eye. He then proceeds to proposition Lucille 2. We get a clear image of a guy who's down on his luck and desperate, and the black eye is his badge of sympathy. Turns out, about ten episodes later, that the shiner was a gift given to him by an annoyed child wielding a toy crayon. Hilarious.

When we watched the first few as a group, a friend of ours had already seen the initial episodes and said, upon a rewatch, that he picked up a lot more. So maybe that's what season four of Arrested Development is going to take. Time to fry up some more corn balls and gather a few extra frozen bananas. It's going to be a long haul.

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