Arrested Development Season 5 Part 2 (Netflix)
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz, Hallie Cantor, Richard Day, Evan Mann, Gareth Reynolds, Chris Marrs, and Jim Vallely
Directed by Troy Miller
In 2003 Arrested Development debuted on Fox and was a breath of fresh air in the television landscape. It combined elements of classic television like Soap and the banter of The Golden Girls (where Mitch Hurwitz cut his writing teeth). There was a labyrinthine plot that rivaled Lost and inspired just as many rewatches. Arrested was the first show where I saw callbacks to jokes that hadn’t happened yet. The primary example being all the foreshadowing about hands in season 2 that led up to Buster’s hand being eaten by a loose seal. The show was referencing an event that hadn’t happened yet, but these visual gags and pieces of dialogue would be heightened when fans went back to the episodes for a second time. It was some truly brilliant and inspiring television. Then we reach today.
In the sixteen years since Arrested Development debuted it was canceled after three seasons and revived on Netflix in 2013. Many people will trash the fourth season because it’s too complicated and confusing, but I am a fan of the non-linear storytelling Hurwitz employed as a necessity due to the scheduling conflicts between cast members. When Hurwitz was backed into a logistical corner, he came out with a creative solution around it which is so smart. This cannot be said about Season 5, especially this second batch of episodes which gives us a conclusion to the Bluth family saga. That finale appears to have not been a part of the original writing and filming and has been constructed in the editing room. Stories abound of Hurwitz edited episodes up to the dead drop deadline and those early seasons turned out great. The problem with this season is the decision to end Arrested came after the episodes were filmed.
What we get in this batch of eight episodes is a painfully prolonged Buster on the run/Buster on trial main plot that goes nowhere. The jokes fall flat, and the character arcs don’t even exist. Even in farcical comedy, you want character action to mean something, but here the characters suffer no consequence for anything they do. You can feel that there was likely more to these plots, but they were scrapped or abbreviated so that Hurwitz could build some semblance of a conclusion.
Every episode is chock full of overly long Ron Howard recaps of previous events and some of the most blatant and unprofessional ADR. ADR is Automated Dialogue Replacement, which you may have noticed when curse words are dubbed out of televised movies. It also commonly happens when audio wasn’t recorded on location correctly, so actors come in and re-record the lines to be dubbed. In Arrested, ADR is used as a clumsy narrative crutch that turns whole scenes into embarrassing debacles. Michael and George Michael have entire conversations where we never see the face of the speaker, only hear their redubbed lines. If you pay attention, you can figure out which plotlines were afterthoughts, shoved in to aid the race to a conclusion.
One of the highlights of the original three seasons was seeing how the puzzle pieces and joke callbacks fit together by an arc’s finale. There was satisfaction and enthusiasm that came out of seeing the way the writers wove the tapestry together. You laughed at how cleverly they made every plot element matter. You cannot have that in a show that has story beats built after the majority of writing and filming is over. The characters get bogged down in repetitive exposition because the plot threads have gotten so wild and out of control, which means less room for the joke and that causes the humor to lose its edge. Instead, the show is trying to go back to the well of the first three seasons in a weak nostalgia bid to make callbacks.
There will also be the original three seasons to go back and enjoy, and I believe season 4 can be appreciated as its own insular thing. As a whole, Arrested Development now exists as a deeply flawed piece of media, a prime example of leaving at the top of your game rather than overextending your welcome. Trying to recapture that magic was an impossible task, and it should serve as a warning in our seemingly endless nostalgia boom that many things are better left alone. Go back and appreciate what was rather than try to recreate it in flawed, lesser forms.