Arrested Development: Flight of the Phoenix

"Da Michael"

AD was canceled seven years ago and I still can't quite believe it's been revived. I feared it would turn out to be a zombie embarrassment, what with all these years since anything was written and the actors played their characters. I was doubly happy, then, when I watched the 4th Season premiere and saw that the crew was as risky as ever in their humor. And, yes, it's still funny, especially for an episode centered on Michael.

Speaking of him, he's not the same man we left in 2003. When we first see him, he's lost everything, and is willing to do anything, including trying to seduce a woman approaching her seventies. Don't get me wrong, Lucille Austero is a lovely lady; Michael is doing it purely for financial reasons, though, and this is something neither of them can stand. She can't stand at all, by the way.

Indeed, I like this Michael better than the one in the original run. He was always the straight man inside a madhouse. Now, it seems that this role is going to George Michael (not the singer, his son), who's now become more aware of himself, his family, and of the association made with George Michael (not the son, the singer). The result is that Michael is doing more crazy stuff and being funnier.

This episode also displayed three great strengths of the show.

First, it's incredibly self referential. We're constantly reminded of plot points of previous episodes, and characters return all the time. The best part is that they somehow make it matter to the moment we're seeing. It all served the show well, considering the long gap.

Second, it's not for a casual audience, but there's great payoff. Facts and lines that seem gratuitous at first turn out to be important later on, or end up being the punchline of a joke we haven't seen the set up for yet. It all leads to amazing interconnection of everything with everything, and pleasurable rewatchability. In order to really understand the plot, you have to watch everything, and to enjoy every joke, you must watch it again. It gets funnier with time, too. An example of that is George Senior's and Lucille's divorce, which is only mentioned here, but will be explained and mocked on the next episode. And the ostrich will be explained many episodes from now. That's also why I can barely talk about the plot here.

Finally, it refuses to give us a real heartfelt moment. It's a comedy, and it stays that way until the end. Even a sad scene, such as Michael's vote-out, has a funny set-up (the endless scheming to vote the roommate out), a funny misstep in the execution (George Michael's mistaken vote), a running gag (the Snoopy sad song), and a funny follow-up (airport staff discussing the scheming). Sentimentality is a trap most sitcoms fall for; not this one.

Overall, a great start for what I hope will be a great season.

Bits and pieces

- I missed the narrator. His delivery is so precise. It's the only thing Ron Howard has done that I liked, apart from Bryce Dallas Howard.

- When I heard they'd have episodes explaining what each character had been doing during the gap, I thought they'd interact very little, but for the end of the season. It's much better the way it is.

- How great were Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig as younger George Senior and Lucille?

- Expect lots of cameos on the next episodes.

- I think they overdid the vertigo jokes a bit.

- "Cinco de Quatro" is a joke only AD could have pulled off.

- I wonder who GOB was with.

A few funny lines

Narrator: "Neither had expected to see each other after some recent unpleasantness."
GOB: "I didn't expect to be seeing you again after all the... unpleasantness."

Lucille: "Oh, your one year of law school is going to beat Barry's three?"

Michael: "Let me get this straight. I still have to do all the work as the president of the company, but I can't use any of the money for the company, and you won't let me help with your case, but you'd still like for me to testify at your trial. Is that right?"
Lucille: I just want you to say I was a loving mother."
Michael: "And now perjury."

P-Hound: "There's a girl in there."
Michael: "There is? Where the hell is George Michael?"

Three and a half out of four relatives living in your dorm.


sunbunny said...

It's not perfect, but after all that wait and all that build-up, I knew I was bound to be at least a little disappointed. Michael is, by far, my least favorite character. I don't dislike him, he's just boring and, compared with his wacky fam, totally blah.

A few things I ADORED however: Kristen Wiig as young Lucille (OMG!!! BRILLZ!!!), Michael finally getting to Phoenix, touching a car door handle, and immediately leaving (if you've been there, you get it), and Cinco de Quatro.

The guys who were working the airport desk were from the Comedy Central show Workaholics. I've never seen it, but I understand it to be one of those so stupid it's funny shows.

That was not UCI, although I couldn't place the location. It wasn't UCLA, USC, LMU, CSULA, PCC, GCC, or UCR. Can someone help me out here? CSUN maybe?

Dustin said...

Wow, I was hoping someone here would be reviewing AD, and thank you Gus for doing so.
The first several episodes don't seem that funny at first, because many jokes and hanging threads are paid off in later episodes. If you are a fan, stick with it and it becomes immensely more enjoyable as you continue through the season. Like Sunbunny said, not perfect, but enjoyable.
Finally, as someone who lives in the Phoenix area, I can say that the heat jokes are funny because they are true.

Josie Kafka said...

I didn't love this episode--but now that I've seen five more, the show as a whole is starting to gel. And it marathons well, since so many scenes are repeated from a different perspective.

I, too, have spent considerable amounts of time in one of the "other Desert Cities"* and the door-handle thing was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.

*I refer, of course, to the "Indio and other Desert Cities" sign on the I-10 eastbound. Best street sign, ever.

Freeman said...

I loved that this episode was more or less the set up for so many hilarious jokes in later episodes.

What I did not love was Seth Rogen as George Sr. Kirsten Wiig was hilarious and spot on as Lucille. It was amazingly uncanny. Seth Rogan on the other hand was just dull. Not only does he not even have the remotest of resemblance to Jeffrey Tambor, but his impersonation of him was nonexistent. It was even more jarring with him standing next to Kirsten Wiig who was just perfect.

Other than that, it's good to have Arrested Development back.

Gus Brunetti said...

You're welcome, Dustin. And thank you all for the comments.

AD is my favorite comedy. I can't wait to see those setups paying off.

Gus Brunetti said...

Freeman, I agree that Wiig was much better than Rogen, but he I don't think he was bad. Just IMHO.

Scott Riggan said...

It's appropriate that an episode focusing on Michael serves primarily to set up all the humor of the rest of the season. As a (mostly) sane straight man, that's been his main job all along.

When I first watched this one I was disappointed, thinking they had "made a huge mistake." It just wasn't very funny. But it all pays off as the season progresses.

That said... one major weakness of this season is that this cast is funniest when they interact together, and they apparently couldn't get them all together much.

Katerina said...

Maybe it's because I only recently did a marathon watching of the original episodes for the first time, which I greatly enjoyed, and so never had a chance to miss the show and its characters, but I have to say that, overall, I was disappointed with the new episodes. With the originals so fresh in my mind, for me, there was a very noticeable lack of the charm I felt they had in this season. The transition was somewhat jarring. -Not that I didn't find the new episodes funny in their own way - just not as funny. I didn't laugh nearly as much or as hard.

I agree with Scott that the cast was funniest when they would interact with each other, and that just didn't happen enough for me. I got tired of trying to keep all the storylines straight as they started to interconnect. It felt too much like work.

I also don't like what they did with Michael's character, and was sad to see the deteriorating relationship between him and George Michael. I know characters need to grow and change. I just would have preferred something different. Their father/son relationship - to me - used to be the heart of the show, and I felt the new season ripped it out.

sunbunny said...

I'm about halfway through the season, and I don't know. I agree that the Bluths are best when they're together (plus there's been a disturbing lack of Buster, G.O.B., and Lucille). I heard that a lot of the reason they decided to format the season this way was scheduling. Everyone has other stuff going on and it was proving difficult to get the cast together. Apparently, they had to green screen some of the scenes to get actors together. I can't tell (yet) though. But, you know, it's more Arrested Development. I can't complain too much.

Totally agree about Seth Rogen.

Josie Kafka said...

Sunbunny, I think it was Oxy.

sunbunny said...

Thank you, Josie! It was driving me a little crazy.