There are lots of shows out there nowadays that have found themselves back on the air following an early cancellation. We live in the age of streaming TV, where platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Yahoo have the ability to bring a network show back from the brink. But it all truly began two years ago, when Netflix resurrected cult favorite Arrested Development. After seven years off the air, in an instant we had 15 brand new episodes waiting to be binge-watched, with all the same characters we had grown to know and love during its brief run on FOX.
After the dust had settled, it was fairly clear that Arrested Development’s return was largely a rousing success, despite following a format for its latest season that was far from typical. What we had was creativity built from necessity: Each actor had prior commitments that prevented them from being able to shoot episodes together. What they could do was bring each in individually for short bursts on-set, which in turn led to the unique storytelling structure that had each character essentially get their own episodes, telling one story from each perspective stretched out over the whole season.
Most critics agree that despite the new structure, generally it worked pretty well. At times it did drag on and feel forced, requiring at least 2-3 viewings for each episode to account for the sheer density of the story, but kudos still had to be given where they were deserved. This resonated enough with people to win it another run on Netflix. Just last month, executive producer Brian Glazer broke the news that 17 new episodes were in development sans a release date. It always seemed to be an inevitability, but given that we haven’t seen the typical one season per year format shared by the rest of television, it was hard to gauge a return.
So now that we know that we’re getting another run of episodes, we of course are left to speculate about what Season 5 will give us. To do this, we need to first observe the classic “what worked/what didn’t” factors, of which there are plenty. Firstly, what worked: Season 4 was truly one-of-a-kind in the realm of comedy television. In it, we had one story play out over multiple perspectives in a Momento-esque carousel. It expertly challenged our perception of the plot as we slowly but surely learned more from each character, eventually turning the entire machine on its head until we weren’t sure which was up anymore. You’d be hard-pressed to find a TV show that manages to succeed the way this one has over its last season.
Which leads us to the “what didn’t work” side of things: Season 4 was more dense than a black hole. In a lot of ways that works for Arrested, but at points in the new season it worked against it. It’s rare for a show to not only ask that you watch each episode twice, but almost demand you do it in order to understand anything. From there, a binge-watch is practically the only way you can keep all the concurrent story elements in any semblance of order in your head. Wait too long between episodes, and you could find yourself having forgotten about one of the hundreds of small yet important details that came up.
The next 17 episodes of Arrested Development will have a tall order to fill in the wake of all this. That being so, if it’s proven one thing it’s that it can be up to this task. We’d be more than a little interested to see if they follow the same “multiple perspectives of the same story” format, or bring it back to its less ambitious yet still amazing feel from the first three seasons. Either way, there’s a lot to look forward to for a show that’s made a point of setting itself apart from the standard fare.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest
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