Television: Arrested Development, Season 4

Finally finished watching the 15 episodes that comprise the fourth season of Arrested Development last night. They were okay. Not great. But they had their moments.

Now before you accuse me of not being a "true" fan or a big enough fan or whatever, let me be clear about my past history with AD. I caught onto the show near the end of its actual television run so many years ago and had to catch up via Netflix. But at the time I thought it was easily the funniest, most cleverly written comedy on TV. So I am a fan.

Where Season 4 fails is in the fact that the interactions between family members are far more limited than they had been in previous seasons. And a lot of AD's funny is derived from the way the core characters, the Bluth family, play off one another. Here there was less of that. A lot less. The season was peppered with new characters instead, and those were kind of fine, but just not as good for laughs.

There were some standout guest stars: Ben Stiller as Tony Wonder, Tommy Tune as Argyle Austero, Mary Lynn Rajskub as Heartfire. But even so, not the "laughing so hard I missed something and need to rewind" kind of funny I'm used to AD delivering.

The plots, too . . . While as absurd as ever, they were not as light and fun in tone. Michael (Jason Bateman), once the solid core of the family and the show, became distinctly unlikable as he horned in on his son's college dorm room and vied with him for a woman's affection. Gob (Will Arnett) was great playing against Stiller's Wonder, but I deduct points for the fact they felt the need to resort to gay jokes. We get enough of those with Tobias. George/Oscar swapping places, building a wall between the US and Mexico, Lucille's incarceration . . . Meh.

The more the stories spun themselves out, the more sense they made, and—proportionately—the less funny they seemed. Once the ostrich in the room is explained, it's no longer a fun oddity. (Though I can certainly applaud the careful construction of the storylines.)

One overarching story involved Michael working as a producer at Imagine Entertainment, his job being to get signed releases from his family members in order to make a movie about the Bluths. But as he hunts each down, trading favors for John Hancocks, typical family backstabbing results in Michael tearing up each contract and telling his parents and siblings they are "out of the movie." Perhaps this will be the excuse for not making an Arrested Development movie? Any excuse will do, really; Season 4 has proven one can't really recapture the magic, and I don't think I want to see them try.

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