Each episode of the fourth season of "Arrested Development" was released precisely one month ago, come Wednesday. Can you believe that? Not even a month has passed, and it feels as though there hasn't been anything new from the Bluths in an eternity. I mean, we all know that today's version of popular culture is much more brisk than it's been, say, ever. But making a May 26 release feel like decades ago on June 24?
That's just unfair.
Actually, unfair is the word of the day when it comes to season four of the cult hit. The problem you run into when you decide to be a whip-smart, sarcastic, multi-layered and brilliantly funny television program is that your fans love to think they are actually whip-smart, sarcastic, multi-layered and brilliantly funny individuals themselves. That's fine, of course ... until you go away for a while. Why? Because in today's egomaniacal, social media-obsessed wasteland, the possibility of returning to equal acclaim isn't even tiny — it's impossible. The audience's obsession with themselves has overtaken the audience's obsession with the product and the act of being the first to like something has been replaced with the act of being the first to hate it. 2013: Where failure goes to breed.
There are two ways we could have approached the whole "Arrested Development" phenomenon. 1) Jump to react after that first weekend of release, making grand proclamations and judgments right away, striking while the iron was hot. Or 2) Wait about a month to gain perspective and reflection despite knowing that the whole thing will seem dated and irrelevant by the time it's ever discussed. We'll let you guess which approach this blog is taking.
First to the show itself. IGN's Eric Goldman wrote one of the most levelheaded essays about the "Arrested Development" reboot. Naturally, we'll start there ...
"So let’s get it out of the way," he wrote last week. "Arrested Development: Season 4 is not as good as the show was in its previous run. That doesn’t make it terrible or underserving of being called Arrested Development or any such hyperbole, but when weighed against what came before, it’s lacking. Still, if you could get through some rough patches, Season 4 also offered plenty of highlights."
Indeed, the Big Netflix Experiment wasn't perfect. That said, it also wasn't horrible. The clamor for dismissal has gone beyond overstated and landed somewhere near absurd. Watching the episodes in order (I did), it became almost instantaneously clear that the weakest episodes were the earliest. As the season progressed, though, the comedy became stronger, the stories made more sense, and, of course, the zaniness reached new heights. Remember: There were down episodes during the show's FOX run, too. Sure, not every trip to the plate resulted in a home run, but not once did season four strike out. Did it receive a free pass after zeroing in on four balls sometimes, using its eye to get on base? Of course, but even then, the possibility of eventually scoring wasn't entirely quelled.
Above all else, "Arrested Development" was and still is "Arrested Development," and that much can't be taken away, despite how many critics or faux fans can't help themselves when it comes to completely murdering a television series. The fourth season continued to have that classic AD feel, which was a welcome if not somewhat unexpected surprise — a lot of those actors were relative nobodys when the thing began in 2003, so seeing them back on screen as those characters, I had initially worried, would be difficult to digest. How could Jason Bateman seem so even and steady after watching him breakout as the star of approximately 69,392 movies in the last five years? How could Michael Cera be so unassuming or apprehensive after having him shoved down our throats in such forget-me-now movies as "Youth in Revolt" or "Nick And Nora's Infinite Playlist?" How could Will Arnett maintain Gob's humor after he ... after he divorced Amy Poehler?! (Side: What's up with that?!).
And maybe that's the most significant victory in all this — after years of being away from these characters and stories, almost everybody fell right back into line as a member of the Bluth clan. Then, somewhat miraculously, they were actually believable in doing so. Not bad for a series that had to jump through more hoops than a "Double Dare" boot camp in order to merely get the opportunity to advance the narrative.
Speaking of that opportunity, we'll now turn our fading attention to the other half of this equation: Netflix. Was it a success? Cue Christina Warren from Mashable ...
"Although Netflix has not released official data surrounding the number of viewers who decided to stream one — or all 15 — of the Arrested Development episodes, network intelligence company Procera has offered up a preliminary report of the impact of the show on overall Netflix traffic," she wrote last month. "According to the report, the first weekend of Arrested Development on Netflix was a bonafide success. ... The big takeaway is that Arrested Development produced roughly twice as many viewers watching the program during its launch weekend as Netflix's last major original TV series, House of Cards."
Wait, wait. So, "House of Cards" was now officially a failure? No!
But alas ... 36 percent of Netflix traffic was dedicated to at least one episode of "Arrested Development" during its opening weekend. "House of Cards?" 11. Yep. 11 percent.
You don't know what you are missing, people! You don't know what you're missing! (The exclamation points illustrate emotion).
Anyway, all in all, it's hard to categorize the marriage between "Arrested Development" and Netflix as a failure, of course. The numbers are there. The same people who loved it, still at least like it. And, maybe most importantly, the thing set itself up for a second go-around, which will now either be a fifth season or that long-awaited movie (or, if we're lucky, both). It's a small-to-medium-sized step in the legacy of Internet television, and for that, the whole exercise should be lauded. Binge-watching is the here. Netflix is the now. "Arrested Development" played into that equation perfectly. Now, we wait to see what's on tap for the next chapter in a book that currently seems (hopefully) much further away from its ending than it was, say, five years ago.
Rebel Alley or not.