One of the reasons The Office works is that Ricky Gervais's self-flagellating cringe-inducing antics are approached in part from the perspective of Martin Freeman's normal dude in the madhouse, and his sweet relationship with Lucy Davis (Stephen Merchant's influence, I'm sure). The contrast between the likable and the horrific is what makes the series so poignant. Rightly or wrongly, I approached the first three seasons of Arrested Development in the same way – the absurd family nonetheless being kept together by the one son who acted as the straight-man for all the japery. We even had a kind of doomed romance between Maeby and George Michael to invest in.
Season 4 ends all sympathetic attachment with any of the characters – Michael and his son become just as bad as everyone else in the family. I guess this is what everyone means by the show becoming "darker". But I wonder whether Mitchell Hurwitz really finds nothing of worth in the characters he writes. Hungering for some sweetness in the season's black liquorice flavour, I found it in several of the characters choosing to waste their energy on projects they clearly have no hope of achieving rather than leaning back on their legal or medical qualifications and leading comfortable, responsible lives. I think there is a fondness for the resolute rejection of normality the Bluths represent. The satiric elements in the show (the corrupt Republican politician, the software companies built on nothing, the sub-prime mortgage crisis) are reminders that the real world is far from free from the idiocy, delusions and petty jealousies the Bluths display.
The comedy isn't even the point anymore. It's true, there are fewer LOL moments than before. Rather, the new structure where the same events are revisited and retold from the perspective of different characters forgrounds the tangled plot above everything. The lightning-fast assembly of hair-brained schemes is what the show is all about. This was always present in Arrested Development, and in fact I remember thinking that Michael was probably the true crazy for not embracing the lunatic freewheeling energy of his family. In season 4, he finally has.