“Arrested Development” rejects the money in the banana stand


I haven’t written about television before on the blog, but I wanted to say a few words about the new “season” of “Arrested Development” on Netflix Instant. Maybe it counts because I write every week about the movies on Netflix in my Instant Gratification column, or it counts because this all seems to be building to an “AD” movie, or, why the heck not.

Anyway, I’ve only seen the first two episodes so far, so I’m in no position to judge how Mitch Hurwitz and crew have executed their vision for this fourth season, seven years after the beloved series was cancelled by FOX. What I want to talk about is that vision they had, and why I think it’s laudable, no matter how well you think they pulled it off.

First off, it feels like a misnomer to call this “Season 4,” any more than you would call a future movie “Season 5.” As you may know, Hurwitz decided to approach the “Arrested Development” universe in a very different way for these 15 episodes. Part of this was driven by the freedom allowed by the Netflix release model, in which all the episodes could be released in one glomp, and he didn’t have to adhere to the rigid 22-minute model of network television. And part of it was driven by the limitations of his cast — most have gone on to successful careers in movies and TV after (and because of) “Arrested Development,” so trying to get the whole ensemble to commit to a full season at the same time was impossible.

So, instead, Hurwitz has made a “Pulp Fiction”-style version of “Arrested Development,” in which each episode follows one of the main characters around through the same massive storyline. The episodes all fit together, so if you see an ostrich show up in Episode 1 (and you do), odds are it will be explained by someone else’s episode later in the season. “Arrested Development” always had complex storylines and callback jokes; this format makes the callbacks an essential feature of the complicated storyline.

Opinions differ widely as to whether this is working or not. I thought the first two episodes, one following Michael (Jason Bateman) in is descent into financial misery, the other following George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) and his “sweat and squeeze” scheme to get rich.  I laughed; in true “Arrested” fashion, I’ll probably laugh more the second time I watch them.

But, even more than liking them, I appreciate that Hurwitz has tried something different. I think that’s almost noble in an entertainment age that seems built around franchises, and selling back to the audience what it already owns. You see that in films like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which takes entire scenes and lines from an old “Star Trek” movie and repackages them for a new era. You see that in veteran bands, like the Rolling Stones or U2, who release new music that seems carefully crafted to sound just like their old music. All this rebooting and remaking can make for fine entertainment, but there’s always this nagging sense that we’re being pandered to a little.

In the hype leading up to the release of the “Arrested Development” episodes last Sunday, I was getting a little worried that the show would do that, use Season 4 as basically a victory lap of callbacks and “There’s always money in the banana stand” signifiers that served only to keep the franchises going, make the diehard fans feel clever and satisfied. However successful it ends up being, this season isn’t pandering to the faithful. It assumes that if you liked a show as groundbreaking as “Arrested Development” was on television, you would like to see it continue to break ground.