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Arrested Development gets little fanfare for fifth season

Arrested Development gets little fanfare for fifth season
Entertainment
You probably missed Netflix’s debut Friday of the second half of the comedy’s fifth season. Previous returns of Arrested, a longtime critical and cult hit, have been greeted with loud fanfare but, this time around, it’s more a resigned whimper.

Arrested Development’s status as a pop-culture force has long passed and the more the creators and cast push to recapture that glory the more sullied its legacy becomes.  (Saeed Adyani / Netflix)

It’s not uncommon for enthusiasm to wane for aging series, but there’s never been another show with quite the same path that Arrested has taken: cancellation by Fox in 2006, after three seasons, a 2013 Netflix revival and another season five years later.

Its unconventional path has landed it in the unenviable position of seeming to have lasted too long and not long enough. And as the second half of the fifth season limps onto Netflix, it’s time for the show to be put out of its misery.

The new episodes arrive 16 years after the series premiered in 2003 as a scrappy, offbeat sitcom about the vapid and formerly rich Bluth family. It was weird and brilliant, but perhaps too weird for broadcast TV, despite an Emmy Award as Best Comedy for that first season. But the revival was disappointing and the improved fifth season still couldn’t match the series at its peak.

It also drew controversy because Jeffrey Tambor, who stars as patriarch George Bluth (and his twin brother Oscar) was accused of sexual harassment on the set of another series, Amazon’s Transparent. (He was also verbally abusive to his Arrested co-star Jessica Walter, she said, breaking into tears about the incident in front of Tambor and the cast during an interview.)

Tambor and his alleged misconduct make loving Arrested difficult, especially given that he and Walter play a frequently bickering married couple. But even if you can put aside the controversy, Arrested lost its panache at the same time its lost relevancy.

The new episodes revolve around the same tired plots introduced in Season 4: George and Lucille (Walter) are still trying to build a Mexican border wall; Gob (Will Arnett) is still maybe sort of gay; Tobias (David Cross) is still trying to get in with the Bluths while holding onto his girlfriend (Maria Bamford) and son (Kyle Mooney); and Michael (Jason Bateman) tries to save his son George Michael (Michael Cera) from his own fraudulent software company, Fake Block, and restore the Bluth name and fortune.

It’s all very familiar and, worse, painfully dull. There are a few lines here or there in these eight episodes that elicit a chuckle, but this isn’t the hilarity you have seen before. Arrested has always been weird and irreverent, but that side of the series now seems less character driven and more performative. Why are Tobias’s secret girlfriend and son living in the model-home attic? Just because?

The series’ satire of the wealthy was already starting to lose its bite last season. And in our current climate, stranger-than-fiction stories about the rich and privileged (like the recent college admissions scandal) make Arrested seem even more woefully out of date. The Bluths are stuck in the past and not in a funny way.

In Season 4, there was a bit of an excuse for the problems, given that stars like Bateman and Cera had seen their careers take off since 2006 and reassembling the cast proved difficult. Through a combination of plot gymnastics and trickery, Season 4 was cobbled together from separate shoots (the entire cast spent only one day together on the set).

Creator Mitch Hurwitz has made a concerted effort to right those wrongs (Netflix even tried to fix Season 4 itself, allowing Hurwitz to re-edit episodes to make their structure more like the first three seasons). But putting the Bluths back together in Season 5 didn’t solve much.

Arrested was, at one point, one of the best sitcoms on TV and beloved by a legion of fans and critics. Before dozens of shows were being revived regularly, Netflix’s 2013 rescue seemed miraculous. But the moment when Arrested was a pop-culture force has long passed, and the more Hurwitz and the cast push to recapture that glory the more sullied its legacy becomes.

As Michael Bluth might say, sometimes it’s best just to sail away and leave the mess behind. No matter how much you once loved it.
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