TV Review: ‘Arrested Development’ Squanders the Charms of the Original

Fine food never tastes as good when it is reheated a few days later. “Arrested Development” season five feels like reheated meat that smells way past its expiration date. When the show aired its fourth season on Netflix in 2013, it was an incredibly anticipated commodity. However, that season’s baffling one-character-at-a-time structure alienated many fans and gained few new converts. Season five picks up on the cliffhanger ending of season four and manages to give us few answers. It takes a bad idea and runs with it. Despite still having the same all-star cast, the magic that made “Arrested Development” one of the best network comedies of all time seems to have run out.

The central event of the season revolves around Michael (Jason Bateman) once again talked back into the clutches of the Bluth family as they are awarded the “Family of the Year” award (given to them by themselves). This is merely a ploy to bolster Lindsey’s (Portia De Rossi) run for office, as she tries to push the Bluth funded wall on the Mexican border. However, he’s mainly there to make things right with his son, George Michael (Michael Cera), who was dating the same woman as his Father – Ron Howard’s daughter Rebel Alley (Isla Fisher).

Following the events of Cinco de Cuatro (remember that from season four?), Lucille (Jessica Walters) retreats to her remote beach house, employing Tobias (David Kross) as her personal therapist. Once Lucille 2 goes “missing” (Liza Minnelli, severely missed from this season), the family allows Buster (Tony Hale) to be framed for the possible murder. His Father, George Sn. (Jeffrey Tambor) is squarely out of the picture. He wanders to Mexico to mourn the loss of his testosterone levels. It’s here he encounters his other son, Gob (Will Arnett). Gob is running from his newfound homosexual feelings for fellow magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller).

This season fundamentally misunderstands the character interactions that make the show successful. Lucille and Buster spend the entire show apart, severing the cringeworthy wit of their Norman Bates-esque relationship. Lindsay vanishes for noticeably long patches of the show. Instead, we focus on Michael and George Michael finding increasingly incredulous ways to misunderstand and avoid each other. Both Jason Bateman and Michael Cera fall flat as they fail to elicit laughs from their timid and tenuous behavior. The same could be said of the other Father-Son relationship at the center here. Jeffrey Tambor and Will Arnett never get on the same comic rhythm as a Father and Son falling victim to their sadness and crippling toxic masculinity.

Even still, the cast mostly shows up to play, even if it is just the familiar notes. Jessica Walters, Tony Hale and David Kross all demonstrate they know how to deliver a punchline with impeccable timing. Yet, they get little new to do as characters. In fact, it is Alia Shawkat as Maeby who emerges as best in show. The most hilarious subplot of the season involves Maeby using the art of disguise and persuasion to sneak into an elder care facility and live a carefree lifestyle with Stan Sitwell (Ed Begley, Jr.). Shawkat proves dexterous at pulling off the ruse. However, the joke works as its all tied to Maeby’s desperate need for a Father figure.

Even the eccentric cast of guest stars are notably absent. Maria Bamford makes a hilarious last minute entry as DeBrie Bardeaux, nearly saving the final episode. Other than that, the majority of the new guest stars revolve around series creator Ron Howard. A substantial scene takes place at his family barbeque. Bryce Dallas Howard seems particularly game to skewer her family namesake. The remaining recurring guest stars are either phoning it in (Christine Taylor, Judy Greer), clearly over it (Isla Fisher) or better in other shows this year (Henry Winkler).

While its been five years since the previous season of “Arrested Development,” the show exists in that same time period. It feels frozen in time, almost oblivious to the ways the world has changed. We still spend an inordinate amount of time on a local election where the central issue is building a wall on the Mexican border. The carefree, inconsequential way the notorious Bluth family squanders their wealth and status reads as tone deaf, rather than biting. The writers have lost the balance of having fun with the abhorrent characters and skewering their narcissism.

“Arrested Development” Season Five is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

GRADE: (★½)

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