Arrested Development Season 4 Episode 1 Review: A Not So Triumphant Return

Since its undue cancellation years ago, Arrested Development has been relegated to that special place in fan’s hearts where great TV shows so often go to die. That is, until rumors of a movie and an eventual fourth season suddenly sparked interest in the quirky sitcom once again.

It was Netflix, however, that manged to save the show and gave it a platform to stand on by hosting the fourth season of Arrested Development exclusively on its online streaming service. With it came the retrun of all the show’s beloved characters and original actors, but does it manage to recapture the same charm it once had?

Episode 1 starts off by giving us a glimpse of a young Lucille and George Bluth (complete with a Seth Rogen cameo I could have happily done without) that sees the devious woman conspiring to create a holiday to rival Cinco de Mayo in order to discourage her maid from taking off of work. Complete with some interesting narration using Ron Howard’s classic voice and some elements of the Grinch, the scene was interesting, but came off more cold and unfeeling than Lucille’s traditionally oblivious nature. It was a poor opening for such a momentous occasion for Arrested Development fans, and one that didn’t fully explain itself or tie itself neatly together as a whole.

After that, the episode slowly dove into a downward spiral. Michael’s finally made good on his threat to leave the family and decided to start his own business and finally open up the Sudden Valley housing development that he’d been planning for so many years. For a while, things are looking good for the troubled entrepreneur, but when the housing market in California takes a dive and the city fails to build a road to the development, Michael finds himself out of money and resorts to going back to school online and moving into his son’s college dorm room.

George Michael’s become something of a computer whiz while attending college at UC Irvine. Micheal Cera certainly looks and sounds the part of George Michael, but there’s something distinctly matured about him that fails to bring back the same awkward boyish charm that his character once had. Add to that some weak jokes and shameless University of Phoenix product placement, and the entire college sequence becomes yet another addition to the pathetic downward spiral that is Michael Bluth’s life in the first episode.

Maybe it’s the writing, or maybe we’ve hit a patch of unfortunate Arrested Development fatigue, but while most of the characters return in the first episode in season 4, none of them really feel fleshed out or manage to recapture the same wit and charm as in seasons before. Where Micheal would have met adversity with a sense of sarcasm and an eventual way out that always provided a sense of hope, we see nothing but a hollow, desperate shell of a man with no redeeming qualities in the first episode. He’s pathetic, he’s downtrodden, and there’s no reason to cheer him on or identify with him other than the fact he’s the same guy we came to know and love throughout the first three seasons of the show.

There are many callbacks to different running jokes from the first three seasons, including Micheal’s endeavors as a maritime lawyer during the Peter Pan musical in school, more “Loose Seal!” jokes, and even the sad music from Charlie Brown that we’ve seen used to express character’s depression before. While it’s charming to see, they fail to connect themselves to the story in a cohesive way, making them feel more like “hey, remember this?” moments that don’t feel organic or part of the continuing series as a whole. Which is a shame, since so much of Arrested Development’s genius is predicated on the show’s ability to weave a story together seamlessly and make even the most outlandish of jokes fit like a glove. I’m just glad they didn’t try to shoehorn Franklin in here in any way. Some things are sacred.

Overall, the saying goes that if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck. Unfortunately, while this looks like Arrested Development and sounds like classic Arrested Development, there’s nothing Arrested Development about it. The story was weak, the jokes felt disjointed, and there’s nothing endearing  or interesting about seeing a pathetic Michael Bluth clinging to his last shred of dignity. I’m hopeful this is just a minor stumble and that the next few episodes can bring back the magic of Arrested Development once again, but as of right now, I’m shuffling down my hallway with my head hanging low while this song plays in the background:

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