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Arrested Development’ is just not worth the effort

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Will Arnett and Jason Bateman star in the fourth season of Netflix’s Arrested Development.

The Details

Arrested Development
Two stars
Season 4 now streaming on Netflix

Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz has warned fans not to watch all 15 episodes of the show’s fourth season (which premiered on Netflix May 26) at once, and maybe I should have listened to him. Barreling through the episodes over the course of a few days left me annoyed and exhausted with the show, glad for it to be over and not eager to see a potential fifth season (or the long-promised movie). Granted, I’m not part of the show’s freakishly devoted fanbase, and I haven’t spent the last seven years (since the third season ended on Fox in 2006) awaiting its return. I’ve always found AD to be a show I admire more than enjoy, and I rarely laughed at even the most joke-filled episodes of the first three seasons.

At first the new season seemed like it, too, would be clever if not actually funny. But as I watched more and more episodes, instead of getting into a groove with the different storytelling approach (budget and scheduling constraints led producers to focus each episode on one of the ensemble’s nine main characters, with others playing background roles), I found the whole thing headache-inducing and tiresome, the cleverness a crutch rather than an asset. The season catches up with the members of the loathsome Bluth family as they go their separate ways following the incarceration of toxic matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter). Each episode backtracks and fills in more details of what is essentially the same story, all ending at about the same point.

That means that events and interactions take on new meanings as more information is revealed, and the storytelling is as convoluted and dense as one of the later seasons of Lost. It’s also tedious and unrewarding, with the end of the season offering little payoff either narratively or comedically. One of the show’s greatest strengths has been its ability to build toward a well-constructed joke, drawing from various seemingly unrelated events to deliver a perfectly unexpected bit of humor. But the new season packs in so many twists and detours and switchbacks that the jokes are as muddled as the storytelling.

The cast remains sharp, although the characters are even more unpleasant than before, and the move to Netflix seems to have freed the writers up to explore darker storylines. The Bluths’ reprehensibility has always been a big part of what makes them funny, but here they are so devious and amoral that it’s hard to sustain interest in what happens to them. Not that you’ll find out after watching the entire season—the final episode is a dissatisfying anticlimax, with the confused plot left to be carried over into future installments that may never come.

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