I caught on to the Arrested Development-on-Netflix phenomenon three or four years ago. The first time I watched the series, it didn’t stand out until the last four episodes of season three, but then I ended up rewatching most of the episodes. It was sad there weren’t more episodes, but judging by the start of the third season, it would have faced some creative ups and downs as it began to stretch the characters from their roots of a never-do-anythings, sans Michael.
Judging by the reaction to AD‘s fourth season, we finally saw the characters stretched.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that Mitchell Hurwitz and Imagine decided to bring the show back and found a format that could accommodate the actors. Anyone who is willing to break the standard entertainment mold deserves a measure of credit. I’d also bet part of the reason that Netflix agreed to do AD was that it could say to other series who have been off the air, “Hey, want to do a reunion series but your major contributors can only shoot an episode or two? How about this!?!” Not that’s necessarily bad; I could see this format working for a show like The Office which ended (spoiler alert) with many of the principal characters going their separate ways.
But business reasons aside, comedy happens with the right mix of characters (straight man, the crazy sidekick, etc.), and when you split those characters up, you risk loosing the energy. You give Kramer his own show (The Michael Richards Show), and it’s not as funny. In the case of AD, George Sr. just isn’t interesting enough to carry to hours of comedy. On the other had, Buster, the wacky son, did very well with his episode, albeit a shorter one. But the biggest surprise was that Michael need to have his crazy family around, or otherwise he went crazy. Jason Bateman is a TV star, but even he can’t carry a lot of broad comedy.
What really killed the show’s momentum was the storyline progressed like that of a comic book: sprawling and characters too often intersecting by chance. They were just wandering around, trying to “find themselves”, and weren’t acting on behalf of their family, like they did in the original series.
Beyond the character development, the fourth season arc lacked polish, that, considering how long it gestated in Hurwitz’s mind, there is no excuse for. Ironically, the last two episodes of AD‘s third season were perfect for a show that didn’t know whether or not it would get more episodes: the main storyline of the whole series was wrapped up, and it didn’t matter whether or not the show continued the story of Lucille fleeing the country. Season 4 ended with implications that the major cliffhanger items would be addressed, even though the show has no firm commitment for another season. Could we at least have found out what happened to Lucille 2, given that it was set as the seasons’ big mystery?
Here’s how AD can improve: a ten episode season, with each episode running between 25-27 minutes. Do some team-up style episodes, focusing on two or three characters as opposed to just one. And foremost, have an overarching story that involves ALL the characters doing something for the family, like helping to build the wall between US and Mexico, Buster’s trial, and Michael’s movie. Have a plan, keep it tight, and it will keep the show strong.