The verdict on Netflix's Arrested Development: New series mostly for fans who have already guzzled the Kool Aid
Before going too far, it’s worth noting one thing from the outset: I was never on the Arrested Development fan train.
For me, the show was little more than an amusing curiosity, remarkable for the talent of its sprawling cast and the oddity of stuff the show’s creators made them do. Ultimately, a comedy about a family too stupid, venal, self-obsessed and unlucky to climb out of the dregs of Southern California middlebrow society just wasn’t my thing.
Netflix’s revival of the show after it was dropped from Fox's schedule nearly seven years ago was another bite at the apple; a chance to jump on the bandwagon for a series many TV critic friends spent years demanding the showbiz gods give another chance.
But after bingeing on eight of the 15 new episodes created for the online streaming service -- watching storylines ranging from a sweat lodge in Mexico to a four-star resort in India -- I gotta say; I’m still not on that train.
At times, the Netflix episodes are masterwork of interlocking storylines and details. Each episode focuses on a different member of the punishingly dysfunctional Bluth clan, with narrator Ron Howard providing a tweaked introduction to set up the showcase.
(Fanboys and girls listen up; because the series has been online for days, I’m not going to wory about spoilers, so read on with care if you feel differently.)
Portia de Rossi’s Lindsey Bluth, for example, goes on a spiritual trip to India at the same time as her husband, David Cross’ sexually confused doctor-turned-actor Tobias Funke. But viewers don’t learn that until we get past Lindsey’s episode to Tobias’ showcase, and see the guy who kept bumping Lindsey’s seat from behind was Tobias, so wrapped up in his own drama, he missed his wife sitting one seat ahead.
The guest stars here are amazing, from Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as younger versions of certain Bluths, to Henry Winkler, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Ed Begley, Jr., Lisa Minnelli, Tommy Tune, Christine Taylor, Brian Grazer and many more celebs. Like watching cameos on Saturday Night Live, these performances have the allure of seeing established performers let go in zany storylines that allow them to bounce off other characters with abandon.
But the ultimate barometer of any TV comedy is whether it’s funny. And despite all the loving, intricate care delivered here, that’s where Netflix’s Arrested Development failed most significantly for me.
I chuckled a lot through the episodes I watched: seeing Jeffrey Tambor toggle between playing his mercenary patriarch George Bluth Sr. and idealistic twin brother Oscar; seeing Richter shamed into agreeing to appear in a movie on the Bluths by boss O’Brien’s insults; watching Lindsay travel to India for spiritual enlightenment and never leave her four-star resort; seeing Tobias unfairly nabbed in a horrifically inept Orange County version of To Catch a Predator.
But none of this really impacted with the force of more compelling TV comedies. In part, it’s because the gags go by so fast, by the time you’ve processed one, five more have flown by.
But it’s also because I’m not particularly invested in the characters. The other by-product of creating such fast-paced comedy, is that you don’t get much time to bond with characters or identify with their struggles.
For those wanting advice on how to partake of this comedy deluge, I'd suggest watching the 15 episodes as fast as makes sense for you, just to get the overall plot structure and story points. Then, if you're still hooked, watchi it again for all the stuff you missed the first time around becaue you were too busy asking "Why is Andy Richter in a bad wig here?" Or "isn't that woman advising Liza Minnelli's character the lady who played Marsha in the Brady Bunch revival movies?"
These Netflix episodes, at least initially, seem crafted for longtime fans who have already guzzled the Arrested Development Kool Aid.
Winning over new fans will take something else, I fear – unless the hype of online video convinces enough newbies to pay attention.
I await the avalanche of condemnation from avowed AD-faniacs.