Published on June 5th, 2018 | by Craig Silliphant0
Arrested Development – Season Five
Arrested Development came out of the gate for season five mired in controversy, but the season was a refreshing change from the lacklustre season four.
In 2003, my old roommate and I stumbled upon a show so clever and subversive that we couldn’t believe it was on a major network. The show was Arrested Development and sadly, it only lasted three seasons before being cancelled due to low viewership. However, its reputation grew, the actors on the show went on to become more famous, and Netflix eventually resurrected the show for a fourth season in 2013.
Unfortunately, season four was rubbish; they tried, but the spirit of the show was in this kooky family of characters interacting and they couldn’t get the actors all back at the same time, so they had to write around it. The season was confusing and largely without the spark that made the show special. There has been a remix of that season, which I’ve heard makes things a little easier to follow, but I haven’t watched it.
There is also the spectre of some distasteful business hanging over the head of season five. Jeffrey Tambor was in some #metoo hot water, and even kicked off his show Transparent, for alleged sexual misconduct. Apparently, he wasn’t kicked off Arrested Development because it had already been shot when the allegations came to light. In a cast interview with the New York Times that was as cringe-worthy as the greatest moments on the show, much of the male cast tried to soften the story of a situation where Tambor had freaked out on Jessica Walter, who said that in 60 years of working, no one had yelled at her that way. Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, and David Cross were probably trying to be diplomatic, but only ended up making themselves look like mansplaining creeps, sort of intonating that Walter had been difficult to work with (apparently, she had yelled at a stand-in herself). Alia Shawcat came to Walter’s defence, saying that even if she was difficult, it was no reason to humiliate her so horribly. Walters was crying through this interview. The men had to issue apologies the next day after being sharply criticized by various outlets.
Season five picks up where season four left off, but this time, we seem to have most of the actors available. There are still some scenes where they are relying on gags or stand ins to cover for missing actors, but it’s mostly handled cleverly, and we get enough of the main cast interacting that attention is deflected away. There’s even a meta gag featuring Maria Bamford as a stand in for Lindsay (Portia de Rossi is retired from acting, so she came back for only a few scenes). I’m choosing to applaud the show for getting most everyone back now that it is 12 years since the original cancellation (and they’re all more famous), as opposed to lamenting that they had to cheat some of this.
The plots are myriad; Michael and George-Michael are lying to each other about their involvement with Ron Howard’s daughter, Rebel (Isla Fisher). GOB is lying to himself about his sexual tension with Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller). He and George, who is upset about Lucille, agree to party through Mexico, having sex with as many women as possible, though they can’t seem to do that. Tobias is trying on a number of ‘characters,’ as he struggles to become part of the Bluth family. Maeby is living in disguise in an old folks community, where a befuddled Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley, Jr) is trying to woo her. There is a whodunnit surrounding Lucille II’s disappearance that has Buster sitting in prison. That’s barely scratching the surface of the machinations of story and silly goings on.
I’m happy to report that Mitchell Hurwitz and Arrested Development are back on their game. The show is as funny and clever as it ever was, with subversive jokes about Trump, millennials, the fact that there’s an Internet site for anything, and meta jokes about their own production. They dip into some of the old recurring jokes and invent some new ones to play with. And Ron Howard (and his real family) have become much more involved, which is hilarious, considering that he can comment on his own character’s storyline as the show’s narrator.
One of the only odd things I noticed was that in the change from television to the binge-platform that is Netflix, they could have shed some of the expository flashbacks. They are definitely necessary to remind us of what happened in season four, but in some cases, they are showing us things that happened in the last episode. That made sense when the show was week-to-week on Fox, and perhaps some people still portion out their episodes to savour them, but I found in a binge situation, the flashbacks to very recent events were unnecessary. This is just a tiny thing, more interesting in a conversation about Netflix than a criticism of the show itself.
The other thing I’d note, without giving any spoilers away, is that the season doesn’t really come to a satisfying end. This is because it’s not really over; there were eight episodes and the remaining eight will be released later this year. Some of the stories seem to wrap up, but some of them don’t. When you invest in a run of something like this, it should do more than trickle to a stop like turning off a hose. It should have been treated like a mid-season finale (don’t get me wrong, some of those elements are there, but some of them don’t happen satisfactorily).
But again, that’s a small detail, and I wouldn’t want it to tarnish how much I enjoyed this season. Whether one wants to support a show that may be wrapped up in some of the abusive nonsense is another question, and it’s too bad the show that’s known for being ‘meta’ doesn’t tackle some of this question, but one thing is certain, the show itself feels like Arrested Development again. I don’t know if it’s going out on a limb to say this or not, but it’s the best it has been since season two.