'Arrested Development': What the Critics Are Saying

Will Arnett in "Arrested Development."
Will Arnett in "Arrested Development."
 Netflix

Arrested Development made a splashy debut in the early hours of Sunday on Netflix, with the cult comedy returning with original episodes after six years away.

Creator Mitch Hurwitz penned a handwritten note to the fans, expressing his gratitude "for another chance to bring these characters to life," and telling them he "could not have done so without your consistent effort to 'spread the word' about it." Later on, he wrote, "But really this is yours now," before his dry wit cut through: "Except for the obvious copyright issues. And you have to subscribe to Netflix."

The fourth season brought 15 new installments -- all lasting about a half hour and each focusing on a member of the Bluth family (some more than once) -- for Arrested Development viewers to feast on.

And while television critics found much to admire about the season, many thought its first half was considerably weaker than its back half. Below find what the TV critics had to say about the Bluths' return:

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"The Rashomon-style storytelling takes a bit to get used to, and the sometimes feverish flow of the jokes (which fans may remember from the hall-of-fame first three seasons) struggle to unleash themselves in the first couple of episodes, but then it snowballs into seven-and-a-half hours of hilarity just waiting for a movie to follow it up," wrote The Hollywood Reporter's chief TV critic Tim Goodman in his review.

Los Angeles Times TV critic Robert Lloyd called the new season of Arrested Development “not merely a continuation of the show, but a celebration of it, from the way it quotes earlier seasons, down to repeating whole lines of dialogue.” He praised the decision to release all of the episodes at once, writing “neither the strategy nor the quality of the series is wholly apparent from the first episode.” He added: “The show improves as it gathers context, and before long you stop thinking about what makes this Arrested Development different from all other Arrested Developments."

San Francisco Chronicle's David Wiegand praised the new episodes, declaring the revival of Arrested Development proof "that there is still hope for sitcom genius from the TV industry." In his glowing review, Wiegand noted the hype surrounding the show since it left the air. "With expectations as high as they are among AD fans, do the new episodes live up to those of the first three seasons which ended in 2006? Yes, and then some: The new season is not only as smart and absurdly funny as ever, but also reflects the rapid changes in how we watch television," he wrote.

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Robert Bianco of USA Today was less enthralled by the return of the Bluths, beginning his review with a simple line that communicated a lot: "As it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing." He would later touch on Arrested Development's niche sensibility as being a blessing and a crutch: "Yet what bingers and non-bingers alike will discover, particularly those drawn by curiosity and hype rather than by devotion, is exactly why the show was beloved by some and ignored by most: Arrested remains a bracingly clever but emotionally cold intellectual exercise of a comedy, one that revels in puns, double entendres, intricately structured set pieces, astonishingly inappropriate jokes, asides, callbacks, flashbacks and, less propitiously, its own inaccessibility."

In reviewing the first episode of the new installments, Wall Street Journal's Nathan Rabin observed the differences in climate in which Arrested Development returns, after a seven-year span that saw a flurry of "manic" and Arrested Development-inspired comedies like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation hit the TV space. "Arrested Development is about many things but on a fundamental level it’s about Arrested Development, so it’s not surprising the show returns with a flurry of winking post-modern jokes alluding to the unconventional nature of its strange return, from a credit heralding it as a Netflix 'Semi-Original' to opening narration about 'a family whose future was abruptly cancelled,' " Rabin wrote.

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TV Guide’s Sadie Gennis said she was concerned when the first half of the season failed to grab her. “I wanted to love season four as much as I loved the first three, but I'd be lying to myself [and to you] if I ignored its weaknesses,” she wrote. “I fell in love with Arrested Development for its density, intricacy and the dysfunctional Bluth family as a whole. But unfortunately, these aspects were absent for the first half of season four, exposing the fact that maybe these characters aren't as likable as we want them to be.” She went on to say that all changed with episode 7 and the return of GOB. “I think they made a huge mistake keeping Gob from us that long, but I'm happy everyone was right all along: it really does get better! “Gennis wrote. “After episode seven, Arrested hit its stride, leading up to a final fantastic four episodes (Sue Storm and The Thing included).”

In his B+ review for Hitfix, Daniel Fienberg wrote that it would be difficult to assign a single grade for the whole season, with four or five episodes being “A” quality, and two or three earning “C” grades. “And the majority of the episodes were variably uneven, hardly devoid of brilliance and the sort of hilarity that most currently running shows can't even approach, but usually diluted to an infuriating degree by the structure and lack of structure of the endeavor,” he wrote in his analysis of the episodes. “At times, the 15 episodes work much better than you'd imagine they possibly could and at times they stumble on entirely avoidable obstacles.”

People critic Tom Gliatto opined that though the new season “isn't bad,” it isn’t “nearly as funny” as the previous three. While he said the show still has “plenty of laughs,” the new format in which episodes focus on a single character hurt the show by de-emphasizing the ensemble aspect. For example, Will Arnett’s GOB doesn’t have much screen time until halfway through the season. “That's a terribly long stretch to be deprived on of one of the show's best characters,” Gliatto wrote.

The Guardian's Hadley Freeman wrote of the season" "Sometimes it feels breathtakingly brilliant and other times it just feels confusing. It takes some getting used to, but by the fifth episode, the patience begins to pay off. I didn't adore the show in the way I instantly adored the first three series, but I was admiring it, and even enjoying it in a new way. So far, I'm keeping the faith."

Collider's Matt Goldberg summed up Arrested Development's return commending the cast and writers for the ambitious, interwoven story lines. But for him, it may have been a little too much this go-around. "What begins as a brilliant new approach to storytelling on television becomes a season that demands a chart to follow the crisscrossing plotlines that begin to get in the way of enjoying the show’s humor," he wrote. "Thankfully, despite the heavy weight of the show’s ambition, Arrested Development is as funny and clever as past seasons. But this time, it may be too clever for its own good."

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