Arrested Development’s 4th season is affected by the key decision to do character centric episodes. The need to change the turn creatively is understandable after 3 seasons full of the traditional way. However it’s also a risky choice. In Arrested Development as all comedies, characters playing off each other is key to their value. How does the straight man hold up without his looney counterpart, or vice versa? What about the chemistry and jokes carefully built up between characters?
The first episode, “Flight of the Phoenix” shows these worries are founded. There just aren’t enough jokes tried or hitting between Michael and George Michael. It’s a plot and character centric episode, but it’s tell-all style feels like a chore. The highlight is the vote-out plan and the funniest line the airport security man giving his opinion about where Michael’s plan went wrong. But for the most part, it has to be one of the least interesting Arrested Development episodes. The funniest and out of this world characters are sorely missed.
The second episode “Borderline Personalities” is when this season really starts for me. The George and Oscar dynamic is outstanding as always and the sweatlodge plot is a great place to “squeeze” out that humor. Lucille is also her classic self in this episode, especially in the glorious drawn out smoking joke. I wish I could’ve watched 2 hours straight of this plot.
The third episode “Indian Takers” is stronger than the first, but weaker than the second. The episode relies on the mostly single joke about Lindsey’s spoiled naiveness. Arrested Development squeezes out the juice of single jokes more than any show ever has, so that’s not a bad thing. The gagging of the “face-blind” liberal is relatively well done, while it borrows the great humor from Tobias’ upcoming episode. This is a good episode. By focusing on one character, episodes like this can move the plot with an energy and directness normal episodes aren’t accustomed to. That in a way is refreshing.
When realizing the fourth episode “The B. Team” was a second Michael episode, I groaned after the disappointing first episode. But this episode is far better thanks to its superior plot with Michael kick starting his movie. The wide array of big name guest stars and reoccurring characters from the past, help the episode’s humor and is a treat for fans of the show and take the comic burden off Michael’s shoulders. Like “Borderline Personalities”, this is a plot and episode I wanted to go on much longer than it did. The big plot in this episode and longer episode length compared to the initial run of episodes, made it feel like the first act of a mini-movie.
The fifth episode “A New Start” and Tobias’ first of the season, unsurprisingly is the funniest of this group. Tobias and his comedy partner Debris do great work playing off each other throughout the episode and the closet, word puns for Tobias will still never get old. David Cross is at his absolute best this episode. Like the the previous 3 episodes, that it’s a character centric episode, make the scope of its plot feel fresh and exciting and unlike the initial run’s episodes. “A New Start” is a great episode of Arrested Development compared to any season.
Despite the slow start, I’m finding myself in love with the last four episodes of this season. The decision to go with character centric episodes, now seems a wonderful choice that both gives the show new comic possibilities, new plot opportunities and makes the season feel as if a long movie adaptation.