It’s official: we’re getting a fifth season of “Arrested Development.” For some, it’s great news (more “Arrested Development”!). Others may be less enthused. In fact, there seems to be notably less excitement overall.
It’s understandable. The ambitious (perhaps overly so) fourth season disappointed many. And the show will be 15 years old by the time the new season airs (GOB’s going to have to airbrush Gangy even more for her driver’s license now).
I tend to defend the fourth season of the show. It has some gems. When it goes right, it goes very right. It was shockingly prescient. But it has plenty of problems and is easily the weakest season.
Creator Mitchell Hurwitz has likely worked on a fifth season since the fourth wrapped, and probably doesn’t need advice. But here are some suggestions anyway from me, a guy with plenty of TV experience.
1. Bring the Cast Together
Several of the lead actors saw their careers take off (or re-energize) following the original run of “Arrested Development,” keeping the Bluth family from getting together too often. Most fourth-season episodes focused on one or two main characters. It also meant a frustrating amount of green screen (and flashbacks of George and Lucille that no longer featured Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor in bad wigs).
All this limited one of the best elements of the show: the Bluth family dynamic. In addition, episodes focusing on the less funny characters dragged considerably.
It doesn’t even need to be a Bluth family gathering every time. Just having multiple main characters interacting regularly (and not in front of a green screen) would make a big difference. The tweet announcing the new season seems to suggest the creators are at least aware of the problem. But can they do anything about it?
This time the Bluths are all together. Whether they like it or not. pic.twitter.com/RrCvHiqOCa
— Arrested Development (@arresteddev) May 17, 2017
2. Keep the Episodes 22 Minutes
The new world of streaming allows shows to break out of the 22/44-minute molds. Most episodes in the fourth season push past a half-hour. It got exhausting at times, especially with the less-funny episodes. Keep it pithy, around the 22-minute mark. Supposedly, the fourth season will air on TV at some point in a re-edited, 22-minute format. I suspect it’ll be received better than the Netflix run.
3. Dial Down the Ambition
The original plan for the fourth season was that viewers could watch the episodes in any order and it would all make sense. Hurwitz changed his tune eventually, suggesting everyone watch it in order. But the original idea remained, as plots and characters intersect and overlap with impressive regularity.
The fourth season planted plenty of seeds for a fifth: a murder mystery with Lucille Austero and a Bluth-Stickwell election fight among them. The show’s already intricately built, with plenty of call-forwards, clues, and Easter (or ostrich?) eggs. It doesn’t need more complexity.
4. Keep the Politics Somewhat Subtle
Google “Arrested Development Trump” and limitless thinkpieces, memes, and video clips appear (including this gem). It’s an SEO dream. There’s a temptation—nay, a push—to make the fifth season about Trump, as if there’s a dearth of Trump commentary by Hollywood.
The show would be better off approaching political commentary the way it did in the original run. Seasons one through three contained plenty of subtle and overt Bush family and presidency references, most of which were funny and at the very least clever. They were never the blunt Herman Cain analogue Herbert Love was in season four. Trump comparisons will be unavoidable (the wall, the Bluth family as the Trump family). Just don’t hit us over the head with it.
5. Make Sure These Unlikable Characters Stay Likable
The Bluths are terrible people. But the fourth season went a bit too far at times, even for a show that can get pretty dark. The incest (and incest-adjacent) took a step up from the original run. Maeby and GOB committed or attempted some, to turn an “Arrested Development” phrase, “light rape.” Maeby also whored out her mother.
Worst of all, Michael turned out to be just as bad as the others. It’s an interesting dynamic, revealing that the sanctimonious apple doesn’t fall far from the Bluth tree. But Michael’s selfishness turned him into a villain; he should be an anti-hero at most. Maybe keep the sex crimes to a minimum for the new season. And make sure Michael remembers that family comes before anything, even breakfast.