TV Review: “Arrested Development” Season 5 – Disappointing

Written by Jeremiah Greville June 03, 2018

AD Season 5

Arrested Development has been a cult comedy favourite since 2003 for good reason. The first three seasons aired on Fox to low ratings and critical acclaim, and in the years since have become almost legendary among comedy aficionados. Most of the cast have gone on to greater stardom due largely in part to their time on the show. In 2013, Netflix revived the show for a 15-episode fourth season. It was met with mixed response. Popular culture has made big changes in the past five years, and controversy surrounds star Jeffrey Tambor (who plays George Bluth Sr.). With the recent premiere of its fifth season, many are struggling with that controversy, and what it means.

**Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault and Harassment**

Workplace harassment is a serious issue, and so is sexual assault. That last sentence should be so obvious that writing it makes me feel gross, but here we are. It’s something that, in 2018, needs to be said over and over. The allegations against Jeffrey Tambor — of sexual harassment, which he denies, and verbal harassment, which he’s admitted to — are significant, and will play into how people view the newest season of Arrested Development. The responses from the cast have not been ideal either. They may even taint the viewing experience for many fans. As a result, several people have chosen not to watch this season of Arrested Development at all.

As reviewers at We Eat Films, it’s our job to describe and assess our subjects while maintaining as much of the viewing experience as possible. From there, we can give viewing recommendations. That’s not something that can easily be done here.

If you don’t want to see the new season of Arrested Development, or refuse to watch it, that’s absolutely okay. I support your choice, and won’t try to convince you otherwise. If you’re a fan of the show or just plan to watch it, that’s absolutely your right as well. But if you do plan on watching, it’s important to be aware of the controversy surrounding it. We must all strive to understand how our media viewing habits affect others. This leaves us with the third group of people — those on the fence, or those undecided about how the allegations might affect their decision. I don’t have an easy answer to that.

It’s okay not to watch, regardless of quality.

Does art stand separate from the artist? How do we deal with problematic creators? These are old questions we’re still asking. Can exceptionally good art mitigate or excuse problematic behaviour? I’m not sure about that either, but I can say one thing: the fifth season of Arrested Development is not good enough for that to be a worry. If you’re on the fence, there’s no need to burden yourself by watching these episodes. If you want to avoid them, you won’t be missing anything. This doesn’t solve the larger issue or absolve the rest of us of the moral cost of watching. But if you were looking for a short answer, that’s the best I can do.

AD Season 5

So far, the fifth season of Arrested Development is not that great. It’s better than the fourth in terms of overall laughs and reclaims a bit of what made the first three original seasons so compelling. But it simply isn’t must-watch TV. Netflix has chosen to split the fifth season into two half-seasons, releasing the first eight episodes in May, and the final eight episodes later in the year. This review will cover those first eight episodes, recently released. One of my biggest complaints about this season is also a consequence of this strange release strategy. Frankly, this first half of the season is a confusing mess. Too much of it is left unresolved, and what’s left feels strangely lifeless and unsatisfactory.

“Same…in a different way.”

Season 5 picks up right where the fourth season ends, and finds the Bluth family caught up in a murder scandal and political campaign. All of the main cast return: Jason Bateman (Michael), Will Arnett (Gob), Portia de Rossi (Lindsay), David Cross (Tobias), Jessica Walter (Lucille), Michael Cera (George Michael), Alia Shawkat (Maeby), Tony Hale (Buster), and Jeffrey Tambor (George Sr). The cast is as good as ever, but Cera and Shawkat deserve special recognition. They’ve each come into their own as actors and much of the fifth season falls on their shoulders. Shawkat, in particular, has become the show’s new secret weapon and fills her own zany niche of the Bluth family nicely.

AD Season 5

However, not everyone is as well-served by the scripts. David Cross’s performance as fan-favourite Tobias suffers the most this season. The actor tries his absolute best, but the character’s become a slapstick caricature of the strange man we once loved. Cross strains under the weight of a script that has no purpose for him, and turns this into a meta-narrative of its own. But at least he gets screen time. Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay is treated as an afterthought. She doesn’t even appear in the last couple episodes, and though she’s central to the plot, she’s often nowhere to be seen.

“They call me Buttons, now. Buttons!”

And that plot–oh boy. I took notes throughout this season and I’m still lost. I’m not sure if it’s a problem of editing or scripting or both, but it feels like several episodes are missing from the final product. This season only really starts to make sense as certain plot threads come together in larger episodes, but since it’s only the first half of a 16-episode season, there aren’t enough of those to go around. Arrested Development‘s trademark foreshadowing and long-term joke setup is still at play, but by now you can see the gears in motion. You assume that each gear is part of a larger comedy machine, but when they’re all that you can see, that’s not entertaining.

AD Season 5

Previous seasons covered up this machinery with stronger episodic ‘A-Plots’ that carry your attention. Season 5 has none of those. It’s a season constructed entirely of ‘B-Plots’ with no unifying theme or message, and it’s a mess. The biggest example of this chaotic storytelling comes in the very first episode, where almost two-thirds is taken up by Ron Howard’s voiceover narration explaining the plot of last season and setting up this one. Seriously–it’s that much, and it’s extreme. But there are still laughs to be had, with Will Arnett’s sexuality subplot a serious highlight, and a hilarious bit with Ron Howard’s extended family in Episode 6.

“What a waste of a dream.”

But a few laughs aren’t enough to make up for a lukewarm season. Season 5 just isn’t that good so far. I’m sure that the second half will be stronger when it pulls together several of these plot threads. But for now, this season just isn’t worth it. It’s a shame, too, because Arrested Development is never particularly bad, and everyone is giving it their best. There are things to like about this season, and I’m sure it’ll be better once its released in its entirety. But for now, it’s not really worth recommending. Regardless of the controversy surrounding Jeffrey Tambor–and this season certainly makes that uncomfortable at times–it’s still not really that good. Arrested Development was one of the best things on TV in 2003, but television has come a long way. You don’t have to settle. Better shows are out there.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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