This Arrested Development review contains NO spoilers. It is based on the final eight episodes of Arrested Development Season 5.
Well, I don’t know what I expected.
Actually, after a season and a half of duds, anyone could see this coming from miles off, but somehow, I fooled myself into believing it could be a good time to watch eight more episodes of misadventures with the Bluth family.
I was cured of my delusion almost immediately! Yes, the second half of Arrested Development Season 5 picks up right where it left off, which makes sense. It is the same season, after all.
It’s a strange business to be reviewing the second half of a season close to a year after the release of the first. From a publicity standpoint, it makes no sense to release it this way. All that’s happened in the interim is that Arrested Development has slipped even further from the public consciousness. It doesn’t make sense from a storytelling standpoint either. The first half ended on a semi-climactic moment, but all the major plotlines continue on throughout the back half as well.
This is only speculation, but the sad, likely truth of it is that creator Mitch Hurwitz and team were just that behind on cobbling this insanely convoluted season together. Netflix wanted to try and get some return on their investment before Arrested Development was naught but the stuff of legend, hence the half-and-half release compromise.
It’s depressing. Shooting wrapped in 2017 and it’s sad to think about all the work, all the editing and post-production, that must’ve gone into this season since then, only to result in this confusing, boring, mostly unfunny, slog of a thing.
In fact, you can feel the behind the scenes labor coming through clearly, as the show bends over backwards to try to make sense of itself. As with all the other Netflix episodes that came before it, Season 5B is overloaded with recaps paired with Ron Howard’s narration to try and help us understand just what the hell is going on from moment to moment. It’s nowhere near the obscene amount of narrated recapping that plagued the terribly-titled Arrested Development Season 4 Remix: Fateful Consequences, but it’s still one of the factors that makes watching it feel like work.
You can also see the work done to piece together all this 2017 footage—footage, it seems, that was often lacking. 5B continues the series’ staple of cutting to graphics (newspaper clippings, photographs, etc.) that add jokes and information to the ongoing storyline. Unfortunately, it also continues the trend started in Season 4 of those graphics looking like they were made in Photoshop on no budget in an hour or less.
Occasionally, there are some truly blatant moments of covering up where footage wasn’t available. There’s one bit where a character’s movements are briefly frozen and then continue in reverse to give the illusion that a shot is longer than it is. In one scene, a zoom-in is needed and is simply, obviously, created by taking a freeze frame and expanding it digitally.
These low-rent visual moments, however, pale in comparison to the terrible audio mixing. This is a problem that’s been with the series since its initial revival, but it’s as awful now as it was then. Dialogue is packed into nearly every moment. The narrator talks over characters. Characters talk over the narrator. Characters interject incomprehensible, quick lines (jokes, evidently) wherever there’s a nanosecond of silence to be filled. And behind it all, the soundtrack waffles on unhelpfully.
Wall-to-wall comedy is how Arrested Development is supposed to be, but the way it’s executed here makes it bewildering more than anything else. Faced with this constant deluge of yammering, my involuntary reaction was often to tune it out.
Further, a lot of the dialogue was recorded after filming and dubbed in later. Yes, they’ve mostly (mostly) done away with shoddily greenscreening actors in, but even though everyone was allegedly all present in the same room, it is absolutely bonkers just how often you’ll be watching the back (or, sometimes, even more glaring, the front) of a character’s head bob around as you hear them say something they’re obviously not really saying.
This was already an issue with the season’s first half, most of which I’ve forgotten, so it’s hard to say if the problem has worsened, but, my goodness, it sure feels like it. Seriously, what the hell happened here? Did they just fail to record almost any useful on-set audio and had to rerecord? Or was Mitch Hurwitz just having so much trouble connecting the threads of his intensely complicated storyline that he had to have the actors come in and make it work with new dialogue? Regardless of the reason, ADR happens a lot in Season 5B. Like, a lot a lot. Like, it’s shocking how much.
Perhaps it seems strange to harp for so long on the actual technical quality of these episodes, but the Netflix episodes of Arrested Development continue to be sloppy on a technical level to a degree that is frankly incredible for a supposedly professionally-produced work. It makes it regularly, genuinely difficult to understand what’s happening both visually and aurally, so it’s no small grievance.
Not that the writing isn’t also a big, stinking mess, because it is! Unlike the first three seasons, which became increasingly complex over time, Season 4 was convoluted on arrival, putting into motion all the events that have taken until now to conclude. Yes, mercifully, they do conclude. This is probably the end of Arrested Development and all the nonsense wraps up in a way that’s, at times, mildly satisfying. However, that satisfaction is severely dampened by the utterly exhausting realization that it has taken two whole, boring seasons (and two versions of one of those seasons) to get this foolishness over with.
The meandering plot sucks the charm from everything. The characters feel oddly as though they don’t get to exhibit or develop the traits we know them by, as they’re usually too busy rattling off exposition. Unlike in Season 4, they’ve got all the principal actors actually acting off each other, but they’re still paired off for long, boring stints, rarely coming together for scenes that replicate any of the fun dynamics of the original series.
More importantly, Michael (Jason Bateman) is simply not in the show enough. Something Season 4 lost and never recovered is having Michael as the protagonist. At times, it’s striking how great he still is as the straight man reacting to the rest of this absurd family and it’s a sad reminder of how little of him you actually get here.
5B has occasionally decent jokes and good wordplay, like Arrested Development was once known for. The majority, however, don’t land. I found myself nodding in recognition at many jokes, rather than actually laughing. It’s not always clear why they fail. The fault probably doesn’t lie with the actors who, as usual, are embodying these characters as best they can, so it’s likely down to the aforementioned poor technical presentation. Either that or it’s just tough to muster laughter when you’re tuckered out from endless exposition.
In the end, it’s pacing more than anything else that’s made revived Arrested Development a shell of itself. You can get all the characters together and load the thing with callbacks and wordplay, but nothing can change the fact that it is a chore to watch this series now. Nearly every scene drags on past the point of tolerability as characters slowly exposit their way through the impossibly bottomless plot.
Episodes feel arbitrarily divided up as the same storylines persist, oppressively, across all of them. As before, episode lengths fluctuate wildly. Some of the early ones almost hit the classic network TV standard of 22 minutes, but shortly they increase to 25, and then a full 30. The final episode is a whopping 47-minutes long. A nearly hour-long episode isn’t abnormal for a series finale, but when episode runtimes have already been out of control and random all the way up to the finale, it just feels like more work to get through.
Believe it or not, Arrested Development Season 5 is still an improvement for the Netflix incarnation of the series. I chuckled or snorted (but never full-on laughed) more times than I can count on my fingers as opposed to laughing literally twice at all of Season 4. But there’s no escaping that it’s still a chore. It is truly unfun, to the point of being fatiguing. If you must watch, I recommend you do not binge, as I did. Better yet, wait a few years for the inevitable reedit: Arrested Development Season 5 Remix: Consequential Fatefulness.
Unsurprisingly, Arrested Development Season 5B is a continuation of Season 5A. All the problems on display there have been seen through to their logical, disappointing conclusions here. When Season 4 happened, I was angry that such a brilliant, iconic, influential series had become this bastardized version of itself. Now I’m just depressed. It’s been such a long, sad decline for Arrested Development to unceremoniously putter out here. Now these pointless revival seasons will be tidied away and forgotten.
Rest in peace, Bluths. Please don’t ever come back.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!