I’m sad to say that at around two hours and thirty minutes into watching season five of Arrested Development I have reached a sense of quiet disillusionment. And so it is heavily appropriate that the title of this episode is ‘Sinking Feelings’. This feels like a show that has lost its way and is desperately scrabbling for purchase before it goes under. And if the show is slipping away from the writers then it won’t be long before the viewers start slipping away from the show.
Because it’s not the performances that are at fault here: everyone is doing the best with what they have, and the cast overall is strong enough that it could carry a weak performance or two. No, it’s the writing that just isn’t up to standard. At its peak, Arrested Development was a clever comedy of errors, plot-driven, and full of absurd misunderstandings and lightning-fast repartee. Even much reviled season four had cleverness in its favour.
But season five, at this point, seems to be bloated and slow-moving, with no real sense of direction. Arrested Development can’t just be people being mean to one another. It has to be funny too. And I didn’t laugh once during this episode, not even a quiet chuckle, not even a silent giggle. ‘What a horrible speech!’, says narrator Ron Howard of Gob’s award ceremony ramblings. And yes, it was, because it just wasn’t funny at all. The background jokes, such as the ‘build your own plain hamburger’ sign, which in the past have served to add to the overflowing humour, are at this point more amusing than the actual dialogue.
Perhaps part of the problem here is that the writers are trying to tie the entire story into material from the last season, and with a five year gap between them, this is making a real mess. I think I’d actually have preferred a retcon on the whole thing, which ordinarily I loathe, but which in this case could have seen the Bluths starting afresh in 2018, with entirely new stories to play out. Instead we have what feels like tokenism, with Tobias gaining a son, and the family all hanging out at a new location.
In my review of episode one, ‘Family Leave’, I said that the disappearance of Lucille Austero was likely to cast suspicion on just about all of the Bluth family. But it looks like I was wrong, because so far the only real suspicion being cast is on Buster as being potentially responsible. This seems like something of a missed opportunity. I had thought this season was setting itself up to be a ‘whodunnit’, but instead it seems to be a ‘who cares?’. Because this is the other thing: the audience needs to actually care what happens to these characters. And at this point? I really don’t.
Arrested Development: Season 5 is now available on Netflix. Let us know what you think of it.