On May 26, 2013, Arrested Development returned to Netflix with new episodes, more than 7 years after its initial cancellation by Fox. But with its new home came an audacious new format, with 15 episodes of drastically varying length each following the life of one Bluth family member over a five year period. It was already a risky move taking a show that had been given a relatively satisfying conclusion and giving it an entirely new chapter with multiple cliffhanger endings, but the season’s jumping timeline and predication to long-form pay-offs played like a puzzle to be assembled by the viewers, and to call season 4 “polarizing” would be an understatement.
The new format was largely the result of scheduling issues, given how busy the show’s large cast had become since the initial run ended. Though in a lot of ways, the show almost had to reinvent itself. Arrested Development was so influential on the wave of single camera sit-coms that followed it, the show practically needed to do something experimental to help distinguish itself from its new contemporaries (hell, Arrested Development is such a trendsetter that it even did the whole “dead series revival” thing before that became prevalent!). But, understandably, many fans found this new approach to be too far-removed from the show they previously loved, with many denouncing the new episodes and some even failing to make it through the entire season.
Season 4 certainly has its defenders – I, for one, am firmly in the camp that believes it to be a misunderstood work of genius. I admired its daring ambition and appreciated the way it challenged me. Though I think the dissenting opinions might largely come down to just what one loved most about the original run. Those who most appreciated the show’s tight pacing, character relationships and its more immediate pay-offs would’ve undoubtedly been too put off by the new season’s “fragmented mosaic” approach, which isolated many of its characters from each other and played some serious narrative long games. Conversely, those who found pleasure in the show’s complex, intricate storylines and the way they were woven together likely found a lot more enjoyment in it.
Having said that, even the season’s staunchest defenders can’t deny that it wasn’t without flaws. Indeed, many of season 4’s criticisms were completely valid; Perhaps the biggest offenders being its inconsistent, often languid pacing and largely uneven structure (especially seeing as it takes a few episodes to really pick up), and the overbearing presence of the narrator; both of which could theoretically be corrected in the editing booth. Despite my unabashed love of season 4, I have often wondered many times what a more conventional cut of it would look like, and I’m certainly not the only one (case in point; a fan-made chronological edit hit the internet just over a week after the season’s release).
A recut version of season 4 has been talked about for a very long time now; Mitch Hurwitz had announced his plans to re-edit the season as early as 2014, with Ron Howard confirming back in January 2015 that he’d recorded new narration for it. Netflix were likely sitting on the recut so they could release it in promotion for the upcoming fifth season – and likely win back some fans in the process (and while I would’ve loved to have seen it sooner, the fact that it’s actually being released on Cinco de Cuatro is a wonderful little detail). It is still unclear just how “chronological” the new cut will be, given how relative that term actually is with a show like Arrested Development, though it’s been confirmed that each episode will no longer be centred around one specific character. There are also now 22 episodes total rather than 15, with the individual episode runtimes slated to be much closer to that of the original run.
Supposedly, season 4 was originally crafted with all the scenes being written individually and then assembled in the editing booth, though a big part of the finished product was the methodical way it all unfolded; much of the storytelling was based around withholding information from the audience so scenes would play a certain way, only to gradually clue the viewer in and recontextualize the story as more details came to light. The show’s always operated like this on some level, though never to an extent as overwhelming and daunting as what season 4 attempted, which told a story so complex it’s virtually impossible to judge the season on an episode-by-episode basis. Say what you will about the fourth season, but you certainly can’t fault it for a lack of ambition.
Considering this, Arrested Development’s fourth season stands to change a lot from a re-edit. Entire storylines are set to play completely differently, and the fact that we’re getting new narration means many jokes are undoubtedly going to be lost, gained, or recontextualized. It’s also entirely possible some footage may be cut, alternate takes may be used, or even some unused footage might be included. I may be wrong, but I do not have any reason to believe that this “remixed” season will alter the actual narrative itself, so hopefully it shouldn’t create any arguments as to what is and isn’t canon (meaning, season 5 should still make sense to you regardless of which version of season 4 you opt for), though it is still going to be a new experience regardless of one’s familiarity with the fourth season.
Without further ado, let’s all lock up our ostriches, get our rocks off, and settle in with a Dove bar as we hop on the staircar and ride through Sudden Valley once again!
NOTE: While spoilers aren’t necessary for general season 4 discussion (it has been almost 5 years since we first saw this story unfold, after all), please be considerate and exercise caution when discussing details specific to the remix. The new narration almost definitely means there will be some new (and drastically different versions of existing) jokes, and it’s entirely possible the recut could contain material we’ve never seen before. Let’s all approach this with the assumption that everyone posting in this thread has seen the original version of season 4, but is still working their way through its new incarnation. On that note, if you have not seen either version of season 4 in full, I would highly recommend you not read any further.