Today is a glorious day for fans of high-quality comedy series, as Netflix revives ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Canceled by FOX after just three short seasons, it now returns today with fifteen brand-new episodes, released all at once through the company’s streaming service.
It is immediately apparent from the start of the premiere, “Flight of the Phoenix,” that this is the same show that fans love and miss. Ron Howard’s narration remains, as does a tweaked version of the theme song, the entire cast, and a host of recurring bits and characters. In the first episode, we get such classic gags as the Peanuts sad walk and a revisit to Michael’s turn as a lawyer in an Elementary school play, and see familiar guests like Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli), and Sally Sitwell (Christine Taylor).
Not that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is going to rest on its laurels and just give us the same story again. There are fresh jokes that are set up to be recurring, such as Michael’s (Jason Bateman) prayer pose and his enrollment in the University of Phoenix. Which means that, going forward, the series should continue to build upon itself as it always has, keeping what works, and enriching the tapestry further.
The character development continues, too. When last the series aired, Michael had been spiraling dowwardn. He is originally introduced as the character that has it all together, but over the course of the episodes, slowly loses it, proving he is just as screwed up as the rest of his family. Now, he has reached a very low point, and is at his worst, a logical step forward based on the past.
“Flight of the Phoenix,” flashbacks aside, covers two main time periods, six months apart. In the first, Michael is living in his son, George Michael’s (Michael Cera), dorm room. In the second, lest anyone hope that he improves himself in the interim, as the ending of the episode seems to hint might happen, we see Michael willing to sleep with Lucille 2 for money. So no matter what happens to Michael in Phoenix, which has yet to be revealed, it won’t be a happy ending for him.
Other elements have also advanced. It’s really cool to see the neighborhood around the model house finally get built, especially because that is still only the beginning of the company and the family’s problems. The Bluths will never be successful in business, and one will always wonder how they’ve stayed afloat this long. But their foibles are hilarious, and a lot of why we tune in.
We don’t learn a lot about where the rest of the characters are in “Flight of the Phoenix,” set years after the season three finale, but with enough connecting threads to jump back in on without feeling like we’ve missed anything. This is because of scheduling conflicts. During the many years between seasons three and four, most of the cast moved on professionally and obtained other work. In order to put together these fifteen half hours, accommodations have been made so that different characters will appear in different installments.
This surprisingly doesn’t feel too jarring. Some members of the Bluth clan have always been featured more than others at times, owing to the large group and limited story-telling time. While Gob (Will Arnett), George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), Lucille (Jessica Walter), and Buster (Tony Hale) all are briefly seen in the first episode, their stories will be told in other half hours, which is fine. Michael is the main character, if such a strong ensemble series has a main character, and putting him first feels very natural.
One assumes that the later time period we see Michael in will be where this fourth season will come together, reuniting the Bluths for their big (hopefully not permanent) ending. We’ll probably get this part of the puzzle in small pieces, doled out a little bit in each installment.
The one major element that has changed is that Lucille and George Sr. are no longer played by Tambor and Walter in long-ago flashbacks. To be fair, this always stretched the believability a little bit, and the new actors, Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) and Seth Rogen (50/50, Knocked Up), are experienced and wonderful at recreating the parts. While many, myself included, are a little reticent to see someone else tackle such familiar characters, it is so well done that there should be no complaints.
In all, Netflix has done a fantastic job in resurrecting ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, with key players both behind and in front of the camera right where they should be. I predict this will be considered a great success by fans of the show, and will likely spark at least discussion of continuation of the story after this. Now, I need to get back to my TiVo and watch more.