Arrested Development just remixed its fourth season. It is terrible.
In 2013, the fourth season of Arrested Development premiered on Netflix. For production reasons including cast schedules and Netflix’s narrative flexibility, creator Mitch Hurwitz tried something new. Rather than a linear story, each episode focused on a specific character with jokes and references that only clicked after watching the whole season.
Fans were angry. They hated the creative storytelling and demanded straightforward chronology, one that reminded them of the first three seasons back in the early 2000s. Hurwitz made the mistake of listening to them.
Last weekend Netflix dropped the Arrested Development Season 4 remix, Fateful Consequences. Hurwitz recut the original 15-episode season into 22 shorter linear episodes. Both versions begin and end the same way, but while one tackles the narrative in an innovative way that challenges the viewers and retains the intellectual rigor of its original three seasons, the other remixes it into sometimes vastly less interesting.
One of Arrested Development’s main attractions is the density of its jokes.
Every minute of the series packs it in, but they’re not just the standard set-up punchline variety. We’ve got callbacks, off-screen references, and recurring gags, basically any joke format that exists pops up at one point or another. After going off the air in 2003, the series only grew in popularity as viewers rewatched over and over, catching weird mentions that only play out seasons later, and creating niche, extremely esoteric theories like that David Cross’ Tobias is really an albino black man.
When the series returned in 2013, those in-jokes persisted. A passing shot of a character’s back, or an overheard bit of dialogue only makes sense after watching it reappear later on. Because it was on Netflix, it was meant to be binged. And because it was Arrested Development, it was meant to be binged a few times. All the jokes only come into focus after multiple watches, they’re meant to be buried below the surface. Apparently, viewers didn’t like that. Now it’s just mostly Ron Howard saying ad nauseum, “Hey, remember that joke? Get it now? Do ya?”
The remix suffers from an aggressive amount of narration. It might as well just be a Ron Howard audiobook. To stitch together all these disjointed but intersecting plots Howard must over-narrate every step of the way, constantly reminding the viewer of all the plot threads stuffed into each 22-minute episode.
The remix trades delayed gratification for cheap shortcuts to punchlines that fall flat without any substance to support them. Instead of indulging in the episode-length jokes and guest star performances central to character-focused episodes, everything gets chopped up and divided across the remix, trying to season each episode with comedy but really just leaving us with the faint taste of a better show on our tongues.
Season 4’s strongest bit player is Maria Bamford as Tobias’ sidekick, a washed-up actress and recovering drug addict. She shines through in his episodes where we get heavy doses of Bamford’s bleak and twisted style, but in the remix her performance is spaced out, transforming her character into someone pitiful and painful to watch.
Isla Fisher guest stars as Ron Howard’s daughter, and while the first version of season four quickly throws her in the mix by episode two so small side jokes throughout the season land, the remix first shows her to us in some odd decontextualized PSA jokes that make zero sense to a viewer unfamiliar with the character.
The remix of the fourth season only really works for those who’ve already seen the original (still available on Netflix, although bizarrely hidden under the “Trailers and More” tab). It’s basically an idiot’s guide to Hurwitz’s style and undermines the skill with which he crafted it the first time around. Just look at his other recent production for Netflix. Lady Dynamite, starring the genius Maria Bamford, eschews linear storytelling by leaping between past, present and future with increasing speed as the series plays out because the comedy doesn’t come from where the characters end up, it comes from how they get there.
Mitch Hurwitz tore apart a great season of television simply because viewers didn’t like it. Now we’re stuck with a misshapen garbage heap of comedy remnants. I hope they learned their lesson.
[Ron Howard voiceover]: They did not.