On May 29th, the fifth season of Arrested Development debuted on Netflix. To many of us, Arrested Development represents heartbreak and longing, as well as a few scarring experiences. The original show was cancelled in 2006 despite its cult status, and picked up again by Netflix in 2013. It was not good, and nobody could really wrap their heads around it, or understand what could have possibly gone wrong.
At least until the remixed version of season 4 (renamed Arrested Development: Fateful Consequences) came out to anticipate the release of season 5. The old episodes were cut and edited differently, for a much funnier, much less disorienting effect. At last, it was not -entirely- the writing’s fault, but rather the post-production that had messed with a comedy show after my own heart. Editing matters, and we should talk about it.
The show gained a cult following in the early aughts for its absurdist humor and fourth wall breaking narration, making it an absolute favorite among many devoted TV bingers -mostly talking about myself here-. Much to our chagrin, after three glorious seasons of iconic nonsense and characters not really knowing what a chicken sounds like, in 2006 the show was cancelled. Netflix picked it up in 2014, and boy, was it a hot mess!
The thing with season 4 is that it felt weird, although nobody could really put their finger on why the new style simply could not do. Was it Netflix? Was it the shock of seeing Michael Cera’s drastic face change -seriously what happened to him-? Was it the die-hard fans incapable of letting go of how the show used to be? Not quite.
The showrunners had found a way around the cast’s busy schedules by filming character-centric episodes, with very little interactions. The few moments where more than two characters interacted were usually thanks to post-production and green screens. This made for quite the unusual viewing experience, as the rather intricate plot of season 4 came to life bit by bit only by exploring one character’s side of the story per episode. It was confusing, and at the end of the season you’d feel lost, almost nauseous for being taken on such a wild ride. On top of that, Michael’s character became so annoying and self-righteous that bearing over 40 minutes of him complaining on his own was simply unsustainable.
It was hard to win over Arrested Development fans again. While we love the running gags, Ron Howard’s voice, and The Sound Of Silence playing in the background, we also felt betrayed and confused. Always ready to pick up on any and all fan discussions on social media, Netflix delivered a new version of season 4 just on time to build hype for season 5. The remixed version puts together the narratives of the Bluth family through some intense cutting and rewriting of the timeline. Finally, the Bluths are back together in narrative that finally feels cohesive and where jokes and Easter eggs actually make sense. It was a relief, and sure speaks lengths about the importance of editing to deliver a good story.
It is not just the content that matters
The importance of good editing
It only dawned on me as I rewatched season 4 that good, solid editing is behind any piece of media I have enjoyed thus far. From books, to articles, to movies, to my thesis starting to make sense. Editing is the invisible and often not sufficiently credited work that can make or break a piece of media. It is not just the content that matters, but also the way it is used to build a -more or less- coherent narrative.
Research shows that humans prefer linear storylines, and that we will go out of our way to try and put pieces of information together in a way that ultimately our brain can find easy to process. Imagine then the effort we must go through, fighting against our linearity inclined brains, to fully comprehend and follow narratives that elude that simple structure!
Season 4 of Arrested Development tried to be daring in the face of necessity, breaking down the linear narrative to focus on single character journeys that, all in all, strayed too far from what viewers were used to and could find acceptable. Cutting and piercing those narratives back together to form a cohesive structure, definitely eased me into not hating the season as much as I used to.
Going back to your favorite media, think about the work behind the narratives you know and love. They were all constructed by someone. Did they follow a chronological order? Were they circular, or simply made to be unusual? Would you enjoy them just as much, if they were built differently? You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find out!
Cover: Andrea Rossignoli / Final Editor: Iris Ausems