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Arrested Development’s Return is Lukewarm Ham Water

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The great dark period has ended, hailing the long-awaited return of the perpetually plagued Bluth family. The characters may be older, but the faces remain the same, that is, except for Portia de Rossi. Netflix’s third (semi) original series is one big “Previously on Arrested Development,” catching up viewers on what has happened to the Bluths these past few years.

The new season drops the hammer on viewers, foregoing the traditional finesse that marked the show’s previous seasons. Viewers are bombarded with a myriad of referential double-talk and set pieces. With ubiquitous celebrity and former character cameos, much of the initial joy fades to a casual, “Hey, it’s that guy,” after only two episodes. Kristen Wiig is a perfect young Lucille, but Seth Rogan is little more than Seth Rogan in a wig.

The format of Season 4 follows a single character carrying the weight of an entire episode with occasional cameos from Bluth family members. This allows for overlapping bits, interweaving storylines and countless foreshadowing. Where Tobias Fünke (David Cross) and Gob (Will Arnett) alike deserve entire seasons, there is little that is interesting about an episode devoted solely to George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor).

The style is meant to tease situations and provide added depth to characters and storylines through multiple perspectives. This ambitious tactic provides some cheap gags and clever explanations but often drags along at a slow clip.

At its core, Arrested Development is a family tale. Through shared struggles and Michael Bluth’s (Jason Bateman) moral compass, the original theme of family first is all but lost in the new season’s format. Family members appear in each other’s life as often as a Barry Zuckerkorn sighting. The scripts work best when the family is together.

Along with Tobias’ hilariously dark episode “A New Start,” though, there’s a number of new one-liners and continuing gags to feed avid fans. Religious asides and aversions to mentioning Google’s name are nice additions to Tobias’ questionable sexual preferences and the sad Charlie Brown walk.

From the satire of banks accumulating debt, to the Swappigans trade restaurant, to the George W. Bush monument, Arrested Development continues its coy slice of political criticism. A subtlety that deftly layered the original seasons returns without pause.

Arrested Development has not made a huge mistake with its return. The season eventually finds traction, and it feels as though time has stood still. Many a cult show has met its end with no hope for resurrection. It’s rare to have characters of the past weave back into our lives. Every now and again, it’s important to have the opportunity to check in on old friends.

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