Are all the Bluths back, spewing nonsense that would earn any of their whining the hashtag #firstworldproblems? Yes. Are there running gags that are so involved they can make your head spin? Yes. Does Tobias (David Cross) utter the words “I just blue myself?” Absolutely! So why is this fourth season ultimately Ann Egg forgettable?
Let’s break it down…
While I would agree with most people who told me that episodes got funnier further into season 4, I wouldn’t say that they necessarily got better. Once they set up the situations that were going to drive this season forward, the latter episodes twisted our expectations of them and spent more time on jokes. But the fundamental problems are the same throughout the series. There is no story here. Lots of things happen each episode, and we get to see how these events influenced each character in different ways, but there’s no story arc, no resolution. Yes, there is a rumor that Hurwitz & Co. hope for a movie, but that doesn’t mean that this season shouldn’t be able to stand on its own.
Hand-in-hand with this problem is that Michael (Jason Bateman) isn’t the protagonist any longer. It’s Michael’s relationship with his son and his attempts to keep his family all together that grounds the first few seasons of the show. But in this season, Michael isn’t steering the boat, and so there’s no emotional hook that compels viewers to watch the next episode or feel invested in the outcome.
The one exception is “It Gets Better,” which focuses on Maeby (Alia Shawkat). While a few of the episodes like “Indian Takers” and “Off the Hook” feature Bluths that question their life choices and try to change, it’s in Maeby’s episode that this feels like a genuine opportunity instead of just a conflict to set plot in motion. Maeby actually sees that she could be doing something more with her life when she reunites with George Michael (Michael Cera), and actually wants to change. And I actually feel disappointed for her when Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) disappoints her yet again at the Love fundraiser. These are the kinds of threads that had they been run throughout the episodes would’ve helped the entire season make more of an impact.
But as always, this series lives and dies by its meta-jokes, and they certainly ramp up throughout the season. The number of callbacks to the other episodes is astounding, like how Mark Cherry’s song popping up throughout the season, and even slipped into dialogue. Even little jokes from past seasons are given new life, like “Gangie V: Gangie on the Ganges” and the many roles of the Richter brothers.
The very nature of the Netflix season means that every episode has too few moments between the main characters, but the ones that do happen are beautiful. Gob (Will Arnett) shoving a roofie into anyone’s mouth is always a surprisingly tender moment. And watching Buster speak with… well… any other cast member never fails to make me laugh. Even throwaway bits of dialogue become gems when Tony Hale says them:
Buster: “Is that baby toe of yours still crawling over the others like a weird weed?”
Lucille 2: “Oh, Buster, how sweet of you to remember.”
Buster: “Oh, it’s one of my night terrors.”
- I never really cared about Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) until this season, and it’s all thanks to this beautiful bit of shared dialogue with Gob (Will Arnett): “The last… time… I went… scuba… diving… eating… Captain Crunch! SAME!”
- Although it’s unfortunate that he and Sally Sitwell (Christine Taylor) are responsible for a lot of exposition just to move the story forward. Again, the writers hangs a lantern on it with lines like “I’ve been over-explaining the s*** out of everything lately.”, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re wasting these comedy stars on exposition.
- Maeby’s episode isn’t just the most compelling – it also has some of the best lines of the season: “So he’s trying to snake the bottom bitch from my stable?” “This hanger can hold over FIVE HUNDRED NERDS!” “Please welcome the talented voices of Phineas and Ferb. Go f*** yourself!”
- It wasn’t until a few episodes in that I noticed the differences between the theme songs for each episode. What’s interesting is that while the differences are subtle, they actually do represent the characters pretty well. Although the best definitely have to be for Maeby and George Michael, as she shouts “Hey!” over her picture and George Michael finally gets to highlight his woodblock skills.
- Which is more horrifying: Buster making drone strikes or sewing naked? I can’t help but vote for the latter…
And that’s all for this season, folks! What did you think of the series? Which is your favorite episode? Sound off in the comments below!
Arrested Development is available now on Netflix.