It’s no secret that no matter how you choose to digest Season 4 of Arrested Development (be it the character-specific cut – under “Trailers & More” on the show’s Netflix page – or the remix, Fateful Consequences), the show never quite fired on the same cylinders as its Fox network incarnation. The choice of telling one large story, where each chapter didn’t really close off neatly and only served to bring a lot of specifics into a large mystery, meant that viewers were never quite satisfied with the time spent investing in the show. The gag rate seemed to drop off, and the pacing was tough, some whole acts being one scene with two characters. Season 5 brings the next steps in that overall mystery: what happened to Lucille Austero (Liza Minelli) on Cinco de Quatro?
The fifth season begins with 10 minutes of catch-up with Michael Bluth (Bateman), following the last shot of Season 4, and as we hop through time, it immediately feels muddled. We’re at an internet company’s campus who refuses to allow their logo for use, but has no problems photographing everything in the world for their system. Then, we’re diving into a new scene between the end of last season and our first meeting back here. The timeline sticks around places for so long that it becomes hard to grasp just where Season 5’s storyline is going to be centred, until the third episode, where the jumping around lessens and things get back into focus, with the Bluth Austero Company preparing to give the Bluth family a Family of the Year Award. Well deserved.
Like Season 4, if you’re expecting the show’s return to be fast, funny and irreverent, you’re going to be out of luck. Season 5’s pacing remains sluggish and the plotting so thick that swimming through an episode is no longer a fun, light snack of silly laughs and nice ‘oh, that’s how that happened’ revelations. Rather, each moment with any kind of clever twist is laboriously explained for five minutes after the punchline. The fun, frivolity and ‘how-de-do-dats’ (as Will Arnett’s GOB Bluth would say) are lost completely. The number of new jokes, as opposed to the running jokes and call-backs from previous episodes, runs rather low; Arrested Development really seems to be skirting close to being the Ready Player One of itself.
And then we have to think about the show within the world we live in now. While the series now visualises Trump and his family, rather than satirises those types of high society fools, there’s something more sinister hanging over Season 5 than that: The Tambor of it all. It would be great to write that despite the problem of Jeffrey Tambor as an alleged abuser, a bully, the show was fun and funny. Season 5, though, opens with Tambor’s George Snr. and Arnett’s GOB taking a trip to Mexico to escape their problems and foolishly pretend to be sex-obsessed alpha males. To quote Jessica Walter’s Lucille Bluth in this season, we can forget, but never forgive. It’s nigh-on impossible to clear your mind of the allegations surrounding him, as Tambor sits in an ‘I’m Horny’ shirt.
On the positive side, Alia Shawkat gets a lot of role in Maeby Funke this time. As her mother’s political campaign manager, who wants to ruin Lindsay’s (Portia De Rossi) career, Alia gets to really play up Maeby’s smarter-than-she-looks nature, while heightening the genuine naivety of the world – as, much like a certain political success, every disaster only helps her mother’s poll numbers.
For fans of Arrested Development, Season 5 keeps telling the elaborate, complicated, bizarre story of the Bluth family, but lacks a lot of spark and big laughs from earlier seasons. Marred in controversy, in an age where rich reality moguls are really something we don’t want to laugh at anymore, but just ignore forever, there’s so much debris on the field as we race through this season’s track. But as any hop-on or live-in knows, it’s hard to stop watching the Bluths and their inevitable failings at life. Arrested Development’s fifth season will not convert casual viewers to new fans – it may, in fact, test the patience of fans to the limit at times – and certainly, the outside events surrounding the show are impossible to ignore, but as Netflix probably says every day it wakes up, any content is good content, right?
Arrested Development: Season 5 Part 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.