I'm reviewing every episode of Arrested Development season 4 immediately after I see it for the first time -- so if you haven't seen the rest of the season yet, don't worry! You can read my review of the season premiere, "Flight of the Phoenix," here.
Ahh, that's more like it. After the rather bleak Michael-centric premiere episode, Arrested Development's fourth season returned to its more lighthearted roots with "Borderline Personalities," an episode centered on Bluth family patriarch George (Jeffrey Tambor). More so than "Flight of the Phoenix," the second episode seemed like a tonal match to the first three seasons -- while the premiere was dark because it exposed us for the first time to the depths of Michael's desperation, we already knew what George's desperation looked like, and as such were better suited to laugh at it.
The episode was focused around George and Lucille's attempt to one-up Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley, Jr., in a welcome return) by stealing a contracting deal with the U.S. government. The deal involved building a wall on the U.S./Mexico border (though George hilariously mistook the initial blueprint for a five-mile-high monument to George W. Bush). It was fun to see George manipulating his hapless hippie of a twin brother again, but it was even more fun to meet Oscar's friends.
John Slattery (Mad Men's Roger Sterling) made his first, but hopefully not his last appearance as a "disgraced anaesthesiologist," which has to be one of my favorite character introductions yet. Though he was given a few moments of weirdness, he seemed largely peripheral -- but a reference to a recent botched surgery makes me think we'll see him in another character's episode (probably Tobias, as much as this show loves abusing him).
But it was Heartfire (Mary Lynn Rajskub) that was the most welcome addition to the episode. The subtitles that indicated she was "speaking from her heart" were rather jarring at first, but soon became pretty hilarious (particularly in the background of one scene, when she tries to communicate to a bartender that she's choking on wasabi). It was a nice little breaking of the fourth wall, and it was one of the first real laugh-out-loud moments of the season.
What makes it tough to review each episode on its own merits is the very structure of the season -- there are set-ups, but not punchlines, to jokes being made in these first few episodes that I'm sure will be paid off later. Buster rambling about his experience at a restaurant? You can bet we're going to see that. What the hell was going on with newscaster John Beard and those two girls? Surely that'll be resolved.
But it's really starting to feel like we're dealing with fractured pieces of one big episode of Arrested Development -- the episodes aren't cutely tied up with little joke-payoff bows like they used to be. The entire season is probably structured like one big bow-tied episode, and it's undoubtedly going to be worth it. I'm still working on adjusting to season 4's format, but I will say that "Borderline Personalities" was a much more accessible standalone piece than the previous episode.
On to the next episode, "Indian Takers," but first, some stray thoughts:
-- 'Community' creator Dan Harmon's brief appearance as a yurt clerk was great -- but I had to immediately rewind to make sure I wasn't hallucinating.
-- Speaking of brief appearances, if you're wondering why young Barry Zuckercorn was so convincing, that's because he's played by Henry Winkler's son Max. Another interesting flashback, by the way -- and I'm warming to Seth Rogen as young George. (The "best [bleep]ing attorneys" line might have sealed the deal.)
-- I loved the throwback to Caged Wisdom, one of my favorite recurring jokes from the first season. Guru George is my favorite George, even when it's a total con.
-- It was interesting to see George and Lucille talking business. Since it was revealed at the end of season 3 that Lucille was the real business mastermind, it was great fun to see the dynamic between the two -- and it was hard to believe that we'd never seen it before.
-- Still no Tobias or Lindsay. I'm starting to wonder...
-- I really wish the role reversal between George and Oscar had been explored further. I got really excited to see the dynamic change between the two, and then the episode didn't really do anything with it. Here's hoping it's revisited.
-- Also, well done to Netflix's tech people. These episodes aren't even loading slowly! There could have been a catastrophic site crash, but these guys are pros.