Arrested Development returns as a semi-Netflix Original for season 5 but unfortunately does not reach the heights of its previous success, with gags missing the mark, making you wonder whether this show has finally reached the end of its lifecycle.
So, here we go. Arrested Development Season 5 is the latest installment the fans yearned for, molded into a strategic two-part semi-Netflix Original season to continue the revival after Fox’s cancellation post-season 3. During the show’s early celebrated days, the series produced comedy well ahead of its time – so ahead that it struggled to become the blockbuster show which ultimately tested Fox’s waning patience. Arrested Development set the benchmark of its own comedy and I have to wonder after watching the first 8 episodes of season 5 whether it needs to carry on.
Woundingly, the release of season 5 was marred by the drama surrounding it, with accusations thrown amongst the cast and apologies issued for mansplaining, which I have just found out by writing this review, is actually a real, recognized English Dictionary word. I hope that the latest season was not ruined for fans by this unfortunate news. I know what it feels like to endorse a TV show that you so desperately want to live on.
The old and the new encapsulates Arrested Development Season 5 that continues almost immediately after its predecessor. The returning dysfunctional family protects the old traditions at arm’s length whilst introducing the new subjects by working inside, trying to ensure it does not lose its original face. Of course, the leading man Michael Bluth remains the head character, battling with his frenemy son over their shared girlfriend Rebel, which shows profoundly good writing about a father and son trying to maintain a relationship whilst avoiding the unspoken issue.
The family remains in the same self-entitlement bubble, subjecting themselves to the usual quotidian circus; allowing the eternal repetitive gag as Michael battles with the usual question of shall I bring the family back or just leave altogether? Irony serves its purpose again, as the family smartly raise the traditional joke of Michael’s habitual ways. Despite the familiarity, the original face does not avoid a little bruising.
Here lies the problem. Like your first car which you stubbornly try to keep alive despite the rising mechanical fees, do you need to keep that car? Arrested Development Season 5 feels like that. Ron Howard’s narration always feels core to me, allowing for the gags to land and opening the audience to the follow-up joke, but I found myself let down by the somewhat powerless delivery. There is a key plot device which is Lucille Two’s disappearance, a reoccurring storyline that marks each episode that I am almost certain will have an ultimate plot twist in part 2.
The other driving plot is the politics surrounding Donald Trump’s ambitious wall, enabling the Bluth family to drive further forward with right-wing politics and support Lindsay Bluth’s local campaign. Despite the obvious mockery of politics and the mysterious disappearance, you realize each season is a reconstruction of the same dysfunctionality but applying various scenarios to continue the joke, confirming the sore realization that Arrested Development could in fact end, with no gaping holes left in the story. This discovery left me a little bored.
Despite my downbeat mood, an element of Arrested Development that I have always enjoyed since its birth is the family’s need to feel important, which continues in season 5 and one that continues to be glaringly obvious due to Michael’s calamitous ways of resisting such status. The whole concept of a rich family falling from a comforting empire, scouring the town’s floor for crumbs to cling onto a status that no-one cares about, is one that I have always admired in each season.
More significantly, Gob Bluth and his father George continue to struggle with identifying with their sexuality; a theme in season 5 balanced suitably as both men hilariously try to out-masculine each other in the suburbs of Mexico because neither wants to admit their struggles. If Arrested Development is continuously positive at one aspect, its managing social issues within the constructs of a comedy that is understandable at the same time.
Maybe the next 8 episodes which will be released later this year will prove me wrong, but with the likes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Brooklyn Nine-Nine that fashion themselves on the same type of comedy (and at present more successfully), I believe the days of Arrested Development are not necessary. Unfortunately, it has turned into a fan project on Netflix. I get it though, like the whiny fans that refused to let Brooklyn Nine-Nine die, it is hard to let go but unfortunately, if a comedy series cannot reach anywhere near the heights of the early seasons then what are we doing? And I guess this is symptomatic of the TV climate at the moment; allowing certain shows to carry on for too long or ending too early, like Netflix’s Love.
I wanted Arrested Development Season 5 to be as great as it once was, but I do not think even a die-hard fan can convince themselves that this continuing revival is hitting the sweet spot.