Given the current controversy surrounding Arrested Development, perhaps it’s fitting that the first episode of this new season tries desperately to smooth over past mistakes, only to dig itself into an even deeper hole. All too aware that viewers disliked the single-character episode structure of season four, the premiere tries to ensure every Bluth gets at least a little screen time. But resurrecting all of the previous season’s complicated plotlines in one episode comes with its own consequences. Check your lease, Netflixers, because you’re living in Flashback City.
If you’ve been reacquainting yourself with the Bluth family’s 2013 antics via the “remix” of season four, the premiere’s heavy use of convoluted, two-plus-minute plot regurgitations will have an all-too-familiar flavor. If you haven’t, well, you’re probably not feeling any less confused. But I’ll do my best to recap an episode that is itself 50 percent recap.
We open, as always, on “Michael Bluth,” who’s embracing a new family at Google, “a tech company famous for providing access to any information in the world except its own name.” But from the moment he mistakenly enrolls in a “family self-defense” class that isn’t actually about defending oneself from family, we’re on our way back to the past, replaying the moment where George Michael/Maharis socked his dad in the face after discovering he was also dating Rebel Alley. As Ron Howard notes, it’s the kind of “earthquake in a family that shatters both members’ notions of themselves,” with father and son each reluctant to empower the other by apologizing for their behavior.
But while George Michael frets over making amends with his dad, Michael has other problems. He still owes $700,000 to Lucille 2 — and thanks to a forced dose of Gob’s forget-me-nows, has completely forgotten that he hooked up with her in an attempt to repay the debt. And now Newport Beach cop Lt. Toddler (Key & Peele alum Rebecca Drysdale) is fishing around the Balboa Towers, investigating Lucille 2’s sudden disappearance. Michael doesn’t help himself by leaving a suspicious “love you” note for Lucille 2, though he awkwardly manages to pass that off as a tribute to Pete the Mailman’s dying credo of “Love Each Other.”
Yet Lt. Toddler isn’t a very keen detective — she completely misses Maeby, who manages to escape Lucille 2’s condo with all the naughty evidence of her hookup with teenager-playing-undercover-cop-playing-teenager Perfecto. (George Michael assures her that he understands this complicated situation all too well, thanks to his sex-offender neighbors in Sudden Valley.) The highlight of the episode is a sharply written scene in which the pair debate what George Michael should do about the situation, reflecting on some pearls of wisdom from their grandmother: “forget, but never forgive”; “a friend in need is no friend indeed”; and “they should take all the rapists and all the murderers and put them all together on an island and all the murderers can be raped and all the rapists can be murdered until you’re down to only two rapists or one murderer-rapist, but who cares about him.”
George Michael and Maeby’s reunion may be brief, but they still log a fair bit of screen time compared to the remainder of the cast, who are each relegated to one non-flashback scene. Tobias and Lucille, having made their escape from Austerity, arrive in Mexico to get down to some serious one-on-one therapy. But when Lucille finally opens up, she quickly realizes that he’s yet another in a long line of men who will desert her.
Meanwhile, George Sr., seeking a forget-me-now to blur out his breakup with Lucille and Dr. Norman’s news that he’s running on zero testosterone, walks into Gob’s favorite convenience store just as Gob is set to begin a presumably Tony Wonder–inspired roofie circle. The pair quickly and ill-advisedly decide to fuck their way through Mexico, and away from their respective crises of masculinity. (Gob, as committed to this plan as he was to his Jesus magic act, again signs on for “two whole weeks!”)
Buster’s Milford-man skills are clearly rusty, as a fumigation-ready Steve Holt informs Michael that he’s squatting in the attic of the model home, using Michael’s old scuba gear as an oxygen source. And Lindsay, having set herself up as a pro-border-wall political campaigner, is seen approaching the Mexican border in a limo sans passport — and confusing “soy Americano” with the beverage.
Why are any of the above things happening? Who knows. The episode is way too preoccupied with catching viewers up to date with any current character motivations, and even as someone who’s just watched all of season four, I’m still not entirely clear on why Buster is hiding in the attic, why Steve is fumigating the house, or where Lindsay’s going in that limo. Putting together a basic 20-minute season-four recap for viewers would probably have been a lot simpler than recutting the entire previous season and then feeding leftover chunks into this episode.
The good news is that the cast is still uniformly sparkling, and there are enough funny lines sprinkled into the non-flashback material to indicate that we could just be racing to clear the decks for new story lines. But for a show that turned off a lot of loyal fans with an excessively complicated, sliced-and-diced season of TV, this isn’t a first outing that’s going to inspire a lot of confidence.
• Maeby is a fan of Dadfights, a website in which sons punch their dads while yelling “Guess what, Dad?” (and the appropriately named dads-punching-sons sequel, That’s What, Son). Has George Sr. continued to expand the Boyfights empire?
• I will never stop loving Michael’s little asides to himself when he encounters pure familial insanity. (When Buster deems dressing up as Jackie and JFK Jr. with Lucille “not a regret,” his response of “Huh, should be” is the funniest line of the episode.)
• After detailing her promiscuous behavior with multiple Bluths, Ron Howard would like to make it clear that Rebel Alley “was raised by a different mother than Ron’s other kids. It’s just a whole different thing over there.”
• Michael notes that the goings-on in Lucille 2’s apartment are “like the Weimar Republic.” Life is a cabaret!
• No one continues to recognize poor Steve Holt, even after he gives a “Steve Holt” salute to George Sr. (Michael: “Wow, this bug guy really knows our family!”)