Arrested Development is one of my all-time favorite television series. Mitch Hurwitz created the kind of sitcom that was hilarious, witty, well-acted, one-of-a-kind, and ahead of its time. All of that means it was very well-regarded by critics, won numerous awards, and pockets of audiences knew the amazing show they were getting, only see it cancelled after a shortened third season. Now, after years of rumors, we were able to find the entire cast back together again for a noble Netflix experiment. Season 4 of Arrested Development was released last year on the popular streaming service and has now arrived on DVD in a nifty three-disc package. Now I can really delve into my thoughts on the latest adventures of the Bluth family.
This season picks up with the Bluths years following the events of what people thought was the final season. The family is in sort of disarray, but thanks to an intriguing structure of this season, we manage to catch up with every family member and the large supporting cast that comes with them.
This 3-disc set contains all 15 episodes of Season Four:
- Flight of the Phoenix
- Borderline Personalities
- Indian Takers
- The B. Team
- A New Start
- Double Crossers
- Colony Collapse
- Red Hairing
- Queen B.
- A New Attitude
- It Gets Better
- Off The Hook
At its best, Season Four of Arrested Development finds itself humorously convoluting its plot, while also tying in jokes set up several episodes prior, allowing us to see the actors shine as their characters, and layering in even more jokes to be called back to later on. At its worst, Season Four takes far too much time focusing on details of characters that we did not need to see, stumbling in the delivery of various jokes that could have worked, and proving that tightening this series up in the edit was truly part of why the original seasons worked so amazingly. All of this is to say that Season Four of Arrested Development did not completely remake the magic of the original seasons, it only touched upon greatness, despite giving us more of the many characters we really liked to see.
It is a shame, as one obviously hopes for the best, but at the same time, I always felt there would be some kind of downgrade in quality, given all of the big steps taken just to get this cast back together. Given that the original cast of Arrested Development has become a lot more popular separately in the years since the original series’ end, notably Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Michael Cera, among others, it seems clear why series creator Mitch Hurwitz had to construct a season that focuses on so many of these characters apart from each other, rather than utilize the ensemble in a closer capacity. As a result, it really kind of depends on how interested and humorous you might find seeing these characters on their own. For example, Tony Hale (who is currently doing fantastic work and won an Emmy for his role on Veep), only gets one episode for himself, which is one of the highlights of the season. Meanwhile, we see a couple Lindsay-focused episodes, both over 35 minutes long, and neither is entirely memorable or as much fun as I would have liked.
That is the other thing, being freed from the confines of 22-minute television episodes allowed Hurwitz and his writers to produce longer scripts, but more does not always equal better and this season has a lot of long episodes that really do feel too long. Much of the comic energy of the previous seasons came from the fast-paced dialogue and plot momentum, which has really slowed down in Season 4. While news of a re-edited version of this season, where the characters and story is presented in chronological order may or may not lead to a better establishment of how to best view this season, the current form has way too much going on, while also still being crazy convoluted, but ultimately not as funny as it needs to be to support certain decisions.
All this in mind, there are certainly plenty of elements to praise. The actors are still all giving it their all. Jason Bateman still functions as the de-facto lead character in all of this, but given how he is only featured in so many episodes, we really get to see how committed each actor is to their own characters. Will Arnett is an obvious highlight for me, as Gob Bluth is one of my favorite TV characters ever, but seeing Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat (who have the best episodes) are certainly very welcome, given how they have grown the most significantly, since the original end of the series. Additionally, a very game supporting cast of returning and new characters really leave their impression. Most notably, Isla Fisher, Maria Bamford, Terry Crews, and a few others new to the cast, get what should work in this, while returning players like Ed Begley, Jr., Judy Greer, Liza Minnelli (of course), Andy Richter, and others still keep their spark alive.
I certainly admire all that went into getting this season together. Having more Arrested Development was something I may have wanted, but never realistically saw as happening, so kudos for it having occurred, with an even greater high five to the fact that it did not try to just simply re-hash all of the old jokes for fans. Hurwitz wanted to do something a little different, which had mixed results, but still served as a way to see the gang back together. I will be curious how another season or even a movie is eventually handled, but as it stands, I was happy to find myself back in the comfort of the Bluths for a little while, even if this season, just like the family, is a bit dysfunctional.
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Clarity/Detail: Given that I originally watched season four of Arrested Development in HD on Netflix, seeing it on DVD is a downgrade, but that does not make for a bad image overall. This is a solid-looking DVD. Detail is obviously lower, but still quite clear and consistent.
Depth: Arrested Development has never been the most cinematic series, but it does have some visually neat moments (usually gag-based) that feature a bit more depth.
Black Levels: Blacks are dark and decently shaded, when applicable.
Color Reproduction: This is a very poppy series, in terms of color, so for the most part, despite only being a DVD, this aspect was handled quite well.
Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are consistent with low detail. People look good enough, just not great, based on the medium.
Noise/Artifacts: There are a lot of elements, but it is a DVD. Still, given that this was produced for an HD broadcast, it looks pretty clean throughout.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Dynamics: It is a compressed track that does enough for the show, but not much else.
Low Frequency Extension: The show does not have much in the way of audio elements to really test out the ol’ subwoofer.
Surround Sound Presentation: The ambient noise and use of music makes its way to the rear speakers, but again, given that this is a compressed audio track, you can only really feel so much.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is centered, loud, and clear.
Unfortunately no commentary tracks are to be found in this set, which would have been great. What also could have been great: the chance to see the re-cut version of this series, which would put the events in chronological order, but I imagine that is more experimental and Mitch Hurwitz is likely still working on whatever that would be. As it stands, there are a lot of mini-featurettes, going over aspects of the production.
- The History of Arrested Development (SD, 11:19) – A look at the legacy of the series.
- Being Back on Arrested (SD, 9:51) – Catching up with the cast and crew, with their thoughts on being back for more.
- Working with Two Directors (SD, 4:15) – Mitch Hurwitz and Troy Miller, and others, discuss the process of having both directors working on this season.
- The Writing and the Scripts (SD, 4:37) – A look at the writing process.
- Working with Mitch (SD, 4:18) – Catching up with the series’ creator.
- Production Designer (SD, 3:10) – A look at how the sets were recreated for Season 4.
- Script Department (SD, 3:14) – A chat with the Script Supervisor about this season.
- Buster Smoking (SD, 3:42) – A look at one of Buster/Tony Hale’s hardest scenes.
- Fantastic 4 (SD, 3:15) – A look at the making of Tobias’ latest stage production.
- In Character Featurettes (SD, 14:45) – A look at the roles of many of the main and supporting characters in this season.
I may not have been able to embrace Season 4 of Arrested Development with the kind of open arms I have for the previous seasons, but it is certainly fun to see this show again and I welcome more of it in the future. The DVD does about as good a job as it can for a sitcom of this nature, which is fine. The extras can all be found on one disc and they are only somewhat substantial, but at least there are fun tidbits to find here and there. And so here we are; more Arrested Development came and one can feel free to enjoy what it had to offer.