It was Memorial Day 2014: I had just come back to Chicago after being out of town. The new season of Arrested Development had been released on Netflix and I knew my cousin/roommate Max had watched a couple of episodes already so I asked him what he thought. After a brief pause he half-heartedly told me “They’re…ok…” This did not bode well for the return of a beloved series that I had rewatched multiple times.
I made my way through the season slowly but surely with great disappointment and confusion. Michael Bluth was not as likable, seemingly absorbing Jason Bateman’s less desirable traits. Similar to the joyless fourth season of Community the characters became self-parodies, turning terrific one-liners from the first three seasons into obnoxious catchphrases. And worst of all it had been made abundantly clear that the show’s strange, Rashomon single-character-focused episodes were in part due to conflicts in the actors’ busy schedules.
The season ended on a strange cliffhanger: Michael Cera’s George Michael Bluth punching his father Michael in the face; implying that there would be a follow-up season. I didn’t love the cliffhanger but I agreed with that punch on a visceral level.
Flash-forward to three years later: May 2018. In preparation for Netflix’s upcoming fifth season of Arrested Development, series creator Mitch Hurwitz released a “remixed” cut of Season 4 in an attempt to make the narrative structure similar to that of the original three seasons. Being the flagellating type, I presented myself with a challenge: rewatch the original cut of Season 4 as I simultaneously watched the remix “Arrested Development: Fateful Consequences” with my non-cousin roommate Matt. He had never seen the original cut of Season 4, so his viewing experience would serve as a control for my little project. And as the man once said: “Let the great experiment begin!”
Since I was watching the original cut by myself, I breezed through it a lot faster than I did Fateful Consequences with Matt. And surprisingly…I found myself kind of liking it? Though I can recall plenty of conversations in passing where I mentioned how terrible Season 4 was, it would seem that the years had softened my anger and disappointment by the Netflix revival.
To be clear, the things that didn’t work the first time around still didn’t work. George Senior’s “sweat & squeeze” in the desert still felt like a drawn-out, pointless experiment in how to make John Slattery unbelievably annoying and useless. Lindsay and Tobias’ stories were still painfully unfunny and uncomfortable, made only worse by their respective new love interests: Marky Bark and Debrie Bardeux (sorry Maria Bamford fans, but this is the only thing I’ve seen her in, and…not great.) And the idea of “Cinco de Quatro”…always seemed stupid to me.
Repetitive jokes and running gags rise and fall from random variations of slightly funny, annoying, hilarious, and suicidally god-awful. So this time around a lot of those running gags seemed to have hit me in the right way: “Same” “Get away Get Away” “Anne/And” “Prayer hands” etc. Ok, a lot of them have to do with GOB. And I didn’t really have an opinion of him before but this time I enjoyed Terry Crews’ buffoon politician Herbert Love and his calling Buster the “Blindside Monster.”
I still say that if Mitch Hurwitz couldn’t get the whole cast together to film at the same time, he shouldn’t have done it at all. The long-awaited return of a cult classic comedy is not the best place to switch up the storytelling format. However there is something very unique about the puzzle box structure of the story. No single episode of Season 4 makes complete sense until you’ve watched the entire season, explaining the preceding chapters in hindsight. On the outside every member of the Bluth family seems to have their shit together, but when the episode focuses on them we see those scenes of confidence replayed in a new, less flattering light. The best of these probably belong to George Michael and Alia Shawkat’s Maebe Fuhnke, whose stories were a lot more concise and revelatory than the rest of the Bluths. In fact, George Michael is probably my favorite character of the whole season.
And now the story of an OK season of television that got re-cut in an attempt to save face but made it even worse. It’s Arrested Development: Fateful Consequences.
It was clear to me very early on that the remix was not going to work. You can edit the hell out of something to rearrange it chronologically, but it was very clearly written to be a strange mystery comedy. By *attempting* to tell the story chronologically, Hurwitz steps on his own feet. Instead of remaining a mysterious figure until the end of the season, some of George Michael’s shortcomings are revealed too soon.
More frustrating is all of the heavy-lifting that Ron Howard’s narrator has to do. With all of his new dialogue I wouldn’t be surprised if Howard put in as much time in the sound booth as Hurwitz did in the editing bay. A fourth of Fateful Consequences‘ runtime is dedicated to recapping and explaining things. There’s a “previously on” section in numerous episodes. On Netflix. “Real shoddy narrating. Just pure crap.”
Fateful Consequences all builds to the Cinco de Quatro finale, which has been morphed into an odd three-parter. Each chapter opens with a narration by the John Beard reporter and closes with a very ham-fisted narration laying the groundwork for Season 5’s “Whodunnit” murder mystery premise. It’s perhaps the most jarring and unsuccessful section of the remix.
For the time being, Fateful Consequences is being upheld as the definitive version of Arrested Development Season 4. In fact, Netflix has made it incredibly difficult to even find the original cut. To access it you have to search within the rarely-traversed “Trailers & More” section. Worse still Netflix does not provide its usual option to “pick up where you left off” with the original cut, instead pointing you towards Fateful Consequences.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who did not put themselves through that process and instead went into Fateful Consequences cold, perhaps liking it the better for it. And while I’d love to favor a version of a season of Arrested Development that is more traditionally cut, this is not a traditional season of Arrested Development in the first place. Sometimes funny and frequently arduous, Arrested Development Season 4 is a bizarre experience – but one that I appreciated and respected a lot more without rage-colored lenses.