In a recent interview with Pretentious Film Majors, Arrested Development showrunner and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz claimed he’s working on a new edit of the show’s fourth season that would put its events in chronological order. And why not?
The season is already the pioneer of revivalist television, so it makes sense to go ahead and also make it the first season of television to ever be re-edited and released again. Plus, with the fourth season being the first act in an eventual three-act story, a re-release is a good way to get the show back on the radar and persuade executives to green light the next chapter.
But for fans, there’s one very important question: Does this undertaking have any value beyond being a gimmick?
Last year, redditor morphinapg somehow managed to re-cut the entire season in chronological order and post the result online within a week of its premiere on Netflix. I remember the fan edit making the rounds at the time, but I didn’t watch it and it’s likely not many other people did either. Those who loved the new season had just finished binge-watching it, and people who hated it probably weren’t going to bother pirating a different version. In light of this news from Hurwitz, however, and with a year gone since I’d last watched the season, I decided to seek morphinapg’s version out to see if the “chronological” edit held any water as a decent approach to the season’s arc.
Obviously, the fan edit has some flaws: The voiceover doesn’t always transition properly from scene to scene, and there are credits rolling in the middle of the episodes. Despite grouping episodes by storylines, they tend to just start, ramble on for about 40 minutes, and end. But something dawned on me while watching this Frankenstein’s monster of a season: It works really well. So well, in fact, that I wondered if it had originally been written this way all along.
Turns out that’s not the case. When Hurwitz conceived the fourth season, the format was essentially the same as what was ultimately executed: Each episode would follow a different character. Originally, there would be nine episodes around 20 minutes a piece; it wasn’t until the press started reporting on the deal with Netflix that he decided the season needed to be much longer to appease expectations, which resulted in 15 episodes that were 30-40 minutes long. When the length changed, maybe the format should have as well.
Looking at morphinapg’s edit, something becomes apparent about what makes the world of Arrested Development work, especially in longer episodes: Every episode needs every character. Ideally, it’s best to have these characters in the same locations as much as possible, but if scheduling prevents that, it also works to just give them equal screen time. Even if the characters are scattered across the globe, it’s far better to hop between their stories than spend an entire 45 minutes with Buster or Gob. As amazing as every character is, the sum of them is certainly greater than their parts. While Hurwitz compensated for the inability to have the whole cast together in an utterly genius way, it turns out that it may actually have been unnecessary to do so.
By the end of morphinapg’s cut, I liked it so much more that I’d actually recommend it to people watching the show for the first time, if it weren’t for the fact that Hurwitz is releasing a polished version that’ll be working from raw footage. The Cinco de Cuatro celebration is an epic ending for the season, and works far better chronologically than it previously did, as do other rare moments in which the cast comes together, such as the penthouse scene and the convention center piece with the “Love bomb.”
Perhaps most importantly, the chronological order gives viewers perspective going into the next chapter of the story. For a season that was always meant as a first act, it’s important to have a clear grasp of where the characters stand at the end of it. Honestly, as much as I loved the ambition of season four’s original cut, I can’t imagine myself watching it again after the new one is released. If a rough fan edit put together in a week turned out this good, I can’t imagine how amazing a chronological cut with Hurwitz’s personal stamp of approval will turn out.
It’s an interesting situation: A fan edit started a dialogue with the original creator that ultimately resulted in a new release of material. Kabir Akhtar, the lead editor on season four, stated in an AMA a year ago that he planned on checking morphinapg’s edit out. Evidently he or Hurwitz did, and it’s ended up changing the course of history for what’s maybe the most underrated season of television ever released.
This re-edit could ultimately save the show’s future, and Hurwitz deserves some major credit for reconsidering the format, especially after the painstaking efforts he went through to arrive at the format released a year ago. At the very least, it’ll result in me watching the whole season in a span of two days for the third time.
Screengrab via Netflix/YouTube