The B.TeamPlease forgive me for this slight humblebrag, but I promise, it’s relevant. A few weeks before Season 4 of Arrested Development debuted on Netflix, I was lucky enough to attend the London premiere for HeyUGuys and interview some of the cast on the orange carpet. Somehow I also managed to wing my way into the premiere, and we were shown episode one and four of the new season. Now this was back in those heady days when Mitch Hurwitz was still busy editing the rest of the season, and when we were still under the impression that we’d be able to watch these new episodes in whatever order we so pleased. So on went episode one, Michael’s first episode, Flight of the Phoenix, which we’ve already established was a pretty jarring albeit promising reintroduction to AD. Then came Michael’s second episode and the subject of today’s review, The B. Team. I found it to be a definite step up from the first, but of the two it was the one that had me most worried.

One of the ways that this season could have gone horribly wrong was by resting on its laurels. Constant call-backs to previous jokes in the place of telling new ones wouldn’t be good enough. Neither would overloading every episode with a host of returning guest stars, instead of establishing new scene-stealing supporting players. Of course, fans wanted to see some of their favourites return and hear some of their favourite running jokes continue, but fan service alone wouldn’t cut it. The B. Team treads awfully close to that line, but mercifully without crossing it. At the time of the premiere, however, seeing the episode out of context, I was worried that this could be indicative of the whole season and that fan service was exactly what we were going to get. There’s absolutely no way that every episode sustain this amount of cameos and be as good as this one. We meet Barry Zuckerkorn, Bob Loblaw, Kitty, Ron Howard, Carl Weathers, Warden Gentiles and Andy Richter again in this episode, and a whole host of other recognisable faces too. There’s more Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen, Brian Grazer, John Krasinski, Conan O’Brien and Isla Fisher all thrown into the mix. The season would be crushed if every episode were similarly packed, but as a one-off it works kind of perfectly.

I’d go as far as to say that it works to such an extent in its treatment of supporting characters that for the first few minutes I was thinking to myself how great a standalone Barry Zuckerkorn episode would be. In an early couple of scenes jam-packed with some terrifically sharp dialogue, both of which he’s on the phone to Michael, we see Barry caught up in some legal trouble of his own. During the course of this season we’re going to see Arrested Development go to some pretty dark places, but this might just be the darkest. Barry’s been accused of breaking into a school, through a gate with a sign directing to the locker rooms no less. Mitch Hurwitz somehow manages to push that to the background, though, hiding it behind some of the aforementioned great dialogue. Barry tells Michael that Ron Howard wants to speak to him, “he’s directing now apparently… apparently he directed a movie called Cocoon.” There’s of course an extra layer of meta humour in that Henry Winkler and Ron Howard are old pals from Happy Days, making the line “You want me to tell him to go fuck himself? I can tell Ron Howard to go fuck himself” even funnier. And all this with Chachi/Scott Baio/Bob Loblaw stood next to Barry, trying to convince a jury that Barry didn’t really break into the school. “That’s a low blow, Loblaw.” “A Bob Loblaw law bomb!” And at that point you’re laughing so hard, you almost forget the scene’s implying a beloved character is a paedophile. Dark, indeed.

But however much I wanted this episode to be all about Barry, we should get to the real core of the episode, and that’s Michael. Ron Howard invites Michael to his office at Imagine Entertainment – where there just aren’t enough jokes about the petty rivalry between Imagine and Jerry Bruckheimer – and tells him that he wants to make a movie based on Michael and his family. That will involve the difficult task of securing release signatures from the rest of the Bluths, but it will also give him an office at Imagine and the right to call himself a movie producer. That’s great, but Michael doesn’t know the first thing about making movies, and that could be a problem. But if Michael has a problem, if no one else can help, and if he can find them, maybe he can hire… Warden Gentiles, Andy Richter and Carl Weathers. The B. Team!

It’s a nice concept to hang the episode around, but if we’re being brutally honest we all know that a movie about the Bluths is never going to happen. Michael’s kidding himself. Maybe a TV series, but… hey, now I’m getting meta. The point is that the idea of a movie isn’t all that important in and of itself. It works as the episode’s centrepiece and leads to some very funny individual scenes with each of those returning guest stars, but it’s the other plotlines that are the most important in the context of the season. With this being the last Michael-centric episode and his story arc far from over, garnering signatures from the Bluths is going to provide the narrative drive to keep Michael popping up regularly between now and Cinco de Cuatro. The movie concept also leads to him literally bumping into a new character who’s going to be a vital part of his story from here on in. It’s Isla Fisher, playing Rebel Alley, but unfortunately Michael doesn’t get her name straight away after their ‘meet-cute’. If he had have done, he’d have immediately realised that she was Ron Howard’s “girl” – Michael would have assumed that meant she was his mistress, when in fact she’s his daughter, “but that’s kind of worse, don’t you think?” Maybe he’d have steered clear in that situation, but by the time he does find out her name they’ve already tangled in a photo booth and he’s past the point of no return.

Now I have to admit, I’m a big fan of Isla Fisher, and I’m predisposed to like her in just about anything. Naturally, I absolutely adored her in this. Rebel seems like the perfect romantic fodder for Michael. She’s got a wacky, over-the-top streak that’s almost become a prerequisite for any new character on Arrested Development, but she’s also totally sweet, pretty (she reminds Michael of his late wife), funny, charming, and heck, I kinda fell for her too. And if Michael wasn’t totally convinced that Rebel was the girl for him after that lovely rom-com parody meeting, then just wait until he gets a load of her dancing with those bagpipes. Wow. Just wow. Thank you, Rebel Alley, you can stay around as long as you like.

With his career in tatters (Michael’s also a spectacularly bad movie producer, and even struggles simply driving a car for ‘Something’ Maps) and his relationship with his son is as poor as it has ever been, it only seems natural that Michael would pursue an opportunity of romance. Rebel might just be his only shot at happiness right now, and he’ll have to negotiate the difficulties arising from her relationship with Ron Howard as the season goes on. That’s the big takeaway from this episode, which again works as a standalone episode but also contributes to the overarching story. Michael’s getting ever closer to the rock bottom we saw him hit at the start of the season. Everything’s slowly falling apart for him, and right now Rebel’s a silver lining who represents some small shot at redemption for him. It’s entirely likely that he’ll go to great lengths to make it work, and that could lead to him getting his priorities confused and making some extremely ill-advised decisions when we see him next.

Any Other Business:

– Is that another occurrence of the not tipping African Americans joke? Yes it is! Who said there were no new running jokes in this season?

– Imagine Entertainment: Where dreams drop into make believe as surely as a drop of water falls into a bigger thing of water in slow motion.

– Jerry Bruckheimer Films: Driving action toward love through a storm until lightning hits a tree.

– Speaking of which, John Krasinski’s scene as a Bruckheimer employee is great. “I’m gonna be honest with you, you’re not charring my tree. Jerry’s not gonna come off the boat for this one.”

– Kitty’s a D-Girl. That means she’s a Development Girl, so don’t worry she’s not going to flash Michael this time. She got that kind of behaviour out of her system when she posed for her staff photo. Judy Greer’s great, isn’t she?

– Carl Weathers’ episode of Scandalmakers is called ‘Weathers’ Permit-ing – The Scandalmakers Maker’s Scandal’. And if you look closely at the Scandalmakers title card, in the background he’s got a stew going!

– More Max Winkler! Huzzah!

– Great reference to Rita in that final scene which is the kind of stuff to make fans happy, while telling a new, funny joke at the same time.

Grade: A-