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Few shows have had as strange a journey as Arrested Development. It went from being a critical darling that was largely ignored by audiences, to a cult hit with a dedicated fanbase, to a phoenix rising from the ashes on streaming, to being ignored all over again. As it wraps up its fifth and likely final season, the show’s legacy feels almost as convoluted as the show itself.
CREATOR: Mitchell Hurwitz
While the fifth season of ‘Arrested Development’ is worth sticking out for those who have stayed with the show this far, it’s a far cry from the series’ glory days.
The second half of season 5, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, picks up where the first half left off. The Bluths are still dealing with the fallout from the murder of Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli). Michael (Jason Bateman) is trying to save the family business—again—while George Sr. and Lucille (Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter) are trying to save Buster (Tony Hale) from going to prison for Lucille’s murder—again. George Michael (Michael Cera) is trying to figure out what to do about his fake software company, FakeBlock, with the help of his cousin, Maeby (Alia Shawkat), who needs to find a way to maintain her living situation in a retirement community without her father, Tobias (David Cross), ruining it for her. Gob (Will Arnett) is serving as FakeBlock’s interim president, though he remains preoccupied by the disappearance of rival magician and friend, Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller).
As per usual, this season of Arrested Development has plenty of guest stars. Henry Winkler returns as the family’s criminally inept attorney, Barry Zuckerkorn; Martin Mull plays private detective and expert of disguises, Gene Parmesan; and Isla Fisher plays George Michael’s girlfriend/Ron Howard’s daughter, Rebel Alley, just to name a few. The show also maintains its penchant for timeliness. Much of the first half of season 5 continued the story of the Bluth family’s attempts to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. While that takes a backseat in the season’s second half, there are still plenty of references to recent news events, including a few ill-conceived Harvey Weinstein jokes.
Arrested Development has started to show its age in this regard. A lot of the “edgy” gags just don’t work. While the show’s gay jokes used to feel clever, for instance, most of them now come off as hacky. It’s not that the series was ever trying to be offensive, or even particularly provocative, as much as it once found a way to employ this humor cleverly, whereas now it simply feels lazy. The more tasteless moments don’t benefit from the continued presence of Jeffrey Tambor, who, while not getting a ton of screen time this season, remains a difficult presence to watch, given the revelations surrounding his on-set behavior.
The other difficult presence (or lack thereof) this season is Portia de Rossi, who remains largely absent as Lindsay. Why de Rossi chose not to participate in these episodes is unclear. While the show doesn’t suffer dramatically without her, her return still makes for a great moment, highlighting how much better Arrested Development is with Lindsay in it.
While the second half of season 5 keeps its episodes to 25-30 minutes outside of the 47-minute finale, it still has too many jokes that drag. The pacing and plot of the show have always been fast-paced and intricate, making it tougher for casual viewers to keep up, hence its poor performance in its initial bow. But after five seasons, including the unnecessarily confusing fourth, keeping up with all the moving parts can be downright exhausting. Of course, Ron Howard’s narration helps, though that, too, has its limits. (No one is watching this show for another Brian Grazer joke.) The production value is considerably better than in season 4, but there’s an element of season 5 that still seems rushed. The audio doesn’t quite sync at moments, and there are a few times where it’s clear the crew couldn’t get all the actors in the same location.
Yet creator Mitch Hurwitz is such a talented writer, the worst of Arrested Development still manages to be smarter and funnier than many shows at their best. And thankfully, season 5.5 isn’t the worst of Arrested Development. If you liked the first half of the season, you’ll probably like part 2. While the show doesn’t arrive at a wholly satisfying conclusion, it’s at least consistent with recent seasons. If nothing else, I laughed a lot during season 5, and when all is said and done, these episodes stack up against the other Netflix seasons. Comparing them to the show’s initial run, however… that’s another matter.
For Arrested Development to end with a whimper, rather than a bang, is perhaps the most logical conclusion for the show, given the the road it’s traveled. Any series would be exhausted after having to fight so hard—for an audience, for approval, for relevancy. As it fades away, let fans of TV’s streaming age heed this warning when pleading for the resurrection of their favorite shows: Be careful what you wish for.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, gangster movies, Westerns, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.