Netflix released the back half of Season Five of Arrested Development on Friday, which is likely to be the final episodes of the show’s run. After the first eight episodes of the season—released last May—failed to live up to the high standards the show had set for itself in previous years, fans hoped that the remainder of Season Five could provide a return to form for the Bluth family.
The good news is that this latest batch of episodes provides a welcome increase in quality and clarity compared to last year’s release. Unlike their predecessors, episodes 9 through 16 are not saddled with the duty of making sense of Season Four, which split the Bluth family up across their separate, although accidentally interconnected, journeys. Without this baggage, the writers were freer to slow down the pace and let the characters shine.
The writers have to jumpstart the plot to accomplish this, such as reminding the audience that George Michael’s (Michael Cera) fake tech startup had received threats from hacktivist group Anonymous—a thread that had been ignored since its introduction in Season Four. During its heyday in the mid-aughts, the show would have teased this out in the background, like in Season Three’s “Mr. F” mini-arc, but it’s an acceptable price to pay to get the characters moving after a rudderless first half.
Even better, individual scenes and lines are just as funny as classic Arrested Development. Characters don’t just serve to represent their own plot lines but actually communicate like a real (albeit dysfunctional and narcissistic) family. This change in course from part one of the season lets some weaker jokes coast off past characterization rather than simply falling flat.
There are also plenty of moments that carry the nostalgia of Seasons One through Three, such as when Michael (Jason Bateman) is tasked (yet again) with pulling the Bluth Company out of financial catastrophe, or when Buster (Tony Hale) and Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor) bond after their unnecessary jailbreak.
The bad news is that, while all the individual parts work out fairly well, they fail to come together into the slow-burn vision that Arrested Development has mastered in the past. Much of the show’s longevity stems from the subtle, long-running gags and extraordinary season-long payoffs. Before Season Five, there was always a sense that the showrunners knew exactly where the plot was headed and how it would all come together, even if the viewers were in the dark.
Season Five (part two) feels muddled. While the Bluth Company and FakeBlock plots were clearly mapped out well in advance, other parts lacked that vision. The worst offender is the ongoing investigation into Lucille Two’s (Liza Minnelli) murder, which occurred in the Season Four finale and supposedly was the driving force of Season Five that would bring the family together. That didn’t pan out in the first wave of episodes, and while it’s more present in the second half, something is missing. Consequently, this plot jumps forward in fits and spurts and doesn’t even touch some characters—do George Michael and Maeby (Alia Shawkat) even know that Buster is on trial?
Lucille’s (Bluth, played by Jessica Walter) plan to profit off a U.S.-Mexico border wall seems to jump around, and its status is unclear from one moment to the next.
Some attempts at classic callbacks simply come across as lazy—an allegation any Arrested Development fan would shudder at the thought of. When Tobias (David Cross) and his weird acting troupe/family (who feel out of place the whole season until a brief spark of relevance) start the season living in the Bluth attic, it feels less like a callback to George Sr.’s (also portrayed by Jeffrey Tambor) stay in Season Two and more like the writers just needed a thing for the group to do.
Netflix’s Arrested Development revival is a great show with a lot of funny moments, but it doesn’t have the foresight of the series’ first three seasons or the intricacy of Season Four. It’s more like The Office insofar that the best parts stand independent of some grand plan and that the characters really shine. Longtime fans will be happy to see the Bluth family one last time and the season will probably feel better with time, but right now Season Five is a disappointing end to a great series.
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