Well, here we are. After nearly seven years of waiting, Arrested Development returned for its fourth season (I don't care what Will Arnett calls it, Netflix labelled it season 4), and I'll be reviewing each episode after I watch it for the first time (meaning that each review is spoiler-free for the rest of the season). So, let's start with the season premiere, "Flight of the Phoenix."
It was hard not to feel euphoric going into Arrested Development's fourth season; after all, it was something we never thought we'd see for the longest time. The joyous uproar surrounding season 4 had been building to momentous heights. But that joy didn't last long, did it? "Flight of the Phoenix," as it turns out, was the darkest episode of Arrested Development yet.
When Jason Bateman teased that season 4 would find Michael at his most pathetic yet, he couldn't have emphasized that enough. Though the season 3 finale, "Development Arrested," saw Michael "making compromises all over the place," that didn't prepare us for the bottom that he reached in this episode. In fact, Michael wasn't very likable for much of this first hour at all; he was at his most oblivious for his scenes with George Michael, and he was at his most desperate for the rest of the time. As such, this episode wasn't very funny -- it was really sort of bleak (with a few solid jokes and callbacks thrown in).
But this seems conscious: starting us with such a downer of an episode proves a point. Michael needs his family. As much as he says he loathes them for being leeches, he's actually the emotionally needy one. When he divorces himself from them, he becomes more pathetic than any of them -- in this episode, he was a caricature of complete obliviousness that might even give Tobias pause.
Even his relationship with George Michael suffers. In the first three seasons, whenever he was too overbearing on his son, he was able to see the error of his ways thanks to his family -- usually, by looking at the poor example they all set, or occasionally, some of their accidental wisdom. But in this episode, he became annoyingly overbearing, displaying his mother's skill at emotional manipulation that he and his siblings so often loathed.
So "Flight of the Phoenix" was a bleak, almost unpleasant episode, but it was a necessary one to set up the season's overall arc. I can't say I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of Michael's eventual descent to his boozing state at the Cinco de Cuatro (jeez, he really does become Lucille, doesn't he?) but I'm already anticipating the family's inevitable reunion. Perhaps that's where the binging encouraged by Netflix's format is a necessity for Arrested Development. Imagine if we had a week to stew over this episode -- it'd be a real downer. But now, we can automatically move right on to the next episode, "Borderline Personalities."
I'm going to do that myself, right after I point out some things I loved about the episode (and some things I didn't):
-- Kristin Wiig as young Lucille Bluth is an absolutely genius move that could have felt like stunt casting but didn't. Maybe it was the face cream hiding her features, but Wiig provided such a pitch-perfect emulation of Jessica Walter that it took me a good three seconds to realize that it, in fact, wasn't Walter. Seth Rogen as young George was more obvious (but still rather welcome).
-- We've already seen the returns of Barry Zuckercorn, Lucille Austero, news anchor John Beard, and Sally Sitwell. It was most gratifying to see Barry back, as he was given what was possibly the episode's funniest line: "Even waiters?"
-- Who was Gob [bleep]ing? Bland? The fact that we didn't see her (only Michael's reaction) seems to indicate that we knew her. And what was all that unpleasantness?
-- Ron Howard clearing his throat at the beginning of the episode was the most gratifying 'ahem' I believe I've ever heard.
-- Not really sure if the weird dynamic between George Michael and Maeby is still funny, or if their age has soured it into just being plain weird.
-- The vulture that wasn't a good sign for Michael was pretty darn hilarious.
-- Is the 'Show Stealer Pro Trial Version' watermark for flashback footage a joke or an oversight? I'm guessing it's a joke that'll fully pay off later.
-- And, finally, the biggest change: How about that new title sequence? It's a little too self-aware for my opinion (we get it, Arrested Development was cancelled, now it's back), but it's nice to see an updated version. Also I like the touch of having it be "Michael's Arrested Development" as a reminder that the title is still relevant.
What did you think about "Flight of the Phoenix"? Share your opinions below, then on to the next episode!