Netflix review: Arrested Development Series 4 Episode 1
Andrew Jones | On 27, May 2013
Flight of the Phoenix is our opener for this new series of Arrested Development, where, after many years, we return to the life of Michael Bluth, who is facing his darkest hour: out of pocket, out of options, out of time, he does someting degrading to keep things going, only to wind up meeting brother GOB in a similar boat. The two re-unite with a Forget-Me-Now pill, as we look back over the last few years to where we left Michael last – on a boat with son George Michael, sailing away from his family.
As it turns out, Michael couldn’t leave them once again and returned to help mother Lucille with her legal troubles. But things don’t pan out well and he gives up with the family, selling his stock to neighbour Lucille Austero (Liza Minelli) to fund his new development, Sudden Valley. The only problem? There’s no phone signal, cable connection or even a paved road leading to it. With no income and deep in debt, Michael takes to staying in his son’s college dorm, bunking with him while trying to be a good father. George Michael, though, sees him purely as an ignoramous, a privacy invader ruining his chances with friends and girls – including his cousin, Maeby.
Running his own business is the trap that snarls poor emotionless Michael. The usually level-headed one, he is now cast in his own downfall, spiraling into the kind of Bluth he’s seen his family become over the decades.
The new season, which takes aim at each character, one by one, is treacherous; while it’s natural to start the season with the main character, it’s surprising how much Mitch Hurwitz and company have taken to turning the man into a shell of himself – quite a horrible shell, in this case. He is not the same man Tracy married years ago, the guy who was Mr. Manager of the Bluth Company for several years. It’s brutal to see even his son turn against him and, honestly, it’s not that funny either.
A dark instalment in what will be a dark series of Arrested Development, the things that happen are both mean and, due to the show’s 31-minute duration, slow-paced. A final segment involving Michael plotting with his son and niece over how to kick out his roommate takes 10 minutes, leaving things on such a sour note that watching it feels like a chore. Your focus fades as the same dialogue is thrown together time and time again until the show finally realises it’s a good idea to cut to the actual eviction process, not the build up to it. In an earlier series, this would have lasted a minute or two at a stretch, with jump cuts and something silly popping up in the background. In Netflix’s Season Four, there’s little in terms of extra sight gags or layered moments.
That’s the crux of this opener’s issue. It wants to be plot-driven but stalls for the sake of awkward humour without much that pays off later, or on subsequent re-watches. The way everyone avoids mentioning Google or prefixes “Get This” to any mention of Beverly Hills are new running jokes, but they’re not of the same caliber as old episodes, to the point where they’re not really noticeable. In fact, even on second viewing, they don’t raise a chuckle, just a nod to the writing. And that’s this episode: a nod to the writing of the show, which is neither entertaining nor even that interesting.
Freed from Arrested Development, Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth becomes another vapid narcissist to add to the ever-growing pile. A real change, for the worse.