When it was brought back to small screens everywhere in 2013, “Arrested Development” was the first major series to be revived by a streaming service. It was a big deal. It was in the early days of Netflix originals and before shows like “Brooklyn 99” could be saved within hours of their cancellation. It was also very different from the first three seasons of the show, which originally aired on Fox from 2003 to 2006, breaking up the bungling Bluth family into character centric episodes that came together by the season’s end. It was darker than the original series and it pushed the characters to places they had never gone before. It was also savaged by critics and most general audiences, with only the hardest of the hardcore fans seeming to enjoy it. Now five years later comes Season five.
At first glance, Season five seems to function as a direct response to the reception of Season 4, with more scenes that feature the entire family and most characters appearing in every episode. Dig a little deeper though and the cracks begin to show. Almost right off the bat the new batch of episodes fails to capitalize on the two most promising cliffhangers left hanging five years ago, the disappearance of Liza Menilli’s Lucille II and the congressional race between longtime enemies Lindsey Bluth (Portia De Rossi, “Scandal”) and Sally Sitwell (Christine Taylor, “Zoolander 2”).
Back in 2013, it seemed obvious that series creator Mitch Hurwitz was setting up some kind of murder mystery involving Lucille II, with practically every member of the Bluth family potentially implicated in the crime. Sadly this storyline barely simmers in this first half the new season (the rest will come sometime later this year). The election storyline is marred down by two main issues, one of which is the basic absence of De Rossi from the show, which renders the plotline toothless, and the other is the fact that and election storyline involving a candidate advocating for a wall now feels incredibly played out.
It’s hard to judge these first eight episodes in isolation without knowing how it all pans out in the second half. They certainly don’t stand on their own. The only characters who truly shine are the now grown up George Michael (Michael Cera, “Molly's Game”) and Maeby (Alia Shawkat, “The Intervention”), who are the only members of the Bluth family who can offer up new things that we haven’t seen before. Will Arnett’s GOB has a potentially emotionally resonant story about struggling to come out of the closet, but the almost complete absence of his counterpart Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller, “Brad's Status”) again causes his storyline to feel incomplete.
In general the new season feels strangely barren. Unlike the first four seasons, which were in different ways crammed to the gills with jokes and guest stars and enough plot for episodes double their length, Season five feels devoid of content, as if they had to stretch out a few episodes worth of story to fill the entire season. Even more so than Season four, it doesn’t feel like “Arrested Development” and with so many important characters and actors either missing or barely appearing, it seriously begs the question if it’s worth it to keep moving forward.
The show no longer knows what it is about or what story it is trying to tell. Back in 2013 Mitch Hurwitz claimed he had a three act story planned out, of which Season four was Act one and a forthcoming “Arrested” movie would be Acts two and three. It seems unlikely that this version of Season five is even remotely close to what he originally had planned for the movie and it seems doubly unlikely that another five year wait for Season six will result in anything worthwhile. This is besides the fact that off-screen problems now mob the cast and key actors are aging faster than the show can keep up. It was once said “There’s always money in the banana stand.” In this half season of a once-iconic series, the banana stand is gone, the money is nowhere to be found and the magic that once made this series great seems to be gone with it.