It’s a joke that has been made many times, but Arrested Development really does like to live up to its name. With seven years elapsing between seasons three and four, and a further five year wait before season five came along, it felt like something of a bad joke when it was announced that only half of season five, comprising just eight episodes, would initially air on Netflix, with no set date for the release of the remainder of the season. Speculation about the reason for the delay ranged from the controversy over The New York Times’ interview with the cast just days before season five dropped, to ensuring eligibility for the Emmys in light of the likelihood of this being Arrested Development‘s final season.
Now, a long 10 months later, the Bluths are back again, to – hopefully – wrap up their story in a way that is both humorous and satisfying. But maybe don’t hold your breath, because the first half of the season really didn’t hit any of the right notes, relying on re-used jokes that were fresh when the show first invented them but are so very stale 15 years on and five seasons of use later.
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We left the family just after the second of July parade, with Buster (Tony Hale) staging a fake but also real jailbreak, and Gob (Will Arnett) losing fake-gay Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) under a ton of cement in a magic trick gone wrong. When we rejoin the Bluths in episode nine, ‘Unexpected Company’ (the titles, if nothing else, are fairly clever), George (Jeffrey Tambor) and Lucille (Jessica Walter) are still fighting about their marriage, George-Michael (Michael Cera) is still freaking out about his fake company, Fake Block, and Gob is still wondering whether to be gay or not, in between quitting his job as company co-president.
So far so neutral. It’s not that Arrested Development is now bad, it’s more that it’s… nothing. In previous years it relied on misdirection and surprise; it created its own energy. Now everything about it feels tired and laboured and – just old. It used to have real story, an overarching plot. Now it feels fractured and fragmented. In a show that is so very much about fakery – a model home, fake companies, faked crimes, fake protesters, fake news – it is something of a shame that Arrested Development feels like a fake copy of its old self.