By Matt Fowler
The second half of Arrested Development: Season 5, consisting of 8 new episodes, is now streaming on Netflix.
Though nothing’s been announced about the overall fate of Arrested Development, given the way the remainder of Season 5 plays out, it sure feels like the end. And if this is the final countdown for the Bluths, it’s really for the best. It’s just sad that it couldn’t have been a stronger showing.
Did the show change? Did we change? Did the world change? Back when FOX canceled the series, we were all in an uproar. When Netflix rescued it (one of the streaming service’s first saves), we rejoiced. Then the hotly-anticipated fourth season was a hit or miss affair. Episodes ran too long, the core cast could barely film scenes together due to other projects they were scheduled for, and the overwhelming consensus was that it was a sub-par offering. It was a hefty blow considering both the fanfare and how beloved the first three seasons were.
Then Season 4 was recut and reassembled last year to make it feel like more of a traditional Arrested run, rather than the character-specific episodes it was originally divided up into. Then, last summer, five whole years after Season 4 landed, Season 5 premiered – but only the first half. Yes, it was being split into two eight-installment chunks. So here we had a show that worked extraordinarily well in a very specific, and traditional, TV format: As a weekly network comedy. It wasn’t built for binging or for split seasons. And it couldn’t endure the “revival” feeling that a five-year gap brought about. The hilarious ecosystem Arrested cultivated back during its original FOX one was a fragile one indeed.
That’s not to say Season 5, Part 2 doesn’t have some damn funny elements, but when a show is basically continuing the same story threads from six years ago, it’s going to feel like a trudge in places. The plot’s still dealing with the night of Cinco de Cuatro, Lucille 2’s disappearance, the “building the wall” angle, FaceBlock, and Gob’s desire for Tony Wonder. Which means you also have to recall micro-gags and in-jokes that came with all that.
Oh, don’t worry about the running gags from the first three seasons. We have those all seared into our psyches. And you’ll see a handful of those pop up, for sure (sometimes the quicker the better – like the wonderfully-timed, extremely brief, playing of the Charlie Brown Christmas theme). It’s the new(er) gags from the less-admired seasons that tend to land with a thud, reminding you – usually awkwardly – that, “Oh yeah, this is what we’re focusing on now.”
A big positive with regards to these eight episodes, which feel very much like the series’ final eight, is they do a good job of wrangling everything together and gelling the story into, more or less, one throughline. Here, the FaceBlock sham, the wall debacle, Gob’s magic, and Lucille Austero’s possible demise all sync up. And it’s a relief. After a season and a half of the Bluths being scattered around Southern California (and Mexico), everyone falls back in line – and for a big third-act family twist. And Michael has one of the best Michael do-gooder-gone-wrong scenes of the entire series as one of his biggest moments turns out to also be, possibly, one of his darkest. He even entertains the idea that he just might be “the worst Bluth.”
Though as the Bluths are all slowly brought back together – which one might assume fixes a lot that had gone wrong with the show – not everything feels right. We’re still missing Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay, who took off back in the first half of Season 5. Likewise, it literally feels like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera vanish from the final five minutes of the finale, as if they had to somehow leave the set immediately. George Michael and Maeby even have a big character moment that is pushed off to the periphery (and possibly done with doubles).
One of the more surprising elements to the way this season wraps up, is that it’s… kind of a happy ending? All of a sudden, after years of self-absorption and ineptitude, the Bluths pull off a series of plots, ploys, and misdirection that indicates they all had capable, functioning brains underneath that could cooperate with one another for brief spells. It’s both a revelation and a letdown. It’s practically un-Arrested Development in its execution, though the show toys with us a bit ahead of time, letting us think we know how it’s all going to fall apart. It’s smart and different, but doesn’t ultimately work.
There’s some fun wordplay involving Guy Fawkes and Tent City, surprising antics from Dermot Mulroney’s “sand hobo” Dusty, the return of a few familiar faces like Gene Parmesan and Warden Gentles, and an interesting use of the Ron Howard Bluth TV series arc from Season 4 (using Cobie Smulders and Taran Killam), but because all the major storylines are building off the faulty foundation of Season 4, the episodes are tasked with an uphill climb the entire time.
Arrested Development ending, or approaching the finish line, is the best thing for all involved. It’s just sad to see everything wrap up on a “less-than” note and in a way that, ultimately, doesn’t feel much like Arrested Development. Yeah, there’s a super-dark chaser right at the end, letting us know this family will continue to be “not okay,” but it can’t overcome the fact these characters have been stuck, for six years now, in the same storylines, hamstringing the hilarity.