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.
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.