Arrested Development Season 4, Episode 1 Review: “Flight of the Phoenix”

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Editor's Note
Due to Netflix’s controversial method of releasing an entire season of television to the world all at once, we had to decide just how to tackle Season 4 of Arrested Development. Ultimately we decided to review all 15 episodes of the show, with one new review going up every weekday for three weeks straight. To achieve this goal, we divided the work amongst three people: Matt, Jared, and Jeremy. Matt will be covering the first episode.

It makes sense that Arrested Development would choose to reference the phoenix in the debut episode of its fourth season.  Lord knows the show and the bird have one big thing in common with each other—the phoenix is known for its habit of catching flame and dying, only to be reborn anew from its ashy grave to make a miraculous comeback.  And this fourth season of Arrested Development is the pure definition of a miraculous comeback—we were promised a continuation of this wonderful show for years after it was abruptly cancelled by Fox at the end of its third season, and now we’re finally getting to see it.  Many fans imagined this day would never come, but thank gob god it has.  But even though the phoenix has risen, was its rebirth deserved?  And more importantly, should the phoenix just have stayed dead instead?  Let’s find out.  This is Arrested Development—Season 4.

From the very start, Arrested Development is up to its old tricks with Season 4.  There’s a very humorous gag involving the narrator clearing his throat after beginning his first lines, and a very hokey (in a good way) pair of cameo appearances by Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as a young Lucille and a young George Sr. respectively.  I imagine a lot of people had complaints with that opening scene, but I thought it was the show winking at its audience just like it used to do so many years ago.  That said, the opening did feel a tad bit jarring compared to the rest of the episode, as its just used to set up the location of “Flight of the Phoenix’s” main center-point—Michael Bluth.

Arrested-Development-Flight-Of-The-Phoenix

And poor, poor Michael Bluth.  From the very beginning, we’re told that this is Michael at his absolute lowest—and that’s certainly evident throughout “Flight of the Phoenix.”  On the one hand, it’s incredibly cringe worthy to see Michael behave like he is in “Flight of the Phoenix,” to the point where it seems a tad bit unlike the character.  However, I think Michael’s slow descent into sadness was perfectly choreographed in the show, and its genius we finally get to see the endgame of his story arc.

Throughout all of Arrested Development, Michael constantly threatens to leave his family, believing himself to be better than all of them and that, if he just separated himself from them, he would become a far more successful man.  But we saw often throughout the show’s first three seasons that this is not the case, since Michael Bluth is often just as foolish and prone to “huge mistakes” as the rest of his family.  He always thought he would be better off without his family but, as we see throughout THIS episode, that’s not even remotely true.

Arrested-Development-Michael-Flight-Of-The-Phoenix

His clingyness towards George Michael has always been a big character trait, but he brought things to a new level during “Flight of the Phoenix.”  Between taking a shower with him in the dorm bathrooms to walking in on him when he had a girl in his room (who turned out to just be Maeby, by the way), Michael’s attentiveness for his son turned from caring to desperate throughout this episode.  And yes this makes for a slightly less likable Michael Bluth, but once again, I think it was a necessary change to see the character go through.

Michael aside though, I don’t have too much to say about this episode other than the fact that it’s nice to see the Bluth family back again.  Even though we only got a few scenes in which more than two of the main cast are together, their chemistry with each other is as spot on as ever.  That said, where “Flight of the Phoenix” fails is certainly in the comedy department—well there were a lot of funny moments throughout the episode, there was non of the pure comedic perfection that we know the show is capable of.  But hey, it’s the first episode—the show obviously needs to find its footing again and, for what it’s worth, it did a great job so far of nailing that perfect Arrested Development tone.  And once the shit truly hits the fan and we see all these characters on screen together again, I’m sure we’ll be in for quite a treat.  I can’t freaking wait.

Arrested Development Season 4, Episode 1

Loose Ends:

  • Another slight flaw I had with this episode is its runtime—because the show’s on Netflix now, it has the ability to go over its standard 22 minutes that it used to get on Fox. This episode is about 10 minutes longer, and you can feel it.  I was never bored during “Flight of the Phoenix”, but it definitely felt longer than it needed to be.
  • Lucille being compared to the Grinch in that flashback scene was hilarious, especially when you consider Ron Howard is narrating the whole thing.  How me-ta!
  • Sally Sitwell returned briefly for a strange cameo.  Hopefully we get some context or something for that line later down the line.
  • Speaking of returning actors, its seems Liza Minnelli’s Lucille Austero is getting a bigger role this time around.  I don’t think Michael slept with her though—notice the black eye on his face during his scene with Gob.  Something happened there, right?
  • “You do a something search of your own name…”  Why was “Google” left out there?  Hmm…
  • “Wee BBC 2”  Callbacks are fun!
  • Michael’s calender is stuck in 2003.  Hmm, what a strange choice.  Surely nothing of significance happened involving Arrested Development in 2003, right?
  • “Lucille 2…how would you like to be bumped up to Lucille 1?”
  • “Watch out for the seal!  Loose seal, loose seal!”  And thus the cycle is complete.
  • “Old big bear’s not going to be around much anymore.”  I didn’t even know we were calling him that…
  • “It’s like tipping an African American…you wouldn’t tip an African American, would you?”
  • “I just want you to say I’m a loving mother!”  “And now perjury.”
  • George Michael’s mustache…oh George Michael.
  • “Shoot me if I’m 86 and living in my grandson’s dorm.”
  • “You ever even been on a plane you piece of shit?”  That sounds like it could have easily been a Gob line, which makes it coming from Michael even more hilarious.
  • “That triggers a recount, and then it’s a P-Hound blitz.”  Michael going over strategies for the vote was incredibly sad.
  • “We just let people walk on the plane all the time.  You want a box cutter also?”
  • “Well obviously P-Hound is going to vote against you.”  Even the TSA agent could figure it out.
  • Michael’s magazine headline: “Michael Bluth is Praying You’ll Fix His Huge Mistake (And Why His Prayers Won’t Be Answered)”
  • That does it for episode 1!  Check back tomorrow for Jared’s thoughts on episode 2, the George Sr. centric “Borderline Personalities.”