TV Reviews

Arrested Development Season 5 Part 1 Review

Arrested Development has got to be the show put through the most obstacles since its inaugural season all the way back in 2003.

It originally aired on Fox for its first three seasons and, despite critical acclaim, it was canceled due to low ratings (sound familiar?) The show was resurrected by Netflix in 2011 with the initial plan of a new season followed by a movie and in 2013, seven years after its last episode aired, the dysfunctional family that audiences grew to love returned. However, this season was not well received as the storytelling format was completely changed with many of the actors, who had gone on to have successful careers, unable to line up their schedules which ended up removing the most divisive aspect of this show: the banter between its characters.

In early May, Netflix released a remixed version of season four returning to the original format, despite the lack of scenes with the whole cast interacting. Season 5 was swiftly announced with a release date only a few weeks later, but it would be released it in two-parts to make it eligible for Emmy nominations. They called this season act two of a final three-act story of the lives of the Bluths in what is now only the fifth season in 15 years. This is without going into detail about the hostile atmosphere on set and the return of actors who had since the previous season been accused of sexual harassment or racist behavior. Yes it’s been a long, tedious journey to this season, but for the respect of the rest of the crew it’s best to keep an open mind and pray that this season returns this show to its glory days.

The main story of season five revolves around the events after Cinco de Quatro and the mysterious disappearance of Bluth Family frenemy Lucille Austero (Liza Minnelli). With detectives searching for the Bluth Company’s biggest stakeholder they turn to the namesakes of the company for answers and find it’s a little more than difficult to get a straight answer out of them. Meanwhile, the family decides the best course of action is to have one of their own run for office in an attempt to finish the wall that they started. As the family members continue to avoid their problems by taking frequent trips across the border, everything comes to a head during a Second of July parade.

Season five begins with a very rocky start as the first episode spends the majority of its runtime on recapping the previous season to refresh the audience on the events surrounding the Bluth family. After another episode that again focused on recapping and heavy exposition, it appeared that this season would be a lot more of the same subpar storylines of season four. However, halfway through this short half-season it picked up and the narrative began to resemble the original show. The jokes were funnier, the cast was more involved in each other’s stories, there was witty banter and tons of long running gags that returned. It looked as if we may return to the glory days of this trendsetting sitcom.

The best part of the season is the fact that they were able to shoot the majority of the stories with the main cast all together. Season four’s change in storytelling format relied heavily on the inability to shoot scenes with the entire cast and it drastically changed the tone for the show. Without the witty banter between the three generations of Bluths, the narrative became stale quickly, which is a slight improvement seen in this season. Unfortunately, there are still a few key issues with this season that only make it marginally better than the less-than-well-received previous one.

While most of the actors were able to share scenes together, a few are noticeably absent from this season. Tony Hale’s production schedule for his other projects caused his storyline to separate him from the rest of the cast, but the biggest issue revolved around Portia de Rossi. After her recurring role on Scandal, she announced her retirement, but Mitchell Hurwitz was able to convince Rossi to reprise her role as Lindsay for a couple episodes. Unfortunately, it appears Rossi didn’t make it to set as many of her scenes are painfully green-screened with her only shots involving other characters showing Lindsay draped in a bed sheet to hide her face. This obvious disappearance of Lindsay in the narrative is further complicated by the storylines of the season.

One of the major stories is Lindsay’s decision to run for office after her previous affair, Herbert Love, drops out of the race. Many of the ads for this season focused on Lindsay and her political campaign and yet with her being essentially written off the show the storyline abruptly stops. This is just one of the few storylines that end up falling short this season. In fact, this season was promoted as a comedic take on a whodunit mystery surrounding the disappearance of Austero. While those events do play a role in the overall narrative, it never really feels like a murder mystery other than the occasional awkward interaction between Michael and the police or Buster’s situation. It’s weird considering the showrunners called it the focal point of the season so hopefully it takes center stage in the back half.

The only other part of this season that is both a blessing and a curse is the narration. Ron Howard’s tranquil voice has been a staple in this series since day one. He’s not only the voice of the Bluth family, but an executive producer and even has a recurring role as himself. However, while his commentary on the absurd antics that surround the Bluth family is a big part of the comedy style of this show, this season relies a little too much on the heavy exposition of his narration which downplays the golden rule of show, don’t tell. Regardless, the narration continues to be a very entertaining and unique aspect of this show that proves it still has its ridiculous charm.

The first half of this new season of Arrested Development is a return to form by the showrunners to its traditional and unique form of storytelling. The narrative focuses on the family as the ensemble is able to interact more frequently bringing back the quirky charisma and dynamic at the heart of this show. However, the lack of a time jump forces the first few episodes to tie up dull, incohesive storylines and the central question that should be at the center of this season is overshadowed by less interesting stories that fail to hit their comedic or emotional marks. From its trendsetting story elements, absurd scenarios and even more absurd characters, this season may not be as good as its golden years, but it’s certainly on the right path to getting there so it’s worth the watch.

Score: 7.5/10

What did you think of Arrested Development? Was this season better than the last? Let me know in the comments!

On top of writing reviews for this site, I also post video reviews on my YouTube channel The Film Fanatic where we post content like movie and TV reviews, countdown videos, movie recommendations, script analyses and more. If you liked this, check out my other reviews here as well as my website! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and like me on Facebook.

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  1. Wow, I had no idea how much this show has been through! I saw the first 3 seasons but haven’t seen the 4th yet. I really need to get around to it! It was so great in its glory days.