What Went Wrong With Arrested Development?

March 23, 2019

There’s not a lot of love going around for the latest – and most likely final – season of Arrested Development on NetFlix.

The reviews are mostly scathing (one prominent example calls it a “lumbering zombie”) and it seems as though NetFlix themselves can’t be bothered to – or are ashamed to – promote it themselves, as I had to actually seek out the episodes on the day of release rather than have them presented to me as they would have been in the past.

On the latter point, that could be down to the now infamous interview with the cast last year that painted many of them in a terrible light, or it could just be that they’ve realised that it’s just not the show it once was.

It’s not very good.

As an indication of the lack of effort put into Season 5B, there isn’t even a poster for it

I mean…there are some funny moments, but they few and far between and I’d be lying if I said I could even remember what they were now that I’m writing this review. What I can tell you though is that out of the eight episodes released on March 15th I know I didn’t laugh even once during four of them. Could you imagine saying that about any episode of Arrested Development from seasons 1-3? Of course not. It’s not an exaggeration to say that those episodes were among the greatest examples of television comedy we’ve ever seen?

The plot throughout the season felt lacklustre and out of touch, and the ending – without spoiling it for you – ended things on a rather grim note.

So what’s happened to make these episodes so comparatively terrible? Why has it come to this sad end?

Here’s what I think are the main issues..

They Couldn’t Let Go Of Season 4

The first reason for the decline is that the writers just couldn’t let go of Season 4.

Season 4 was what it was; it had to contend with the cast being unable to all shoot together as much as they’d have liked and so everyone went off and had their own storylines. There was the building of the wall, Fake Block, Cinco de Cuatro, Tobias’s relationship with Debrie, George’s testosterone problems and Michael and George Michael’s run-ins with the Howard family.

And while they weren’t great, they were necessary to make that season work.

The problem is that when Season 5 came along, they didn’t just start afresh, and instead these storylines were kept on and trampled into the ground.

Look at the Fake Block plot in particular.

In Season 4 – told as it was in a non-linear style –  it worked pretty well. It used the narrative style to build to the clever punchline that it wasn’t this ground breaking privacy software, but rather a musical woodblock app. That was a smart piece of comedy. But when we are 6 years and 16 episodes further along and it’s still rumbling on after its natural conclusion, it’s just not funny anymore. It’s like they couldn’t think of anything else for George Michael to do.

The show became so tangled up in the web of converging old threads of plots that almost half of some of the episodes were devoted to Ron Howard recapping.

Had the writers just decided to start afresh with new plots, I reckon Season 5 would have been much better.

The World Has Moved On But Arrested Development Has Stood Still

There are two examples of this that are wildly different but unfortunately amount to the same problem.

The first is the wall.

It’s easy to forget that the idea of a wall between the US and Mexico was used in Arrested Development years before Donald Trump decided to make it the serious, contentious it is today. There’s no question though that having play a prominent part in episodes released in 2019 makes it look at best like a lazy parody of what’s going on in the world today, and at worst like the writers are completely out of touch.

They probably should have quietly dropped that storyline before Season 5 started.

And speaking of being out of touch, the second example is them basing much of Season 5 on Making of a Murderer, a show that was massively on trend in 2015/16 but has long since departed from the limelight.

If these episodes had been released within a few months of them being written – and they most likely were written when that show was hot – I think people would have thought it was clever. As it stands, I just watched it thinking “What it the point?”.

Some Characters Have Lost Their Way

What made Arrested Development so good was the characters, and how they interacted with each other.

At the heart of the show was Michael, the only sensible one among them and – as the opening credits says – the one son who can keep them all together. Yet as Season 4 progressed and turned into Season 5, Michael became as flawed as the rest of them. He became arrogant and stupid, and not in the least bit sympathetic.

Without that, Arrested Development doesn’t really work like it’s supposed to.

It’s not just Michael though…

George Sr went from being the funniest character in the show to a guy who would stand around in the background, barely able to assert himself into any scene. He also become interchangeable with Oscar, who was his polar opposite in Seasons 1-3 to great comic effect.

And while Maeby became an interesting character that evolved from who she was as a kid, George Michael – much like the actor playing him – just turned into this awkward looking adult who didn’t suit the storylines he was in.

Some Characters Have Stayed Exactly The Same

Yes, I think it’s fair to complain about some characters evolving badly and others not evolving at all.

I’ve never really found Tobias funny, but whatever humour there was in the character, it departed in 2004 or 2005. I can buy a guy who is so deluded in his pursuit of being an actor that he could spend a couple of years in mid-life crisis mode, but for him to still be where he is at this point is just tiresome and it goes beyond being unfunny to being completely unrealistic to the point of irritation. Not one scene involving Tobias in Season 5 was funny. Instead, it was just embarrassing, and anyway, without Lindsay in the show, what’s the point of Tobias even being there?

Meanwhile, though they are still funny, G.O.B. and Oscar doing the same things and never learning from any mistakes gets a bit old. The final episode involves a scene that is a rip-off of the classic fake funeral from season 2, and much less funny as a result.

The only character who has stayed the same and made it work is Lucille, but even she was stuck in this rut of playing out the same type of stuff as she used to do, but to less comic effect.

The Episodes Looked and Seemed Rough

It might seem like a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but these last episodes looked rough and unfinished. There were countless examples of poor lip-syncing with the actors trying to dub over their lines in post production, there were quite a few dodgy shots where we can only see the back of actors heads during dialogue and the over all narrative suffers a little bit as a result of Portia De Rossi only appearing in one single scene right at the very end.

And speaking of right at the very end, if it was intended as the last episode – and considering how badly it has reviewed I would say that’s likely – for Michael and George Michael to disappear six minutes before the end without any final lines of note seemed really off-key with the show’s history.

The Show Has Just Run Out of Steam

Lastly, and most importantly, I think the show has just run out of steam.

We’ve seen it time and time again with so many comedies. Very few comedic successes end on a high, with commercial pressures to keep churning out more to satisfy demand, and it looks like Arrested Development is no exception.

Unlike shows like How I Met Your Mother though, it didn’t get so bad to the point that it sullied the entire legacy the show had built.

Instead, I think Arrested Development looks like it has gone out with a whimper. It wasn’t offensively bad, but it just felt like there was nowhere left to go, and they had resorted to bringing back old characters and reusing old set pieces without making the effort to try anything new.

And as a result it couldn’t and didn’t live up to its promise.

A real shame.


Movies: When We First Met Review

March 26, 2018

Remember my review of Happy Death Day? The one where I said I loved the Groundhog Day concept?

Well When We First Met is based on the same idea.

It’s about a man who goes back in time to relive a day three years earlier where he first meets the girl of his dreams at a party, in the hope of waking up again in the present to find himself in a loving relationship with her, rather than in the dreaded ‘Friend Zone’.

As far as I can see, it’s been panned by most critics for a number of reasons unrelated to the quality of the movie. One said it was about a man who got to relive a day over and over in the hope of sleeping with a girl he was infatuated with – which isn’t what it’s about – while another slated it for not being in the spirit of the modern cultural movement of empowerment.

Well, just like when I was asked to review a book that analysed Doctor Who from a homosexual point of view (apparently the sexual tension between the Doctor and the Brigadier was off the scale, which is something I personally never noticed) I don’t really grasp the mindset there. Call me shallow, but when I watch a TV show or a movie, I just like to take it on face value rather than holding it to any sort moral code or looking for subtext to fit in with how I wanted to view it. If I didn’t, I’d be the sort of person who couldn’t enjoy Big because it’s about an adult woman falling in love with a child, or I would say that Death Wish is unacceptable because Charles Bronson should rely upon the criminal justice system rather than take matters into his own hands.

I just didn’t see anything particularly untoward with the ‘morals’ of When We First Met.

If anything, the only problem is that Adam DeVine is an unlikeable arsehole.

But once I got past that, I enjoyed it. The plot appealed to me, it flowed well enough and it didn’t end as predictably as you might expect.

At times I chuckled, and at no point was I bored.

So it served its purpose.

No, it won’t win any Oscars, and no, I don’t think ‘serious’ people would enjoy it, but I did.

And I’d recommend if you have an evening free, you should watch it too.

Just don’t try to search for any inner truth when you do.


Stuart’s Entertainment Review (The Detectorists, Peaky Blinders, Manhunt Unabomber etc)

February 12, 2018

A roundup of some of the shows I’ve been watching lately…

The Detectorists

Because this is considered a ‘gentle’ comedy, I made the mistake of thinking that it was something akin to Last of the Summer Wine. In actual fact, this show is probably the best BBC sitcom in a long, long time. It’s not what I would consider hilarious, but it has its moments. The main thing though is that the characters are likeable and relatable and the story across all three seasons is one you can invest in.

It’s feel good and charmingly British.

Peaky Blinders

Perhaps less charmingly British, but British nevertheless is Peaky Blinders.

Packed with big name actors and some absolutely brilliant performances, it’s entertaining and gritty throughout.

It’s not exactly the most original of plotlines – a family rise to prominence in a historical setting – but that setting is a good one, and the story does progress as the show goes on.

I also liked how it used modern music instead of stuff that perhaps might have seemed more fitting to the era.

Manhunt: Unabomber

What I like about this show is that it’s an apparently mostly accurate retelling of a genuine FBI case, so while it’s not the most exciting show you’ll ever see, it is at least informative and interesting.

Running for only 8 episodes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but if I had any criticism, it would be that the time hopping, non-linear nature of it seemed unnecessary.

The Good Place

I thought I’d written a review of The Good Place after I watched season 1 on NetFlix last year, but apparently not. And I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have said I thought it was a bit light and no more than average. I kept watching though and just finished off the second season this evening, and I’ve got to seriously recommend it.

It’s not a laugh out loud comedy – indeed I don’t really remember ever doing that while watching it – but what it is is clever. It makes you think while still being fun.

And unlike so many other shows there’s genuine development, not only of characters, but of plot; the show is now in a completely different place (no pun intended) than it was at the start.

Like I say, I’d recommend it highly. It’s well worth your time.

Lovesick

Previously known as Scrotal Recall on Channel 4, this show was bought by Netflix and renamed as something that perhaps has more marketability.

I’d never seen it before Saturday, but I’m hooked now and have binge watched it over the last couple of days.

It’s a bit derivative of How I Met Your Mother (the leads may as well be called Ted and Barney) but it has that more adult, British twist to it in terms of the language and the style of humour.

More than the other two comedies in this list it’ll make you chuckle, but it also has a story that’s decent enough to sustain it.

Riverdale

Watched the first episode but it didn’t grab me. I think Pretty Little Liars has filled my ‘Teen Drama for BFFs’ quota for the next wee while.

Danger Man

A much older show, but I’ve recently started watching the 1960s Patrick McGoohan ITC show.

For when it was made it does seem high budget, and though the episodes tend to resolve far quicker than they should, it’s a decent watch.

Of course, knowing me as you do, dear readers, part of the fun is identifying the actors who have appeared in Doctor Who at one point or another.

Let’s just say when Patrick Troughton showed up with his Salamander voice on, I was pretty thrilled.


Movies: Bad Moms Review (or “Yay, Men Are Shit etc etc”)

November 9, 2017

I’m not really sure why I decided to watch Bad Moms, but I did…

Just in case it was good enough to justify going to see the sequel that’s currently out on the cinema…

But it wasn’t.

I’m going to try not to be too scathing because it’s not that bad a movie; it’s just that it’s the same Hollywood comedy you’ve seen 1000 times already over the past 15 years. It’s crude, it has the most basic and predictable plot imaginable and it’s another one of these rather preachy affairs that bluntly screams at you that women/mothers aren’t perfect.

Yes, we know they aren’t; it’s hardly a revelation.

Presumably the sequel will be exactly what this movie was, but instead of the three women rebelling against the PTA and their daily expectations as mothers, they’ll rebel against what’s demanded of them at Christmas time and by their own mothers, who of course they’ll come to realise in the end are just like them. And then they’ll probably all get drunk together. Yay, men are shit, etc etc.

And yet it was a decent enough movie to watch in the afternoon while playing games on my phone.

Or to put it another way, it’s not something you’d want to go to the cinema to see, but it’d pass the time on a plane.

Yeah…that’ll do.

 


The Ken Dodd Happiness Show (or ‘No, Ken Dodd’s Not Dead, And Neither Is His Dad’s Dog’)

June 27, 2016

“I thought he was dead”.

That’s the line most people gave me when they heard I was going along to see a Ken Dodd gig in Dunfermline last night; well that and the disgraceful “I’ve never heard of him” from some younger folks.

No folks, Ken Dodd is not dead; instead at the grand old age of 88 he’s still touring the country every weekend performing his epic gigs that have become the stuff of legend.

I’ve seen my fair share of stand-up shows over the years – including the great Billy Connolly – and they tend to last an hour, maybe two at max, but Dodd is well known for going on long into the night with reviewersken dodd suggesting you take a blanket and some breakfast just in case.

Surely though a show starting at 7pm would be out reasonably early?

Nope.

From the picture on the back of programme of Dodd holding up a clock reading five to midnight to his early jokes about how we’d soon find out what it’s like to be in a hostage situation, and that by time the show ends our loved ones would have reported us all missing, it was clear this might last a while.

Dodd finally wrapped up his show at 23:45, nearly five hours after first walking on the stage.

Of  course, there was an intermission at around 10pm as well as a couple of breaks from the man himself as he gave up the stage for two musical variety acts to go through (thankfully) short sets, but all in all he was front and centre for well over three hours.

Unbelievable.

And what of his act?

Though it dipped a little bit after the intermission as the man from Knotty Ash went on a long, rambling anecdote about a man entering a monastery, it was mostly engaging and laugh-out-loud funny throughout, even though it was sometimes a little bit difficult to hear what he was saying thanks to a combination of old age and a chest infection. The highlight of the night was the last 45 minutes when he brought out his famous Diddy Man, Dicky Mint to a huge ovation before finishing with rousing renditions of two of his most famous songs, Absent Friends and Happiness.

Now you might think that that is just standard Dodd, and if you look up either of his ‘Audience with…’ shows that are available on YouTube you’ll see him perform an almost identical last section of his act, but it doesn’t matter; Dodd’s delivery, enthusiasm and all-round mastery of his craft meant that it was still as brilliant as when you first saw it performed.

It was worth the price of admission, and then some.

For a guy of his age to stand out there and hit us with joke after joke and song after song for as long as he did is nothing short of incredible. Equally incredible was that I could attend anything for nearly five hours and not want to leave.

Ken Dodd is a national treasure – and legend – and while he no doubt has a few years left in him, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that he won’t continue to tour for too much longer.

So if you want to see him, do it. Sure, be prepared for a long night, but you won’t regret it.


Movies – Hail, Caesar! Review (or ‘I Felt Like I Was In Purgatory’)

March 19, 2016

The mistake I made was going to see Hail, Caesar! based on the recommendation of someone who hadn’t actually watched it himself.

When you think about it, that’s not really a recommendation at all.

But I went, and I didn’t enjoy it.casuer

And the thing is, I really felt like I should have.

It’s got a strong cast, an interesting premise – it’s a story about a day in the life of a 1950s Hollywood Studio boss and how his work is full of farcical challenges created by his problematic contract stars – and it looks great with all the period costume and design.

But the script lets it down.

Not only are the different set pieces full of misfiring humour, but the pacing and amount of time given to some characters over others is also way off.

And most of all it was just dull.

Despite going to an 8pm showing, I actually lost interest to the point where I started to fall asleep after about an hour. But because the  seats in the cinema aren’t particularly comfortable and it’s obviously quite loud in there, I kept waking up every couple of minutes.

It felt like I was trapped in some kind of cinematic purgatory watching a crap movie that just never seemed to end.

Really, the only enjoyment I got out of the whole thing was sitting there asking myself “Who is that guy? I recognise him”. It turned out to be someone who appeared in an episode of Jonathan Creek.

And when that’s the only positive, then the experience was one to be forgotten.

Avoid.

 

 


Movies – Grimsby Review (or ‘Unashamedly Crude And Surprisingly Brilliant’)

February 23, 2016

 

The interesting thing about Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, Grimsby – a British Spy spoof about a Secret Service agent who accidentally reconnects with his long-lost ned/chav brother – is that it has polarised reviewer opinion. Some are singing its praises, while others are offering their strongest recommendations to avoid it.

But then comedy is a subjective beast.

One person’s comic gold is another’s drizzling shits.Grimsby-Movie-Poster

So I suppose you can’t really trust a review without knowing your sense of humour reflects that of the author.

But what the hell, eh; you may as well read on to see what I thought about it anyway.

As it turns out, I thought Grimsby was surprisingly funny.

Though I’ve never seen any of Cohen’s previous output, and so definitely had reservations going in, I laughed all the way through.

Is it sophisticated, Sorkin-esque humour? Absolutely not; it’s about as crude as you can get, with an anal fixation, children swearing, the occasional bit of slapstick, Daniel Radcliffe accidentally getting HIV, dogs being thrown out of windows and some incredible scenes involving sucking out poison and hiding inside an elephant.

But at the same time it didn’t feel crude for the sake of it.

No, Grimsby was actually quite clever, with the laughs being propped up by a storyline that – while pretty straight forward and riddled with exposition – made sense and didn’t over-stay its welcome in the 84 minutes the movie lasted.

And though it made fun of the sort of benefit scrounging layabouts – or as they were labelled during the movie, ‘Scum’ – that are so rife in certain sections of the UK, it did it in a playful enough way that you could either laugh at the characters or with them.

Ultimately then, whether Grimsby is for you or not depends upon your sense of humour. If the sort of thing I listed above tickles your fancy then you’ll have a great time.

If not, save your time and money because I doubt you’ll enjoy it.