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recaps by ROSS BONAIME & JEB GAVIN. Your Feelings in COMMENTS.

FIRST UP: JEB

Look, if you’re comparing them shot for shot, you’re gonna be disappointed. They’re trying to cram two and a half seasons worth of callbacks into a few hours of TV, introduce new characters, move the plot forward, and still weave it all together seamlessly so it feels just like how you left it. This isn’t going back in time to see your cherished childhood pet, it’s getting one more day to play with that pet today, right now.
Comparing different seasons of the show has never been flattering, hell, even comparing different chunks of each season isn’t complimentary. The last nine episodes of the first season are somehow disappointing given the first 13 (I mean, relatively speaking.) The first season is scattered as a whole when compared to the sterling second season. Likewise, the third season feels rushed compared to the depth and breadth of second season. And even though the second season was a DiMaggio-like run of comedy, certain episodes are such a snapshot of their time watching them now you have to remind people of what life was like all the way back in 2005.
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Rather, compare the fourth season of AD to say, the fourth season of Community. The shows operate in similar fashion: joke stacking, callbacks, interwoven multi-episode (if not multi-season) plot arcs. Community season four seems like a parody, or at best a weak homage to where the show was. AD accepts things change, and keeps the signature stuff; the wordplay, the repetition, the sight gags, the depth, and moves forward as best it can. There’s no better way AD season four plays out, even if it doesn’t live up to every expectation- the same way flawless production and crazy good live instrumentation on a dance record are enough to make Random Access Memories an amazing album, even if all you were expecting was a dozen “One More Time[s]”.
Revel in the new guest stars, be grateful you saw some old faces, watch it a few dozen times to catch every joke, and then return to it every couple of months just like you used to do. Nobody cured cancer here, they made a TV show. But it makes you laugh, and it lightens your heart that it happened at all.
GOB: “My God, what is this feeling?”
Michael: “Well, you know the-the feeling that you’re… that you’re feeling is-is what many of us call ‘a feeling.'”
GOB: “But it’s not like envy, or even hungry.”
Michael: “Could it be love?”
GOB: “I know what an erection feels like, Michael. No, it’s the opposite. It’s… it’s like my heart is getting hard.”
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THEN: ROSS

After seven years of waiting, questioning, rumors and speculating, it’s hard to believe that as of this weekend, Arrested Development is back. It’s been seven years, known in the new series as “The Great Dark Period,” since we’ve seen the Bluths, and it’s great to have them back, but one of the questions most diehard fans have overlooked is “what if the fourth season isn’t any good?” I mean, time has changed, the actors have changed greatly (Portia de Rossi maybe more than anyone else) and it’s worth wondering if everyone involved still “has it.”

Well, after watching the entire fourth season immediately after airing, I can say that the fourth season of Arrested Development is just as great as expected, well worth the wait, but things aren’t exactly the same.

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Of course the most obvious change in the first three seasons and the fourth season is the format. Not only are there plenty of jokes referencing their new streaming master, but it also allows for a freer experience for creator Mitch Hurwitz. Each of the new fifteen episodes is on average about 10 minutes longer than the original episodes were. Yes it’s great that we have even more time to spend with the Bluths, but the episodes aren’t quite as tightly edited as they were when they aired on Fox. The freedom of time also makes some jokes sort of drag, while others benefit from the freedom.

While the first three seasons were incredibly well edited, having to fit in several stories from the entire family, the new season is more relaxed in that each episode focuses on one family member, covering what each character has done over the last seven years. This works great for some characters – Michael, Gob, George Michael episodes are particularly fantastic – others suffer more from dragging, such as George Sr.’s episodes. It’s sort of surprising that someone like Tobias – a character who originally started off as only a recurring character – has two episodes, while Lucille and Buster only get one apiece. Even though each episode focuses on only one character, others pop in from time to time, intersecting with each other, but the entire family is only together on screen one time in the entire season.

Speaking of format, Hurwitz uses the availability of all fifteen episodes and the rewatchability of the show to its full potential. There are jokes made the first time around that frankly don’t make any sense, yet going back and rewatching two of the episodes, the episodes become even stronger and show just how intricate this show remains and how well planned out Hurwitz has made anything.

Basically, the fourth season of Arrested Development is like comedy Lost, with each episode focusing on a character, sprinkled in with appearances from others, all while flashing back and forth through time and hinting and teasing future things that will become integral to the entire narrative. I almost guarantee that you can already get hints as to what will happen in the fifth season or movie based on hidden things throughout this season.

But enough about how it all works, what is it actually about?? (MINOR POTENTIAL SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT)

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As we pick up in the present day, Michael is drunk at Cinco de Cuatro, a celebration made by a younger Lucille (played brilliantly by Kristen Wiig) to take the sting out of Cinco de Mayo. He owes $700,000 to Lucille 2 and now plans on sleeping with her to wipe the debt clean, and also finishing the trifecta of Bluth boys that have slept with Lucille 2. Michael has made so many poor decisions in “The Great Dark Period” that he is now living with George Michael in his college dorm. Michael is now likely the least successful of the Bluths, and that includes his incarcerated mother.

When we last left Lucille, we learned that she was the real mastermind behind the Bluth Company’s dirty deeds, and we see as she gets ready for her maritime law court case. Lindsay and Tobias have decided to finally separate, and both actually find new relationships, but of course both have their major flaws. George Sr. has trekked out to the desert with twin brother Oscar to start a new self-help business. Gob is dealing with his relationship with Ann/Egg/Her?

 But all in all, the fourth season, like every other season, is most interested in the relationship between Michael and George Michael.

(ALRIGHT FOR REAL, WE’RE GETTING INTO MAJOR SPOILER ALERT TERRITORY HERE. MAYBE WATCH THE ENTIRE SEASON BEFORE READING FROM HERE ON OUT)

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Throughout the series, George Michael has slowly grown farther and farther apart from his father, always trying to please him while working towards a long life filled with hard work. The greatest element of this fourth season is how these two are pulling apart, first when George Michael kicks Michael out of squatting in his dorm room, then later on when the two of them are accidentally dating the same woman, Ron Howard’s daughter Rebel, played by the great Isla Fisher. The series began with George Michael happy to be living in an attic sleeping in sleeping bags with his father, but by the end of the season, George Michael is so mad at his father that he punches him in his face in the final moments.

Here’s where the aspect of knowing just how many episodes you have and that they all will air comes in handy. Hurwitz has clearly created this season as an entire chunk, something he wasn’t able to do on Fox, where he constantly had to worry about being cancelled. Before the fourth season, I rewatched the first three seasons and one thing that became abundantly clear is that even though the show does work best when you’ve paid attention to past episodes and stick with it thoroughly, very little of that retention has anything to do with plot. For example, there are plenty of times where an episode ends with the ending having little to do with anything that happens subsequent. Does it matter that Lucille is now on the board for the Bluth Company or that Ira Gilligan swore to testify against the Bluths? No. What matters most are the references sprinkled throughout and the jokes that continue through seasons.

That’s not the case in the fourth season, which is incredibly dense. So much is dedicated to catching up the viewer on what happened in these missing seven years and connecting all these characters to the celebration of Cinco de Cuatro. Hurwitz has stated that you probably shouldn’t watch all fifteen episodes in one sitting, but I disagree. You start to get in a mindset that everything is going to tie up and notice things that you wouldn’t if you actually took your time. An example is that Barry Zuckerkorn has an entire plot in the background of the episodes that you might not put together if you didn’t plow through them all. But you should probably make a second run through to soak up everything, since there is so much here.

Arrested Development has also been known for having characters that never seem to grow. There might be slight changes in these characters, but for the most part, they stay in, well, arrested development. Not so in the fourth season. Like I said previously, Hurwitz has a clear path for these characters, but it only seems like we’re getting the beginning and middle of these paths, before we get the rest of the journey in whatever iteration the show continues in. And after the final episode, it’s clear that this story has to continue.

We leave every character in a place in a completely different place than where we pick back up with them, begging the question of what could happen to them next. Besides Michael and George Michael now fighting over the same woman, George Michael is now stuck being very Mark Zuckberg-ian (clearly a reference to the joke that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg are basically interchangeable) with a huge project that he has no way of creating, trapped in a mire of a company much like his father has been. Lindsay undergoes a series of events that ends in her running for office against Lucille 2 (more on her later.) After planning a fake divorce, George Sr. and Lucille are on their way to a for real divorce, with George Sr. discovering that he just feels right in women’s clothing and Lucille actively realizing she doesn’t want to be the villain anymore. Tobias has found a group that believes in his artistic visions, even if it is for a Fantastic Four musical that they don’t have the rights to, has no villain and only lasts about seven minutes. Maeby is finally on her way out of high school, yet she’s been fired by her cousin on his fake project. Buster is taking much larger steps in his independence from his mother, but this leads to him getting arrested (once again, more on this later.) And probably the most  shocking is the change in Gob, who in an effort to destroy his magician rival Tony Wonder, ends up befriending him, and by the end, has begun a gay relationship with Tony Wonder. Even though neither of them believes themselves to be gay.

None of these stories ever reach any sort of closure, only reaching their height of insanity. Oh, and there’s the little matter of Lucille 2 going missing and a stair car with her chalk outline covered in what looks like blood. Buster is naturally the first suspect, which is why he gets arrested, but there’s clearly more here than meets the eye. What might be an example of Arrested Development’s ability to make things not look as they seem, George Michael’s sign for his new company FAKE BLOCK looks like with a little blocking could look like FAKE BLOOD, especially since it’s conveniently located near the crime scene.

But it’s clear that this fourth season is only the setup for what could be conclusion for these characters. Most of the elements of this new season are explained or fully thought out, with a few suspect items never really coming into play, like Michael’s new Ostrich car that so far only seems to just be another silly car to take the place of the stair car. Which is why like every previous season of Arrested Development, this one needs to be absorbed and mulled over several times. After watching it just once, I still feel like I missed so much and rewatching several episodes has proved this to be correct.

From what I’ve seen on Twitter, some people seem to be disappointed by this season of Arrested Development, and I agree, at times it doesn’t feel as great as it used to. Some episodes definitely don’t work as well as others and it can be an almost daunting task at times, keeping everything in order and understanding just exactly where everything fits in. But here’s my advice: stick with it. Watch all the episodes, regardless of how you feel at the beginning, then keep watching them. One of the greatest things about Arrested Development has always been the multilayered aspect of it, constantly getting better the more you learn. The same rule applies here. The format, style and sometimes story doesn’t always seem like the Arrested Development we all loved for three seasons, but the more you delve in and put the pieces together, the more it becomes clear that at its core, this is the Arrested Development we know and love, it’s just grown and slightly changed.

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Now go ahead and blow your wad on a dry run and I guarantee you’ll be begging for more to come. (also, you know-share YOUR feelings in the comments)

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