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Arrested Development Season 4 recap | “Flight of the Phoenix, or What The Hell Happened to Michael Bluth?”

I’m not even going to pretend that I hadn’t been looking forward to the return of Arrested Development for seven years, three months and 16 days. Let’s just say I’m lucky my son was born in 2005 because that gave me something to concentrate on; and he’s lucky he wasn’t named George Michael Buster Bluth. Or, should he have been a girl, Lucille.

During the show’s 2003-06 run, I felt much like Michael Bluth feels now that it’s back: alienated, drifting and more than a little hopeless. Hardly anyone else I knew watched the show, and none of them were as dedicated and absorbed in the quirky, layered, intelligent and completely meta show as I was: when I said “I’ve made a huge mistake” people took it as face value (as they, admittedly, should have).

Before we dive into the first episode, let me say right now that you can’t pick up this show right now without having seen the first three seasons. You will hate it. You won’t get the jokes, the silent exchanges of looks, and you will resent anyone watching it with you as they snicker and exchange their own silent glances of approval or amusement. You might even get up and go do something else to pass the time while your wife and son spend their entire day in a darkened room watching all 15 episodes at one time. Just saying. Don’t judge us.

Every single AD character returns, including the more obscure such as Bob Loblaw and the Literal Doctor, as well as some well-placed (and discussed in time – patience loves, you’ve waited this long) cameos from the likes of John Krasinski and Ed Helms. I’m not going to explain the characters or their relationships with each other, cause ain’t nobody got time for that. So, let’s get to the Discontinued Development.

Season Four of AD picks up (sort of) in real time, seven years after we last left the Bluth family, and each episode focuses on how time has passed for one member of the family – and times haven’t been great for the Bluths. After stunningly dead-on introductions of Kristin Wiig and Seth Rogan as younger versions of Lucille and George Bluth Sr., we discover that Michael owes Lucille Austero (Lucille Two) a hefty $700K and is willing to do something very vile to pay her back.

What the Hell Happened to Michael: A madcap recap and is it me or is he sorta pathetic now?

So, at the end of Season Three, Michael and George Michael are sailing off into the sunset on GOB’s yacht, The C-Word, as the rest of the Bluths are supposedly celebrating on the RMS Queen Mary. After finally leaving his family for good this time and refusing to help his mother in an upcoming trial, Michael starts his own company in order to save Sudden Valley. He trades his own stock in the Bluth Company to Lucille Two and finishes the residential area his father never did (or intend to).

But as if the fact that a road into the new subdivision hasn’t been built yet and there’s no internet or cell phone service, a collapse in California’s housing market leaves Michael living in a “ghost town of his own making.”

As if an empty subdivision and a gasping bank account isn’t bad enough, Sudden Valley’s beloved mailman, Pete, dies on the lawn of an empty house, sending Michael into a spiral of despair and anxiety.

WTF ALERT:

WTF? I may have just completely blocked this one out, but I don’t remember any mailman – or significant person, for that matter – that would send any of the Bluths off the edge like this. They’re too involved in their own lives and dramas to even acknowledge (much less tip) a service worker. “COME ON!”

Left with crippling debt and having alienated the rest of his family, Michael shows up at his (mustachioed) son George Michael’s dorm room doorstep during George Michael’s senior year of college. Because of a misunderstanding in the housing office – a set of twins assumed George Michael’s double name was actually a set of twins – he has enjoyed a double, handicapped room until recently. George Michael is developing a private and misunderstood software program with his roommate, Maeby may be the “girl in the room,” and really Michael is just cramping George Michael’s newfound style and independence.

The first episode, for me, highlighted and focused on identity crises for both father and son and the question of how much privacy family members should have from one another. Michael, desperate to reconnect with his son after his life has imploded around him, insists that he and George Michael are “twins,” going so far as to slip in to the shower with his son.

I didn’t like this new Michael, at least in the first episode. I was afraid of yelping like Buster (who can, in one terrified scream when his parents announce their pending divorce, remind you how amazing he truly is) at Michael’s, well, pathetic downfall.

“No one likes to share their identity,” Michael said, even as he is voted out of George Michael’s dorm room in favor of his roommate, Paul ‘PHound’ Huan, and to my delight Michael shuffles off in the Charlie Brown sad walk of shame.

Thinking he’s “the star of Altitudes magazine this month,” Michael takes his empty suitcases (metaphor much?) to the airport to read his feature article. His desire to see his business and self-esteem revitalized in print takes him to Phoenix, where he realizes it’s too damn hot and he must (sigh) rise from these ashes into the next part of his life… back in California and back to his family.

OSTRICH ALERT!

AD is known for its wacky visual comedy – hilarious without being slapstick – but the new running ostrich joke works in both literal and metaphorical levels. Plus, it’s just funny to see Michael step into his mother’s familiarly luxurious apartment, which has been trashed in her absence, and be almost flattened by a barreling ostrich. (NOTE: I have NOT been able to find a photo of this.)

The return of Arrested Development had high expectations from its cult of fans, both those who watched the show during its original run and have fallen in love with it since; while Flight of the Phoenix is a bit of a slow start, I blame part of that on the new format, Netflix’s version of an exploding piñata. I do recommend not barreling your way through all 15 episodes at once, but instead be more like our new ostrich friend and keep your head down for a while to absorb each episode before moving on – I wish I had.

If you’re a fan of the show definitely keep going and you’ll overcome the cumbersome format – especially for the GOB, Tobias and Buster episodes. There is so much going on, and so many new plot lines and back story embellishments, that I hope for at least another season, or even a movie: I don’t think that would be a huge mistake.

Tomi L. Wiley is an author, poet, and freelance editor. She is an unabashed Arrested Development fan.

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About Tomi Wiley (38 Articles)
Tomi L. Wiley is the Poetry and Short Fiction Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee.com. She has written and edited for media including Southern Living and Oxford American magazines, has been published in the literary anthologies Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, Telling Tales, Maypop and the Southeast Review, has coordinated panels for the Southern Festival of Books, spoken on the creative writing process at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a past president of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She lives in Knoxville, where she is writing her first novel with the help of lots of wine, goat cheese and the Barefoot Contessa.

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