While you’ll always be able to find people willing to defend Arrested Development’s fourth season if you look hard enough, the general consensus is that the show’s long-awaited return was a disappointment. Mitch Hurwitz’s ploy to get around cast complications and embrace Netflix’s hands-off attitude resulted in an over-long, mostly unfunny look at the Bluths as they went separately (for the most part) on their own adventures, offering us characters we loved in a format that denied us what we love about them most: the family dynamic. As a result, the idea of recutting the season in chronological order has long been a holy grail for fans.
And now it’s here. Yesterday, Netflix unveiled Fateful Consequences, Mitch Hurwitz’s recut version of season four, which eschews the former single-character episode structure in an attempt to streamline the chronological story and give us more combined character interactions as a result. (The original fourth season cut is still on Netflix, but you have to click on the show page’s “Trailers & More” tab to find it.) Now a collection of twenty-two episodes with standard sitcom running-times, the new Arrested Development season four is, if nothing else, illuminating.
Which is a nice way of saying the season, while much improved, still doesn’t work. It does start off strong, however. The first couple episodes offer pretty much everything we want: an aftermath to the end of season three with great character interactions and tons of lightning fast jokes in the tried and true Arrested Development style. This early in the game, it’s easy to forget about Rebel Alley, Herbert Love, Gob’s weird bee plot and all the other things that will eventually weigh this season down. It’s just the family, together, being hilarious.
Recutting the episodes essentially means that while Lindsey still travels to India in the third episode, we get to see Tobias’ journey at the same time, and the whole thing is over early enough to see more of the family before the episode ends. We don’t see Maeby’s contribution to the trip until much later because the season isn’t quite as chronological as it boasts, but such reveals at least seem more in keeping with the show’s former style.
Curiously, it also means you are going to be stuck rewatching scenes. A lot. For a show that so richly rewarded sharp-eyed audiences with sly callback jokes, Fateful Consequences’ desperate attempts to hold your hand through the storytelling feels unnecessary before growing outright obnoxious. Episode eleven, for instance, spends nearly seven of its twenty-two minutes just recapping what happened so far and setting up the episode to come. At many points, the show just gives up everything to Ron Howard’s narration.
But more than anything, Fateful Consequences lays bare the fact that season four just doesn’t work. The experimental structure didn’t help, but strip that away and you still have a story that is monumental for its own sake featuring characters doing things we can barely care about for far too long. Michael’s transition from flawed audience surrogate to full-on clueless Bluth happens somewhat organically in the new cut, but that doesn’t solve the problem of it happening at all. Even with the improved chronology and endless recaps, the story remains tiresome, and the act of watching eventually becomes a chore. An easier chore now, but a chore all the same.
The fact that Hurwitz put the time and effort into correcting season four gives me hope that whatever happens in season five, he at least now has a compass for what not to do. We’ll find out soon enough if that hope is misplaced as the next season is expected to arrive soon. Perhaps the disappointment of season four (both versions) will engender a more accurate level of anticipation for the Bluth’s return. On the other hand, having sat through this whole thing, I would also be happy not seeing the Bluths again for a long time.