“There’s always money in the banana stand,” family patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) continually tells his son, Michael (Justin Bateman) when money troubles arise. Unbeknownst to Michael, George means it quite literally. The family’s frozen banana stand literally has thousands of dollars lining the inside of its walls, waiting to be harvested in case of an emergency. In a fit of rebellion and unaware of the money’s presence, Michael burns down the banana stand with the cash still inside. Much like the banana stand, fans of Arrested Development believed the show was cut short before its full monetary potential could be realized. Enter Netflix, America’s favorite instant streaming website, who recognized the public’s desire to see America’s favorite dysfunctional family back in action and sanctioned an exclusive showing of a fourth season, with the entire original cast on board.
I rewatched Arrested Development in preparation for the upcoming season and was surprised at how well the jokes and social commentary stood the test of time. Arrested Development was ahead of its time in look, style and execution, implementing the shaky, faux-documentary handheld camera look (that became popular in later shows like The Office) and understood what memes were before memes were a thing, implanting related video or audio from previous episodes into an ongoing scene.
In seasons 1-3, the main plot focused on the exploits of the Bluth family after George Sr. is put into prison for “light treason” against the United States of America. Semi-normal son Michael attempts to run the family business while raising his shy teenager, George Michael (Michael Cera) and keeping company funds out of the hands of his scheming, selfish relatives. Family matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walters) constantly manipulates and criticizes her children and grandchildren while keeping herself well-marinated.
Oldest son Gob (pronounced Joh-b) dreams of being a magician, but always ends up accidentally killing or losing the animals in his act. Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), the only Bluth daughter, tries to keep her marriage to disillusioned actor-wannabe husband Tobias Funke (David Cross) together. Their oft-forgotten teenage daughter Maebe (Alia Shawkat) rebels at every opportunity, no matter how small, in an attempt to warrant her parents’ attention. Youngest son Buster (Tony Hale) tries to break from his mother’s controlling grasp while on the constant lookout for his one true vice, juice.
The fourth season picks up right where the show left off in 2006. The aftermath of the Bluth’s unforgettable company boat party lands Lucille in jail and scatters the rest of the family. The next eight years are not kind to any of them. When left to their own devices, the Bluths become the worst possible versions of themselves, all leading up to the fateful night of the Bluth-invented holiday “Cinco de Cuatro.” Each episode focuses on the events leading up to Cinco de Cuatro from the perspective of a single member of the Bluth family as they attempt to make their way out of their own personal “arrested development.”
When I heard Arrested Development had a new season coming out, I feared that it would simply be a rehashing of favorite old scenes and tried-and-true dialogue from previous episodes. But to its credit, the new season redesigns its storytelling format and taking a new approach to the documentation of our favorite Bluths, bringing the characters to different and sometimes uncomfortable places. I would expect nothing less from this show. It’s still irreverent, unpredictable, insanely quotable, and leaves subtle, easily missed “background” jokes for people planning to watch the season more than once. The writers again show their prowess for all that is clever, with some moments causing me to literally laugh out loud (one of my favorite new jokes).
For me, the first couple of episodes dragged, until I realized what the writers were doing—tying all the individual stories together into a “bigger picture.” However, I was unaccustomed to watching the actions of one character for so long. One of the strengths of the show is the fabulous ensemble interactions between the well-cast characters—one aspect this season lacks. It also made me realize just how unlikable some of the characters are when they have nobody equally crazy or unlikable to play off of. I recognize the writers’ desire to try something new by dedicating entire episodes to a single character, but I really missed watched the back-and-forth between some of the characters.
One other issue I took with the new season is the decision to actually separate Lindsay and Tobias. Their marriage is and always has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle—the drop-dead gorgeous, materialistic, selfish daddy’s girl and the homely, perpetually cheery failed actor—but their inability to leave, cheat on, or divorce each other (not for lack of trying, mind you) was one of the most amusing parts of the first three seasons. That dynamic is sorely missing from season four.
This new season wasn’t disappointing in the least, but neither did it blow me away. Here’s what it is: consistently funny while trying a different tactic from preceding seasons. The new season of Arrested Development brings all the wit and social commentary that endeared the series to me in the first place and proves that the Bluths can still manipulate, scheme, and manage put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”
Never seen the show? Here is a 7 minute video on Arrested Development’s 10 best running gags.