REVIEW: Arrested Development Season 5

*****EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is narrated. Any line’s in The Narrator’s Voice are displayed in royal, “Howard Red.” ******


Sometimes to truly demonstrate patriotism, you need to speak out against the country you love. So is the case with myself and Arrested Development’s latest incarnation. Seasons 1-3 were a huge part of my formative years; I didn’t see this sense of humor on other sitcoms… comedy which relied on puns, wordplay, and absurdity as the delivery system for satire that skewered white privilege and classism. Arrested Development broke ground in both its Fox and Netflix incarnations: the original for pushing the boundaries of a traditional structure and then years later establishing a storytelling style on a new medium. No matter how divisive AD has been, the innovation is indisputable with a complex, self-referential narrative told through frantic, cut-heavy editing. In Season 5, these virtues turn to crutches.

And now a recap of Season 4 (because we don’t want you to forget anything)…

When AD was cut down in its prime, immediate calls for MORE followed because we (as a collective audience) always need MORE. Thus, the series came to Netflix as one of the provider’s first “originals”. Season 4 was divisive for fans and critics alike but I personally adored. This is one of the few Netflix series’ that takes advantage of the every episode at once release model: all eight segments are technically one episode that only comes full focus after viewing each character’s perspective. The writing’s intricacy is a marvel of organization (I suspect a conspiracy board was in use)- like this one:

Conspiracy Board

But the change of pace and tone was jarring. No longer bound by network TV runtimes, episodes ran longer and dwelled on scenes. The Bluth’s were also more self-aware, making what was formerly cartoonish into something darker. Scheduling made it difficult for cast to interact robbing the show of its electric chemistry. I welcomed this diversion- but there was no denying that things were more satisfying altogether when the Bluths were, well, all together.

Season 5 premiered in 2018 with a promising first half. It took a while to get going, but had virtues, mainly the George-Michael/Michael/Rebel Alley love triangle and its capitalizing on Season 4’s border wall plotline. The cast’s chemistry was still there but nothing felt dangerous this go round. AD looks and sounds like it did on Fox but feels hollow (even though there’s still some great laughs). These episodes could have been well received if it weren’t for Jeffrey Tambor- and men in general. An explosive NYTimes interview shed light on the dynamic behind the scenes… it wasn’t pretty. Once this information is in your conscience, it’s impossible to go back- every scene with the couple is more strained than before. Momentum for any new releases went away, as former diehards were quick to cancel.

Which finally leads us to Season 5 Part II…

This go round tries for a similar structure as the first half with all the antics building to Buster Bluth’s murder trial. Notably absent this time is Lindsay, a pivotal and beloved part of the family dynamic. The dialogue, formerly coated in double and often-triple entendres, is now functional, moving the pieces slowly together. Sure, individual scenes are occasionally funny but nothing as iconic like ANUSTART or Skip Scramble, Franklin D. Bluth, “Hello Darkness My Old- Joey listed references for another three paragraphs. Season 4 took advantage of the binge model while the fifth forgets it exists. What was once one of the most demanding shows on TV to keep track of now insults the audience’s intelligence with frequent explanations and summaries of scenes we watched one ep ago, courtesy of Ron Howard’s narrator- Who does a really great job overall.

I have a theory that we saw a second draft; a re-tooled version of a decent original storyline. You can tell they added tons of blatantly obvious ADR’d dialogue after the fact. The ADR may be the most daring aspect of S5 as I’ve never seen another series employ the technique so arrogantly. 

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 7.07.42 PM

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 7.09.58 PM

It’s not subtle. 

I suspect the re-tooling has to do with the show (potentially) striking a syndication deal combined with any adjustments from the Tambor situation. Such fundamental altering of quality suggests a show that now panders towards the economic rewards that come with syndication instead of challenging their binge minded, 21st century audience. This transition was foreshadowed with the Frankenstein monster cut of Season 4: Fateful Consequences- or: The Version for People Too Lazy to Get It The First Time which attempted to make S4’s narrative maze into a more “audience friendly” version.

The ghost of genius still lingers. I still laughed HARD (Tobias ailing for a glance at a photo of  “Ben Affleck’s peen” really got me) but this was a rarity instead of standard. When the trial finally comes around, the results are actually entertaining. The last two episodes are glimpses of what could have been and finally pay off some unfinished business from Season 4, brilliantly. But the thrill is gone- the finale is too little, too late. After all these years, the banana stand may have finally run dry. Maybe season 5 was a mistake. A huge- Oh, come on.

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