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Josh Reviews the Re-Edited Fourth Season of Arrested Development

The first three seasons of Arrested Development still stand tall among the greatest comedy TV shows ever made.  Last year I re-watched those three seasons in their entirety, and they remain brilliant, with a dense layering of joke upon joke upon joke unlike any other TV show I’ve ever seen.  Back in the days in which the idea of original programming Netflix was a wild idea, I was overjoyed that Netflix announced the resurrection of Arrested Development, which had been ill-treated by Fox and cancelled way before its time.  When that fourth season of the show finally arrived on Netflix, though, back in 2013, it was something of a disappointment.

I enjoyed watching the new Netflix episodes, make no mistake.  I think the fourth season is better than its dismal critical reputation would have you believe.  But there’s no question that the series was a shadow of its former self.  There were a lot of problems with that fourth season, the main issue being that scheduling issues with the large main cast meant they could only film a handful of scenes all together.  To get around this, creator/showrunner Mitch Hurwitz & co. structured the season so that each episode focused on a single character.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, these characters that worked so well together as an ensemble didn’t function nearly as well on their own.   Many of them went from funny to annoying when we were stuck following them for an entire lengthy episode.  (The length was also a problem — many of the installments ran far longer than a standard twenty-two-ish minute half-hour comedy; some installments were as long as forty minutes, and that felt way too long to me.)

Around the time when the fifth season arrived, in 2018, Netflix released a completely re-edited version of season four, with the new subtitle “Fateful Consequences.”  Instead of fifteen lengthy episodes each focusing on a single member of the Bluth family, Mitch Hurwitz & co. did a ground-up remix of the entire season, reassembling it into twenty-two normal-length (approx. 22 minutes) episodes, with many if not all Bluth family members appearing in each episode.  Footage has been completely re-arranged.  Scenes from the cutting room floor have been restored.  Ron Howard has recorded completely new narration.

What an incredible idea!  Has anything like this ever been done?  An ENTIRE SEASON of a TV series, completely re-edited from the ground up?

This re-edited version of Arrested Development season four is VASTLY SUPERIOR to the original version.  There is no question in my mind that this is what the fourth season should have looked like all along; if it had, I think people would have thought a lot better of the season.

Does this re-edited fourth season approach the quality of the original three seasons of the show?  No, it does not.  But it certainly FEELS much more like the original show, and that makes a lot of difference.  There are still some weaker storylines at play.  At the end of the day, there was only so much that Mitch Hurwitz and co. could do with the original season four footage, which kept the Bluths separate for so long.  But by mixing up the storylines, it feels far more like the ensemble show that Arrested Development had always been.  It’s not perfect; not every Bluth is in every episode.  Poor Maeby (Alia Shawkat), for example, is mostly absent for huge chunks of the early going.  (Again, there was only so much that could be done with the original footage.)  But most of the episodes flow remarkably well between the stories of the different Bluths; you might not suspect the episodes were originally constructed entirely differently!  And with each episode running at a zippily breezy twenty-two-ish minutes, no episode ever overstays its welcome the way several of the original fourth season episodes did.  I often found myself watching two, three, or four episodes at a time; the new version moves well and often left me eager to move on to the next installment.

There are a few problems.  Most notably, the re-edit makes the timeline of events almost impossibly convoluted.  Season four had, in its original structure, a very complicated timeline, because the season was set five years after season three (approximately the same amount of time that had passed in real time).  As a result, most episodes zipped back and forth between events that happened several years in the past, soon after the events of the season three finale, and events happening years later.  (The series used a recurring device of something that looked like scrolling between video clips on an iPhone to track the movements back and forth in time.)  It was very ambitiously complex, but it mostly worked.  This re-edit attempts to do the same thing, but because we’re moving back and forth between characters and timelines at the same time, it all became extremely mixed up, at least for me.  There were several times when I totally lost track of where a character was, because you’d see scenes of that character in one episode followed by scenes in the next episode that the narration would tell you was happening YEARS before or after.  There were also several times when a character would refer to an event that, for the joke and the smooth flow of the story, felt like it should have happened a few days before, only for the character or the narration to say it had happened a year or more before.  Those moments always threw me for a bit of a loop.  I found it best to basically just ignore the timeline and in my mind smush all of the events together and imagine they were happening in the span of weeks or months at maximum, like a usual season of TV, as opposed to the five-plus years that were intended.

The restructuring also leads to a LOT of additional recapping, meaning that if you’re watching multiple episodes at once you might occasionally get a bit peeved at the time spent showing you scenes you’ve already seen (possibly several times) before.  The recapping is needed to make sense of the restructured events, and they try to smooth over it with playful editing choices and a running gag of Ron Howard’s narrator saying the exact same thing, simultaneously, as a character on screen (which is a simple joke but it made me laugh pretty much every time).

(I also have to say that I didn’t love adding the “Fateful Consequences” moniker to the end of the opening credits in every episode.  I generally love the opening credits of this show, but every time we got to the end and Ron Howard added in “Fateful Consequences,” it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.  I know I am overreacting to a very minor thing!  But this is how I felt, nonetheless.)

But what works far outweighs what doesn’t.  And there has always been a lot of fun to be had in this fourth season.  (The flashback scenes with Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as young versions of Lucille and George Sr. are, alone, worth the price of admission.)

If you have been an Arrested Development fan and you’ve only ever seen the original version of the fourth season, I definitely recommend you give this re-edited version a try.  (Netflix makes it very easy for you, as now when you select this show, this re-edited version is what you’ll find displayed between seasons three and five.  The original version is still there, but they’ve hidden it among the “trailers and more” section of the series.)  I was very impressed by how much stronger this new version is than the original.  To emphasize: it still has problems.  Some storylines still don’t work.  There are still some scenes in which the characters were obviously not all actually in the same room.  The Bluths still spend too much time separated from one another.  The timeline is impossible to follow.  But those problems are greatly minimized in this new version, which felt to me like an almost complete re-do.  I’m glad to have seen it, and I’m excited to move on to season five, which I’ve never seen!

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