If the rumours are true that season five of Arrested Development is set to be its last, then it hasn’t come a moment too soon.
Fifteen years after we were first introduced to the Bluth family, we will finally be able to bid them a definitive farewell and celebrate two-and-a-bit top-level seasons alongside US comedy greats like Seinfeld, Frasier and Friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I was one of the few who actually enjoyed season four on Netflix, and elements of the upcoming season five harken back to the good old days of the show’s original run – including typically brilliant slapstick from Tobias (David Cross) and a consistently funny performance from Will Arnett as deeply conflicted Gob. The dialogue, too, is sharp, and packed with so many subtle gags that you’re unlikely to pick up on them all on first watch.
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However, even most die-hard of fans would have to concede that showrunner Mitch Hurwitz and co seem to be running out of ideas beyond putting the ensemble cast in a room together and waiting for the magic to happen.
The main premise for the new episodes (released on Tuesday 29th May 2018) is that the family are back together again to receive a “Family of the Year award” – which, even for a show that is often steeped in absurdity, feels a little bit silly.
The new episodes, set a few months after the events of season four’s Cinco de Mayo party (though there are a few time jumps), also loosely revolve around the investigation into the disappearance of Lucille II (Liza Minnelli) – a more intriguing premise that will hopefully get more attention in the second half of the season, due out later in the year.
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>Bluth family straight man Michael (Jason Bateman) is recovering from the punch in the face he received from his son George Michael (Cera) at the end of season four, teaching self defence classes to office workers (specifically how to defend yourself from your family) in his spare time. In the months since the incident, the two have become estranged, and a staggering awkwardness pervades all of their encounters.
After 2013’s structural experiment – which saw each episode devoted to a different character – was widely considered a failure (creator Mitch Hurwitz eventually released a re-jigged edit of the season on Netflix), normal service has been resumed. Michael is once again the focal point of the series, the river from which the other characters forge their own tributaries.
There’s Buster, the prime suspect in Lucille II’s disappearance, and their mother, also named Lucille (Jessica Walters), who is shacked up under court order in a beachside cottage with her therapist and son-in-law Tobias (David Cross).
Gob and George Sr, struggling with crises of masculinity after the former’s failed love affair with magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) and the latter’s discovery that he is no longer producing testosterone, embark on a hilarious faux-macho father-son trip to Mexico, in which they attempt to exhibit their virility.
George Michael is also in Mexico, but he’s actively avoiding his father, after it was revealed they were dating the same woman (Isla Fisher’s Rebel Alley). Back in Orange County, Maeby (Alia Shawkat) is helping her mother Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) run for office.
Quite a lot to remember, right? There’s plenty more where that came from, and the intricacy of the plot is a little exhausting over the first couple of episodes, something you never felt when the show was confined to 22-minute bursts.
Season five has been trimmed down compared to the first cut of season four – each episode runs to around 26-27 minutes – but the instalments still somehow don’t feel as sharp as the first two seasons.
Time is, in many ways, the main issue here. The new season comes five years after its predecessor, and 12 after season three. Many of the show’s cast have moved on to bigger – and, in some cases, better – things in the years since the show was cancelled. Alia Shawkat, Jason Bateman, Tony Hale and Jeffrey Tambor have all gone on to star in brilliant TV shows, leaving their career-making characters in the rear view mirror, and the rapport is not easily retrieved.
George Michael is a shadow of the awkward and earnest adolescent of the show’s initial run – Cera is just shy of 30. He’s got a hardened and slightly morose edge to him, and it really jars. It feels like he barely cracks a smile throughout the first five episodes, which adds a sinister tone to the whole ‘lustful cousin’ thing.
Then, there’s the Trump problem. One storyline sees Lindsay echoing Trumpist sentiments on the campaign trail, and the show actually employs real footage of the US President’s rallies to drive the matter home. For a show with such pinpoint wit, Trump jokes feel like low-hanging fruit, and as there is no clear reasoning for it beyond suggesting that Trump politics are for stupid people, it feels like the show’s very own “jump the shark” moment.
The further we wade into the show’s Netflix era, the murkier its mid ‘00s days as the best comedy on TV (by a country mile) become – and its a legacy that deserves to remain intact.
In 2006, the year FOX cancelled Arrested Development, Charlie Sheen’s torrid Two and a Half Men was the most watched comedy series in the country, followed by Rules of Engagement and The King of Queens.
Arrested Development had an innate silliness and incredibly sharp writing which made it stand out from the crowd, and paved the way for great sitcoms such as The Office, Parks and Recreation and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It made stars of its cast, and, by proxy, helped to build a number of fantastic shows that have benefitted from their involvement, including Alia Shawkat’s hipster-noir sitcom Search Party, Jeffrey Tambor’s Transparent, Tony Hale’s Veep, Jason Bateman’s Ozark – the list goes on.
As a long-time fan, it’s hard not to garner satisfaction from seeing the gang all back together – but I hope, for everyone’s sake, that it’s for the last time.
Arrested Development season 5 is released on Netflix UK on Tuesday 29th May