Netflix’s Arrested Development – Suffering from arrested development?

Arrested Development has been regarded as both a cult classic and a former hit that has failed to recapture its former brilliance. The first half of its fifth and newest season is now available to stream on Netflix, but we’re not sure if the programme should continue to develop.

In short, the fourth season, launched in 2013 was a disaster, a conflation of unfunny skits and jarring storylines in which many of the main characters (due to filming restraints) failed to share the same screen. This was particularly problematic as original three seasons’ run (2003-2006) worked so well due to the chemistry between said cast, and how each character represented an essential piece in its absurdist dysfunctional family puzzle. So, it is a fair question to ask if we even want a new series of Arrested Development, let alone whether the show even deserves the chance to continue, when many great programmes are periodically cancelled?

Arrested Development Season 5

Netflix has surely been dedicating time and effort in the continuation of Arrested Development. In advance of the fifth season’s release, the fourth season was given a ‘Remix,’ in which the content was re-edited in the name of arguable coherency. The original cut of the season featured 15 episodes each centred on a different member of the Bluth family and their individual story arcs. The 22-episode remix, cuts the content into more coherent and cohesive episodes, wherein the Bluths’ narratives are somewhat more intertwined. It is fair to say that the manner in which Netflix attempted to address its mistakes indicates the direction it would like to take with season five. In fact, season five aims to be a closer recreation of what the original series achieved – a true test of whether this was success will be seen when the final 8 episodes are released.

In defence of the season so far, the entire cast is together, sharing scenes, creating on-screen chemistry, an accolade that the prior season failed to achieve. In fact, you could argue that the comedic ensemble that makes up the show is the element that brought its sharp, and highly self-referential script to life. In this sense, season five is a definite improvement from season four, and the writing benefits from intertwining narratives and running gags that make sense in a coherent way. However, with its full cast of characters, also comes the inclusion of Jeffrey Tambor, whom has been freshly embroiled in controversy. Recently fired from Amazon’s Transparent, a series for which he won two Emmys, Tambor is the latest Hollywood name to have been accused of sexual harassment. In turn, season five’s promotion has been entwined with scandal, and the return of Jeffrey Tambor has pre-empted the show’s airing with a sense of viewer indignation. Indeed, Tambor’s sexual misconduct and the perceived manner in which the cast have brushed off the scandal in pre-season press junkets have cast a shadow over the season. However, it would be overly generous to say that the condemnation of Tambor has clouded the reception of Arrested Development at its best. Rather, season five struggles to pace itself, its storytelling feels laboured, and social commentary, trite. Arrested Development has never been contingent on plausible narratives; in fact, its pleasure comes from its farcical plot points.

Maeby Funke

Season five follows the Bluth family as they travel to and from Mexico, for reasons that make little logical sense, yet are true to the drives of each of the characters. So far, Arrested Development fails to measure up, but as with each prior season of the show, it could be the case that it is building to its finale, where compounded skits, plot points and themes come together.