'Arrested Development' Season 5 Review: Back to the Beginning

The Bluth family struggled while apart. Does bringing them back together recapture the magic of the original?

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The Bluth family struggled while apart. Does bringing them back together recapture the magic of the original?

The years have not been kind to Arrested Development. After an iconic run of three seasons on the Fox network, it was canceled with little fanfare. The show was a critical darling, but never generated much of an audience. It wasn’t until years later in 2013 that Netflix, eager to resurrect any familiar property it could get its hands on, brought the family back together. Well, sort of.

Season four of Arrested Development was an experiment by series creator Mitchell Hurwitz. The actors involved with Arrested Development had all gone separate ways, which made sense after being off the air for seven years. There was no easy way to get all these actors back together for a new season of the show. The idea was to give the characters separate arcs and then edit it to appear as though they were all together. Hurwitz referred to it as a Rashomon-style narrative. That didn’t work for the Bluth family. The true magic of the series was the interactions between the performers, not the characters themselves.

After the disastrous season four and five more years of silence, perhaps we had seen the end of the Bluth family. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Netflix and Hurwitz released a remixed season four ahead of a brand new season of antics and guffaws. Season five promised that the cast would be brought together this time and be a true season of Arrested Development. Bringing everyone together makes a world of difference, but there is still something missing from these new episodes.

The crux of season five has Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walters) back in charge of the family. Set in 2015 and inspired by Donald Trump’s presidential bid, Lucille encourages Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) to run for Congress. This is a continuation of their plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, something that the show found funny even before the president used it in his campaign promises.

For audiences that never finished season four, the first two episodes of season five are spent recapping the forgettable season. Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) is deemed missing, and no one has seen her since the Cinco de Cuatro party. It would seem that Buster (Tony Hale) was the last person to see her and has been charged with her disappearance and suspected murder. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his son, George Michael (Michael Cera) are still in an argument over their shared love interest Rebel Alley (Isla Fisher). They have awkward conversations and have trouble connecting. This is in addition to the fact that Michael is still trying to get away from his family but always comes back to them.

The other members of the Bluth family are around as well. Gob (Will Arnett) has become smitten with Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) after their season four rendezvous. Buster has taken on the role of the Bluth family member in jail, a crucial element of any Arrested Development season. George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is suffering from an absent libido. Then there are the moments with Tobias (David Cross) and Maeby (Alia Shawkat).

Tobias is struggling to stay in the family pending his divorce from Lindsay. First, he becomes Lucille’s “theralyst” so they both get out of prison on good behavior. Then, he takes on roles of the other family members when they aren’t around. Presumably, this is a joke on the whole idea of season four with the actors not being available to shoot their scenes. The problem is that it isn’t funny. The best moments from Tobias have to do with his creative butchering of the English language and unique idiosyncrasies. His moments in season four have little of those elements and the writing staff has difficulty keeping his character relevant.

Maeby goes from being a spokesperson for her mother’s campaign to living as an old woman in the same old folks home used in Transparent. She is living in Lucille 2’s apartment and is accidentally getting into a relationship with Bluth competitor, Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley Jr.). Their relationship is already beyond uncomfortable, but reminding audiences who have seen Transparent of the issues surrounding both programs is bad form. The fifth season of Arrested Development was in the can before this trouble went down, but it is especially distracting.

The new season of Arrested Development can be described in two words: distracting and familiar. There are ample reasons the new season of Arrested Development is distracting. It is hard to separate the characters from the actors and that makes certain sequences uneasy. Laughing becomes almost impossible when you are cringing.

Season five feels exactly like season one of the show. There is a Bluth in jail, the family continuously lies to one another, and gags that were funny fifteen years ago are still being brought up. No doubt season one of the show is preferable to season four, but if they are just going to keep repeating storylines and situations, why continue with the series? Perhaps it is an issue with the rhythm of the actors in these roles. Few shows successfully return after multiyear absences and that could be a reason pieces of the show fail to work here like they used too. In the seven episodes available for review, there were few truly funny moments. Light chuckles sure, but Arrested Development used to be the funniest show on television. It is a shadow of that now.

The fifth season was split into two separate parts. The first eight episodes are available now and the remaining eight episodes will be launched later this year. Unless something changes in the second half, Arrested Development has returned only to feel like it did fifteen years ago. By that measure, the new season is a success, but this is a banana stand that needs some new flavors fast.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.