US TV comedy Arrested Development, the story of the highly dysfunctional Bluth family, reached it’s (final) conclusion on streaming service Netflix when the second half of the fifth season appeared a few weeks ago. Did it go out in a blaze of glory? I’d have to say no, I think it limped towards the finishing line as if it had a false leg, rather than the false hand that belonged to one of it’s main characters, Buster Bluth. Although the show’s first three seasons on Fox received huge critical acclaim, the shows return for a fourth and fifth series on Netflix has received lukewarm receptions from fans and tv critics alike.
Arrested Development first aired on the Fox network in 2003 and ran for three seasons. It had been created by Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and writer Mitchell Hurwitz. Although it garnered much critical acclaim, it’s viewing figures struggled to reach the heights required and it was cancelled in 2006 after the third season. Despite it’s cancellation, talk and rumour abounded that it might come back for a movie length tv special to tie up all the remaining plot points. Nothing concrete came from this and in the meantime, many of the original cast became even hotter properties in Hollywood. What also happened is that’s it’s reputation continued to grow and among some of the awards the show won in this time was in Time magazine where it was listed as one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME”.
Fast forward to 2011 and Netflix commissioned a fourth series to be shown exclusively on it’s streaming service. Those 15 new episodes aired in 2013, released all at the same time in what was becoming a new model of broadcasting in the world of (streaming) tv. However the format of the show had changed significantly from the previous three seasons. Due to scheduling problems filming, getting so many ‘hot properties’ in Hollywood together at one time, the fourth season focused on one family member per episode (but all of them happening at the same time within the show’s timeline) rather than the usual ‘mix’. It felt like a somewhat different show to what it had been, and it suffered because of it. So much so that the producers went back to it and put together a “redux” version of it, that split up the parts of it into a more traditional mix. Netflix then aired the redux version of Season 4 a few months before the latest fifth season began.
And so we arrive at Season 5. The 16 episodes of this latest run were split in half with the first eight being released in May of 2018 and the final ones recently in March 2019. All the major cast members returned, although Portia de Rossi in a much less prominent role as a result of her recent to decision to ‘retire’ from acting. I was really hoping it was going to reclaim some it’s lost mojo, so that if this was going to be the last outing, it would go out at the top of it’s game. It started badly though, with too many unfunny subplots, and paused at the halfway point on what definitely couldn’t be called a cliffhanger. The concluding 8 episodes also failed to get back any of the elements that made it such a popular show in the first place. There is a very, very funny ‘pay-off’ right in the last moments of the final episode, but it was too little, too late.
The Netflix seasons end up hurting the legacy of most of the characters involved. That’s not to say the shows aren’t still funny, they still have their moments, but you feel that you’re watching some of your closest ‘friends’ die slowly. I would like to highlight the performance of Alia Shawkat who played Maeby Fünke, whose character is probably best served by these scripts. Her descent into moral bankruptcy posing under false names and disguises (and ultimately towards split personality syndrome) was one of the stronger points of the show’s return.
Definitively, the question of whether Arrested Development will ever return again, for a sixth season or tv movie, remains unanswered. As well as the problems with reuniting the cast of stars together again in one go, and the lukewarm reception to these latest episodes, there also appears to have been problems behind the scenes professionally with relationships between Jeffrey Tambor (who plays George Bluth as well as his twin brother Oscar) and the rest of the cast. Accused elsewhere of sexual harassment by two former co-stars, it seems to have put an extra strain on everyone. I won’t go into the details of this case here, but you can read more in this interview with Maxine Walters who played his onscreen wife.