Has someone made a huge mistake? Following the rise and falling fortunes of the once rich Bluth family, the cult hit comedy show Arrested Development was critically acclaimed during its original 3 season run. But then it got cancelled in 2006. Five years later and it was licensed to Netflix. They then produced the fourth season to middling results. Due to the difficulty in logistics of getting all the cast together, the season relied on green screens to combine them. So much of the comedy of the motley crew of self-absorbed meddlers was lost. Now the question is, has creator Mitchell Hurwitz made a huge mistake in trying to rebottle the lightning?
First off, season 5 is a huge improvement on season 4. Thanks to better availability of the principal cast (Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Michael Cera to name a few) the ratio of group scenes is far higher. The show has always had very complicated interwoven plot lines with characters lying to each other, misunderstanding each other, and scheming away to teach each other ‘a lesson’. The central plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Lucille Austero. She was last seen having a heated argument with the sensible linchpin of the family: Michael.
Through a variety of tangled means, the emotionally stunted Buster is accused of the murder. And the family must work to try and free him. But also thrown in is George Michael’s FakeBlock software (which doesn’t exist). Plus the back and forth ‘build a wall’ dealings at the Mexico border with some displeased Chinese investors. And of course the repercussions of illusions designed to turn magician/attention seeker George Oscar Bluth straight (GOB), or gay, or freed from the ‘Gay Mafia’. Confused? That’s kind of the point.
In reality, while Arrested Development layers itself with tons of background details, running jokes and coded foreshadowing, it is best enjoyed with the gags of the moment, regardless of the plotting.
Some character pairings work better than others. Michael goading his acerbic mother Lucille with sarcasm and insults is always a highlight. Gob’s antagonistic inferiority complex is best paired with dismissive father George Snr. And George Michael’s self-paralysing worry is a joy when mixed with cousin Maeby’s ability to literally click off her feelings. When Arrested Development gets the character mix right, it works very well.
On the flip side when a central character is missing the new influences thrown in to replace them rarely work. Bluth sister Lindsay is only in a handful of episodes (due to Portia de Rossi’s retirement from acting) and without her, Tobias has no-one to deliver a mixture of vulnerability and self-aggrandising egotism to. His replacement family – son Murphybrown and walking train wreck DeBrie – add nothing.
Even on the production side, there are issues. There is something very wrong with how Arrested Development season 5 has been filmed. Despite more group scenes, there is so much automatic replacement dialogue that it becomes incredibly distracting. There are tons of shots that purposefully obscure character’s mouths so that clearly different dialogue from what was filmed can be dubbed over.
The quality of the dialogue recording noticeably changes each time too. It seems like Hurwitz has had to film quickly and then edit it all together later, which really harms the flow of the show.
And fatally, the cast chemistry has always hung on Michael holding the idiotic family together. He flits in and out of their various schemes rather than being the one in the middle around which the craziness revolves. This results in the series, whilst definitely improved, never actually managing to regain its original magic.
In summary, Arrested Development season 5 is a season of great moments strung together with bad editing. The laughs are there, and the performances are there. But the spirit is just stretched a little too thin. The first three seasons are always a strong recommendation from me and you should definitely go out and watch them. But if you aren’t already a fan then season 5 is unlikely to convert you. There may always be money in the banana stand, but maybe it’s time for Europe’s Final Countdown to blast out for a final time.
Words by Michael Record