TV Review – Arrested Development Season 5 (Part 1)

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Arrested Development Season 5 (Part 1) (Netflix)
Written by Mitch Hurwitz & James Vallely, Richard Day, Evan Mann & Gareth Reynolds, Maggie Rowe
Directed by Troy Miller

arrested development s5

Michael Bluth wakes up, after being forced to take a Forget Me Now pill by his brother Gob and has no idea that days have passed. He ends up spilling the beans to his son George Michael that they’ve been dating the same person, actress, and daughter of Ron Howard Rebel Alley. A rift forms between them and Michael ends up ditching his family to work for Google. Months pass and Michael returns only to find his sister Lindsay is now running for a congressional seat against Lucille Austero, who has been MIA since the night of Cinco de Quatro. In the meantime, youngest Bluth Buster went to the Orange County PD where he was locked for suspicion of involvement in Lucille Austero’s disappearance and possible death. Just another typical year in the life of the Bluth family.

I came across Arrested Development the night of its premiere November 2nd, 2003. I was in college at the time and remember my friend Sam was in the dorm room. I had no idea what this show was that came on Sunday night in the same block of programming as The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle but settled in to watch it. What I came away with was an absolute adoration for this fantastic comedy. It starred a few familiar faces (Jeffrey Tambor, David Cross, Jason Bateman) but a host of new ones that I would come to love (Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat).

I followed the series religiously through its three televised season, even navigating the ever-shifting time slots of the doomed third season, its final four episodes aired unceremoniously in a two-hour block on a Friday night. And then we had a long silence of seven years with ongoing rumors and talk of a possible revival or movie. Netflix swept in and brought the series back for its fourth season, a return that was met with mixed feelings by fans. I was one of the people who loved how complex and non-linear the storytelling of season four was. To compensate for actors’ wildly varying schedules, creator Mitch Hurwitz opted for spotlight episodes that focused on a single Bluth and created lots of rewatchability in how labyrinthine the various plots and subplots intertwined. Some viewers were left confused and weren’t prepared for a show that demanded such nuanced viewing and so the chances of a fifth season were left up in the air.

Cut to a sudden announcement from Netflix and Hurwitz in May that a new season of Arrested Development was coming sooner than we realized. This time around, Hurwitz managed to get the majority of the major players in the same room to avoid the ugly green screen issues that plagued moments in season four. The fifth season release was given a prologue in the form of a “remixed” season four which attempted to make the episodes run in a linear fashion. I am not a fan of the recut because I think it dilutes what made season four such a unique and sophisticated piece of television.

Season five is not a return to form that the original three-season run was and we have to be honest that the freshness of those initial episodes just cannot be re-created. In a landscape rife with reboots of fan favorites we have to come to terms with the fact that creators and writers change and as a result are not going to generate facsimiles of their past work. I look at Arrested, in the same way, I viewed Twin Peaks: The Return. After so much time I don’t expect to get a repeat and would be mad if it was just a dull retread. It’s one of the reasons I am so turned off by geek culture at the moment because there is such a clamoring of “fans” to be fed the same meal they’ve already had before. In an age of digital media consumption just revisit what you love. If new content is being made, I expect it to feel fresh and different, with the lightest of touches of familiarity.

Highlights of season five are pretty strong. There’s a rough attempt to recover from some of the issues of season four (and forget some plots), but the significant plotlines are continued. The Michael/George Michael conflict doesn’t feel as huge as we were left in the cliffhanger to think. But it does make sense based on the relationship dynamic these two have. Hurwitz manages to turn into a tense restructuring of the family hierarchy with both men way too meek to make any sort of follow up aggression. Patriarch George Bluth’s issues with decreasing testosterone continue, and he essentially becomes a cuckold to Lucille who has become involved with a new, younger man (played by Dermot Mulroney). Tobias is stuck in limbo, unsure if he is still in the family, discovers he has an illegitimate son, Murphybrown (played by Kyle Mooney). Gob continues his efforts to remain in the closet despite his growing feelings toward fellow magician Tony Wonder. My absolute favorite part of the season is Maeby’s decision to live in a retirement community and thus have to disguise herself as a senior citizen. Actress Alia Shawkat does such an excellent job with this absurd concept. And there’s no way to overlook the Howard Family cookout which features Ron Howard’s actually wife and kids and even his dad! No sign of Clint..yet.

What didn’t land was the Lindsay campaign subplot mainly because it becomes painfully apparent Portia De Rossi couldn’t be on set. She’s shot on that dreadful green screen or in a separate location and edited in to appear to be present. I was looking forward to how they would explore a Bluth in politics, but the story feels forgotten and just a gimmick to set up a few set pieces. The Lucille Austero murder mystery isn’t explored in enough detail and was another aspect of this season I thought would be a lot of fun. Despite this low points, I still laughed quite a bit at Arrested, whether it was groans at corny jokes or genuine chuckles at some of the clever logic jokes and callbacks. Season five isn’t perfect, but anytime I get to visit with the Bluths is a good one. 

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