TV reviews

Arrested Development 5×04 – ‘An Old Start’ – TV Review

Let me start off with what I loved about this episode: Alia Shawkat as Maeby Funke, up to her old tricks of pretending to be older than she is. And in this case she is pretending to be someone half a century older, as she moves into a villa in a retirement complex, part-owned by Lucille Austero (who is still missing). Maeby has the senior patter down pat, and Shawkat plays the part to perfection. But not everyone has fully found their character feet. Whilst Jessica Walter is still on top form as Lucille Bluth, Will Arnett isn’t quite pulling off Gob’s garbled desperation in the way that he used to. Possibly because – along with some other cast members – his maturity and solidity makes it harder to portray a character who acts like a spoilt child.

Only eight episodes of Arrested Development – half a season – have currently been released by Netflix, with the rest to follow at some still-to-be-announced date in the future. So by the fourth episode, ‘An Old Start’ (geddit?), I was expecting the show to have kicked into gear a little, with some idea of where it is heading. But unfortunately it hasn’t; it still seems to be meandering along. Hopefully it’s still playing set-up, because if it’s not – well, there’s not an awful lot of meat on these bones so far.

Reviving a beloved show after a break of several years is hard, and not always something that the showrunner will get right, especially if they try to change things too radically, or too soon. The lukewarm reception for Arrested Development’s season four is a perfect example of this, and the scramble to re-edit it really didn’t improve things.

Getting a second attempt at a revival, after a similar amount of time passing, brings with it entirely new challenges. Maybe you’ve lost that part of your audience who hated the first revival. Or maybe they’ve stuck with you but are going to be more critical than ever. So do you come up with a bunch of fresh material for the show? Or do you go back to the original formula and start over with it, hoping that it’s enough to keep the fans happy?

The powers-that-be seem to have made the latter choice for season five, and whilst what I’ve seen so far isn’t exactly stale it is starting to feel a little – same. Although perhaps, since we are revisiting Michael’s family and past alongside him, this is actually the point. Because whilst the show seems a little lethargic, it is playing up its meta-ness by having the ever-irritating Tobias (David Cross) work his way through portraying members of the Bluth family. His comment on Michael (Jason Bateman) – “This is the simplest character in the entire family. He has one personality trait: he always comes back.” – is particularly apt when contrasted with Michael’s “Goodbye forever” to various members of his family, only for them to reply “See you tonight”.

So perhaps we need to be as tired of Michael’s family as he is, and subsequent episodes will pick up the pace and inject some energy into forthcoming developments, because really there’s only so far we can go with laughing because ‘oh he said that thing again’.

Arrested Development Season 5 is now available on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the season.

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