Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development, likes to break the mold and when his beloved series was revived by Netflix he broke the mold with one of the most inventive and expertly crafted scripts in sitcom history. Innovation isn’t always immediately appreciated, though, and he has broken the mold again by completely re-editing the entire season and labeling it Fateful Consequences.
The idea was a mix of creative and practical. As originally edited, each episode was a different time length and would be impossible to syndicate so working it into 22-minute episodes makes sense from an “I want to make a ton of money on this when it’s aired on FXX eight times a day,” sort of way. Creatively, it allowed Hurwitz to address some of the issues that fans had with the season, among them the non linear storytelling and the character-focused episodes.
In Fateful Consequences, the Bluth family’s story intersects with a flow more akin to the original network run but it still lacks the chemistry and heart that endeared it to fans. The fact that there are rarely more than two or three regular characters in a single scene at the same time is less noticeable in this edit but it still lingers over the entire season.
A great deal of emphasis was placed on the narration by Ron Howard — probably more so than any other season thus far. Lengthy flashbacks are utilized in nearly every episode which sometimes recalls several minutes worth of previously seen scenes. It is possible that watching the season in a standard weekly format may make that less aggravating but this show may have helped invent binge viewing and should be more cognizant of how the episodes play in large viewing chunks.
At the end of the day, the new season four is much easier to follow but offers little reward in terms of the great reveal about how all of these stories work together. There are moments of genius, as is to be expected from one of the smartest shows of all time, but the season as a whole feels forced. Taking all of the separate stories and weaving them into one leaves the plot bloated and too busy and certain story arcs are never given the chance to breathe and develop that they desperately need.
Where the Fateful Consequences edit succeeds is in building excitement for season five, premiering at the end of May. With certain storylines culminating in cliffhangers in the final minutes of the final episode, there is a pressing need to binge-watch the next set of episodes, and, by all accounts, season five appears to be more in line with traditional Arrested Development storytelling.
For the fifth season to make any sense at all, fans will have to watch season four and with two options presented to them (the original edit is hidden in the Trailers section of Netflix) a choice must be made. From a storytelling standpoint, the first edit is a masterclass in telling several linear, interconnected stories in a non-linear, unconnected format but it doesn’t feel like the AD of yore. From a viewing standpoint, the new edit tells the stories in a more digestible layout but gets a bit repetitive and redundant and repetitive at times.
Ultimately, a true fan of the series will watch both and should probably watch them in the order from whence they came so that both formats can be fully appreciated and season five can be set-up for maximum enjoyment.