The anticipation around a release of anything related to “Arrested Development” is almost impossible to match with actual content, and with the release of season five that’s proven true.
Showrunner Mitch Hurwitz held off on the announcement of season five until only a few weeks before the show arrived in our Netflix queues. Before it dropped, Hurwitz announced that he was also working on a “remix” of season four, called “Fateful Consequences,” to change the show to a more linear version. It had been widely panned by diehard fans of the show, who missed the quirkiness and nuance of the original few seasons, and were confused and bored by the individual story lines.
Unfortunately, if you were one of the people who was frustrated by season four, it is unlikely that the remix constituted any real improvement for you, and there is not much of the identity to be found in season five either. Yes, the cast managed to film a lot more scenes together, which removed the need for extra characters like the excessively aggravating “Marky Bark” heavily featured in season four, but there were other elements that added annoyance.
Ron Howard, who has always been the narrator of the show, narrated this season to death. There was hardly a scene or exchange between characters in any of the first eight episodes that did not include Howard explaining what the characters were doing. It was actually distracting, and made me wonder at times if there was any need for the actors to have dialogue at all. Perhaps feeling pressure from fans to return to original form, the writers seemed to write no new jokes for season five, instead depending on laughs by calling back to earlier season classic gags.
Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat, originally playing pre-teen cousins, are now approaching thirty, and were given an extensive story line. Both actors have been known to be quite funny as adults, but as grown up versions of their once comically naïve characters, they failed to land the laughs. Cera’s George Michael, who was once blindly devoted to his well-meaning father, Michael, seems to have given that up to be sneaky and shallow.
In addition to the heavy task of narrating the serious, Howard is featured on screen with his actual real-life family. In season four, Isla Fisher was written in as Howard’s illegitimate daughter, Rebel Alley, a mysteriously anti-funny character who only divided the Bluth’s. Alley returns in season five, as well as Howard’s actual children, who also add no humor to the tedious story line.
The release of season five comes with the storm cloud of the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Jeffrey Tambor, who plays George Sr., and the consequential disastrous interview with The New York Times. In an early episode attempt at adding humor to the situation, an extremely clunky, awkward joke is added in which Tambor removes his wig. It didn’t really land, and the trajectory of humor didn’t rise much after that. As in season four, the episodes seemed to go on forever, despite the fact that they came in under the 30-minute mark.
Season five has proven what has long been suspected about “Arrested Development” — it was a riotously funny show when it aired way back in 2003, and its cancellation seemed to come too soon. But its long patches of absence from television have not improved it. The original jokes were so funny because they were so new when they first aired. Now the same jokes being retold by actors that have aged 15 years seems more worthy of a six-minute reunion clip to promote a charity — not entire new seasons of a show that is now beyond salvation.
The first eight episodes are available to stream now, with eight more coming at a yet-to-be-announced date. For all of our sakes, hopefully that will be the end of trying to rehash a show that has lost its way.