Before I dive into reviewing the latest season, let me make something clear. I’m a huge fan of the early seasons of Arrested Development. It’s one of the American sitcoms that helped me fall in love with the genre to begin with. Some of the episodes in seasons one through three are masterpieces in comedy writing, directing and acting.
I’m even one of the few who enjoyed the disjointed story of Netflix’s season four back in 2013. I liked the challenge of trying to tell a story that contained all of the characters, without being able to have them all in the same location for more than a couple of days at a time, due to schedule conflicts.
Now, with season five, they have the entire cast back together and are entirely free to tell any story they want. Only, for whatever reason, the show-runner, Mitchell Hurwitz, has decided to continue with the same disconnected storytelling for the majority of the season, despite not having the same restrictions.
I only re-watched season four about a year ago and I still found myself completely lost. Netflix included a refresher, catch-up montage at the beginning of the show, and much of episode one featured flashbacks to moments from season four. This still wasn’t enough.
This, ultimately, is my main complaint with the series. I found myself not caring about the hijinks of the Bluth family this time around, because I had to keep pausing the show to remind myself of a very specific detail from the fourth season. I’m usually a fan of non-linear storytelling, but not in this instance. It just- didn’t sit right.
I’ll have to go back and watch earlier seasons, but it felt as though the narrator (Ron Howard) had two or three times as many lines this season. This is never a good sign. Narration is often a short-cut to good storytelling, and while useful, is best in appropriate quantities. Ron Howard’s narration is a welcomed trademark of the show, but it should only be used to sarcastically undercut the Bluth family and to transition from one scene to another. It shouldn’t be used to explain the plot.
Having said that, let’s talk about the cast. I chronicled my opinions on the much talked-about NY Times interview that the cast gave last week. The disfunction between the actors seems to only be rivalled by the fictional Bluths themselves. It doesn’t mean that they can’t all still perform. Every single cast member brought their trademark style and helped to keep the series watchable.
Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat in particular had some excellent scenes, and had some of the real laugh-out-loud lines. As George-Michael and Maeby were discussing some advice from their ‘Gangie’, Lucile Bluth, they recalled a time where she said:
“They should take all the rapists and all the murderers and put them all together on an island and all the murderers can be raped and all the rapists can be murdered until you’re down to only two rapists or one murderer-rapist, but who cares about him.”
This line, delivered in perfect deadpan by the two youngest cast-members, shows that Hurwitz still has a complete understanding of his own characterisation. This is a line that we can hear Jessica Walter delivering, yet she’s not even featured in the scene.
Walter is someone else who fired on any and all cylinders. You might remember that in season four (2013), the Bluth family behaved the same way the Trump family did in 2016. The Bluths certainly called for the building of a giant border wall long before Trump did. Season five is set in 2015, and so Lucile catches Trump making some televised statements about the wall:
Trump (On TV): I will build a great great wall on our southern border
Lucile: Which was my idea!
Trump: And I will have Mexico pay for that wall
Lucile: Okay, that is a clever twist.
The show started to pick up in quality with the final few episodes, which is a little annoying, because that means I feel obliged to watch the second half of the season when it drops. Which is “soon”.
The marked improvement from episode five onwards is probably because they’ve started to shake off some of the lingering cobwebs from season four. Once the cast start interacting with each other more often, the winning formula came back and I would go as far as to say that I actually thought the last two episodes were great, and felt like classic Arrested Development.
The whole season had me asking one question though; Did we need this? There’s a lot of revival culture going on at the moment and I’m not so sure I’m a fan. The TV series that I’ve enjoyed in recent years have been originally scripted, or at the very least adapted for the small screen for the first time.
There’s a part of me that wonders if we could’ve seen a different Mitchell Hurwitz scripted comedy, in place of the time and money spent on another season of Arrested Development. The same goes for the brilliantly talented cast. Minus Tambor, who honestly made little impact on me this season and should probably just retire at this point.
There’s no doubt I’ll watch the second half of the season later this year. Although the entire time I’ll be secretly hoping that they provide some kind of closure to the Bluth family, maybe they should even “kill-off” one or two of them.
A fifth season is about as much as I can stomach, the idea of a sixth is already making me feel queazy.
If I were to apply some kind of rating to this review, I’d give it a 5/10. It has as many bad elements as it does good, but the performances save the meandering narrative. My recommendation is that, if you haven’t already, you go back and watch the first three seasons. And if you have already seen them, maybe watch them again and remember the show fondly.
It turns out that a family of rich, lying, thieving, out-of-touch crooks is apt for America right now. But with the Trump-show on 24/7, I think my mind wants something a little more escapist than the Bluths.
Today is Thursday, May 31st and there’s always money in the banana stand.