This Arrested Development review contains spoilers.
Arrested Development Season 5 Episode 2
Michael Bluth wants out of the family. It’s a threat as hollow as Buster’s fake army hand. Michael may be spinning his wheels, but at least Arrested Development Season 5 episode 2 is trying to move forward.
It feels like we’re closer to understanding the actual narrative of the season, rather than being subjected to an unnecessary series of flashbacks in the premiere meant to catch us up or re-contextualize the storylines of season four that are best left in 2013. “Self-Deportation” is bookended by two familiar scenes, Michael threatening to leave and Michael smugly returning to “help” the family he just tried to desert. In the middle, there are pairings of cast that loosely resemble the Arrested Development we know and love. And the “on the next” scene teases a family reunion we desperately need to keep us from tuning out.
As the episodes builds to that moment, each character is dealing with an identity crisis of their own. In a way, they still need to wrap up their individual storylines of season four. Michael is starting to act like himself again, protecting Buster before he “leaves,” attempting to make amends with George Michael, and dropping the good guy act to actually enjoy his new work situation. One of the mistakes season four made was pushing Michael to the point where he was almost completely unlikable. His self-serving ways and tunnel vision led him to poor choices in business and in pleasure, but we got the sense he was never actively trying to hurt anyone. It seems like he now realizes he genuinely hurt his son, and that should serve as a catalyst to get out the sink hole he dug for himself. It doesn’t play out that way in this episode, but I imagine there’s a lot of words Michael and George Michael have for each other in future installments.
Speaking of long, monotonous chunks of dialogue, I don’t know if Jason Bateman has the lightest schedule of the cast, but he sure seems to have far more screen time during the revival than anyone else. It leads to some odds pairings and scenes that drag on for far longer than they need to. While Judy Greer is an unsung hero of so many comedies, Kitty has lost her effectiveness outside of blackmailing the Bluths. And as brilliant as Ron Howard and Brian Glazer are, the Imagine Entertainment inside jokes are spectacularly unfunny. Tony Hale is trying his best, and a robotic hand is a nice touch, but Buster needs to be a Motherboy, not a Michaelboy.
Elsewhere, Gob and George Sr. have their own identity crisis as they try to sleep their way through Mexico, but really this is a comedic dead end. Gob might actually be coming to terms with his sexuality after mistakenly sleeping with Tony Wonder, which feels like a misstep to not pair him with someone else who had a man inside him… like Tobias. And the continuation of George Sr.’s storyline with his lack of testosterone remains in poor taste after Jeffery Tambor was fired from Transparent for alleged sexual misconduct. Granted, they wrote this in 2013 before Tambor was cast in Transparent, but it’s a controversy that isn’t going away and it makes his scenes tough to watch.
It’s Maeby and George Michael who provide some of the only chemistry still left between the cast. As I know I’ve said when writing about this show in the past, but Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat (who you need to check out in Search Party) are capable of taking over this show. Cera even manages to get something out of the silly storyline about American students going to Mexico only to overlook the country’s culture and embrace what feels comfortable. It’s OK that Michael is falling back into a familiar place as the de facto leader of the family, but it should be George Michael fighting to keep his family together… Steve Holt included.
That might be what Arrested Development is going for right now, embrace the comfortable. My hope is they get back to having episodes that have more structure and purpose, rather than this ongoing storyline that makes it feel like a 16-episode movie.