US TV comedy Arrested Development, the story of the dysfunctional Bluth family, reached it’s conclusion on Netflix just weeks ago. Did it go out in a blaze of glory? I’d have to say no. It limped towards the finishing line as if it had a false leg. Not the false hand belonging to one of the main the characters, Buster Bluth. The show’s first three seasons on Fox received huge critical acclaim. However the shows’s fourth and fifth series on Netflix have received lukewarm receptions from fans and tv critics alike.
Arrested Development first aired on the Fox network in 2003 and ran for three seasons. It had been created by Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and writer Mitchell Hurwitz. Although it attracted critical acclaim, it’s viewing figures dwindled until and it was cancelled in 2006 after the third season. Despite it’s cancellation, talk and rumour abounded that it might come back for a movie length tv special to tie up all the remaining plot points. Nothing concrete came from this and in the meantime, many of the original cast became even hotter properties in Hollywood. What also happened is that’s it’s reputation continued to grow and among some of the awards the show won in this time. Time magazine listed it as one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME”.
Fast forward to 2011 and Netflix commissioned a fourth series to be shown exclusively on it’s streaming service. Those 15 new episodes aired in 2013 released all at the same time. This had become the new model of broadcasting in the world of (streaming) tv. However the format of the show had changed significantly from the previous three seasons. Scheduling problems hampered filming, getting so many ‘hot properties’ in Hollywood together at one time. The fourth season focused on one family member per episode (but all of them happening at the same time within the show’s timeline). This was rather than the usual ‘mix’ of characters.
It felt like different show to what it had been, and it suffered because of it. So much so that the producers went back to it and put together a “redux” version of it. The redux split up the parts of it into a more traditional mix and focus. Netflix then aired the redux version of Season 4 a few months before the latest fifth season began.
And so we arrive at Season 5. The 16 episodes of this latest run were split in half with the first eight being released in May of 2018. The final ones were released in March 2019. All the major cast members returned, although Portia de Rossi in a much less prominent role as a result of her recent to decision to ‘retire’ from acting.
End Of The Road?
I was really hoping it was going to reclaim some it’s lost mojo if this was going to be the last outing. I hoped it would go out at the top of it’s game. It started badly though, with too many unfunny subplots, and paused at the halfway point on what definitely couldn’t be called a cliffhanger. The concluding 8 episodes also failed to get back any of the elements that made it such a popular show in the first place. There is a very, very funny ‘pay-off’ right in the last moments of the final episode, but it was too little, too late.
The Netflix seasons end up hurting the legacy of most of the characters involved. That’s not to say the shows aren’t still funny. They still have their moments, but you feel that you’re watching some of your closest ‘friends’ die slowly. I would like to highlight the performance of Alia Shawkat who played Maeby Fünke, whose character is probably best served by these scripts. Her descent into moral bankruptcy posing under false names and disguises (and ultimately towards split personality syndrome) was excellent. It was one of the stronger points of the show’s return.
Definitively, the question of whether Arrested Development will ever return again, for a sixth season or tv movie, remains unanswered. As well as the problems with reuniting the cast of stars together again at one time, there may be additional problems. It seems there may be problems behind the scenes professionally with relationships between Jeffrey Tambor and other cast members. Accused elsewhere of sexual harassment by two former co-stars, it seems to have put an extra strain on everyone. For more details of this case, you can read more in this interview with Maxine Walters (his onscreen wife).