“Arrested Development” ends on a whimper


Jeff Turner

Photo courtesy of Variety

In the early days of Netflix, “Arrested Development” was in the same tier as shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” in terms of shows that users would watch and reference the most in using the service. Many would likely argue that those original three seasons of “Arrested Development” are still a popular attraction on Netflix, and series creator Mitch Hurwitz has credited the service with re-igniting interest in the cult hit series.

In 2013, Netflix then greenlit a fourth revival season, which was met with a polarized reception. Despite the negative press season four had received, it’s actually pretty good. It is uneven, certainly, but it’s ambitious and the cast is in top form and it takes the series in new, interesting, surprising directions.

There was goodwill to spend on a fifth season, and Netflix renewed the show. Then there was silence, followed by either Hurwitz, cast members, or representatives of Netflix assuring fans that a fifth season was in production. About five years went by, and the first half of the fifth season was finally released. The response was largely negative, and this wasn’t helped by the recut of the fourth season to retrofit the format to match the format of the original series, this recut was widely panned alongside the fifth season.

The first half of season five was OK, but not great. The cast was still fun and there were plenty of decent jokes and memorable moments. Adding on to the largely negative response of the season four recut and the lukewarm response of season five was a New York Times interview where it was revealed that cast member Jeffrey Tambor had been verbally abusive to co-star Jessica Walter, and the response from the rest of the cast in turn was widely panned.

Despite all of this mess, and an interview with castmember David Cross revealed Hurwitz’ creative process for this new season to be wildly disorganized, with scripts constantly changing even during production, Netflix promised that the second half of season five would come out either at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.

Hurwitz initially planned three seasons, but it is sounding more likely that he will only get these two. David Cross and Michael Cera have openly bad-mouthed the show, Portia de Rossi is retired (she does appear in this second half, and is well utilized), and Tambor’s toxic reputation has undoubtedly done a lot to hurt viewership of this new season.

This last batch of episodes effectively serve as the series finale for one of the most influential comedy television series of all time. How’d they do?

In March of 2019, the second half of season five finally dropped on Netflix, and it’s important to have all of this context because season five often buckles under the weight of all of this behind-the-scenes production baggage. Well, the actual ‘series finale’ is pretty good. “The Fallout” is a good half-hour of TV, if a far cry from “Development Arrested,” the series finale of the Fox network run.

The dark tone feels appropriate, and its callbacks to earlier seasons feel organic when they could have felt desperate. The second half of season five is not bad, but it’s also not that good. It exists in that same sort of nether-realm that the first half did. The pacing is all over the place and probably the biggest aspect holding these new episodes back overall.

To recap: when we last left the Bluth’s, Michael (Jason Bateman) had just proved the innocence of Buster (Tony Hale) for the murder of Lucille Austero (Liza Minelli), which had been a major plot point. The A plot for this second half follows Lucille and George Sr. (Walter and Tambor respectively) appeasing their Chinese donors with a wall on the Southern border, or at least something similar to it.

It’s all watchable for the most part. There are a series of flashbacks that lead up to a reveal that would be clever were it not for the fact that it felt so rushed. The flashbacks themselves are largely pointless, contributing very little to the payoff. When all is said and done, most people will just return to those first three seasons, ignoring the Netflix revival.