Netflix’s “Arrested Development” resurrection in 2013 was at the time the most exciting of this television era’s rescues and reboots. The show had seeped into the national consciousness for years following its cancellation. Just compare the enthusiasm following that announcement to the show’s original series finale: four episodes burned off on a Friday night opposite the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
Creator Mitchell Hurwitz had grand ambitions for season four, perhaps driven by hubristic exuberance combined with juggling the schedules of an unavailable cast. He initially wanted viewers to have the option to watch episodes in any order they wished without affecting the narrative or humor. While he dialed back on that before the season dropped, the idea remained baked into season four. Episodes focused on one character and lurched forward chronologically, zigging and zagging along the way.
The new season landed with a dud. Critics and viewers complained about the lack of cast interaction, overuse of green screen, confusing timeline, and episodes that dragged on to 30 minutes. A show that seemed so sharp and tight for 53 episodes suddenly looked dull and flabby. When it worked, it worked on the level of previous seasons. When it sagged, it sagged to a degree unfamiliar to “Arrested Development” fans.
There had been talks for some time regarding a recut season four and it dropped somewhat unexpectedly two weeks ago along with news about season five (coming May 29!). Hurwitz conceded his initial ambition had not paid off, saying “In some ways to be an experience for that viewer, perhaps, akin to eating some toast, then some bacon — maybe a sliced tomato followed by some turkey and realizing, ‘Hey, I think I just had a club sandwich.’”
The remixed season, now titled “Fateful Consequences,” attempts to tell the story in a more coherent, chronological manner while pointing more towards the murder mystery that will drive at least some of the new season. After the first few episodes of “Fateful Consequences,” I was ready to say that the remix had redeemed season four.
The episodes, now a broadcast-friendly 22 minutes, were less of a chore. The focus on one character remained to some extent, an unavoidable issue considering the way the season was conceived and shot. But episodes cut to other threads and characters. It felt more like an ensemble comedy instead of a collection of individual vignettes.
My enthusiasm waned as the season progressed. While the original cut might not have been as funny as the first run of “Arrested Development,” the interweaving and time-jumping narrative worked. Jokes paid off episodes later or after multiple viewings. The countless plates the season spun made more sense after viewing scenes from different characters’ perspectives. It was like a puzzle, an awesome mind puzzle.
Instead of giving viewers different angles and letting them figure it out, “Fateful Consequences” shows them the jokes. The (slightly more) chronological nature forces Ron Howard to remind viewers of different plots and character interactions so often that it felt like watching an episode of “Scandalmakers.”
As the season drags on, episodes increasingly rely of flashbacks to footage viewers have already seen, as opposed to perspectives of the same scene, all for the show to say “remember this scene from earlier? That’s why this joke is funny.” The original season four may have been disappointing and occasionally frustrating, but it never held the viewer’s hand like “Fateful Consequences” does.
The best thing about “Fateful Consequences” is that it keeps the worst bits from dragging down the show as much. The weakest parts (like the sweat lodge, Herbert Love, Marky Bark, DeBrie Bardeaux) don’t sag like they did in the original. The same goes for the dubbing and reliance on green screen, both of which persisted in the original to the point of distraction. The flip side is that it deflates the best characters and storylines (mostly Michael, George Michael, and GOB). It turns what was a flawed, but daring and interesting season into one that’s comfortable.
In the end, the remix may play better to “Arrested Development” fans who never saw season four (“there are dozens of them!”). Unfortunately, it fails to redeem the original version.