Series Review

Was it a mistake to revive 'Arrested Development' for a 5th season?

The award-wining cult comedy series, 'Arrested Development', has made a comeback six years after the last season aired

03 June 2018 - 00:00
The cast of 'Arrested Development'.
The cast of 'Arrested Development'.
Image: Supplied

And now a brief recap of the rise and disappointing fall of the once much beloved, clever, wittily written, farcical multi-character examination of the dysfunctional white Californian privileged family par excellence, the Bluths.

When Arrested Development premiered in 2003, Mitchell Hurwitz's sitcom, with its anti-sitcom mockumentary style and winking, overly expositional Ron Howard narration, was considered too ahead of its time for Fox TV audiences but was recognised by critics and television insiders with a slew of Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Fox carried the show for a further two seasons, but it was quietly canned in 2006 - and developed a slavish cult following on DVD, recognised not just for its new take on the old dysfunctional family trope but also as a sly critique of life during the second half of the Bush era.

WATCH | The trailer for Arrested Development Season 5

When Netflix began its programme of creating its own shows, Arrested Development was revived in 2013 for a 15-part fourth season that divided fans with a new approach that included standalone, single-character episodes and far too many celebrity cameos.

Even a recent re-release of that season, which added seven more episodes and tried to work out the much-criticised story kinks, didn't placate the disappointed fans.

So, six years after season four, Netflix got the gang together again and in the early hours of Wednesday morning the first eight episodes of a planned 16-part fifth season arrived.

#TAMBORTOO

The problem is that in the years that it's taken to corral the various stars - many of whom have gone on to successful solo careers on the back of their involvement in the show - many far-reaching things have happened in the real world that make it difficult to accept the charms of the stupid, rich idiocy of the Bluths.

The first of these reared its ugly head in a recent cast interview with the New York Times Magazine that went viral last week, thanks to the show's male members attempting to explain away the behaviour of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays paterfamilias George Bluth snr) towards his co-star Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth).

Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth snr and Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth in 'Arrested Development'.
Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth snr and Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth in 'Arrested Development'.
Image: Supplied

Tambor is in hot water following #MeToo allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct on his other hit show, Transparent, from which he's been subsequently fired.

Asked about these allegations in relation to Arrested Development, Walter, while not accusing Tambor of sexually inappropriate behaviour, said that he had been verbally abusive towards her in a more aggressive manner than she had ever experienced on any set. She broke down crying during the interview.

Co-stars Jason Bateman (Michael Bluth), Tony Hale (Buster Bluth), David Cross (Tobias Bluth) and Will Arnet (Gob Bluth) then proceeded to "do somersaults to mansplain away the gravity of the situation and to reinforce their support for Tambor", as one critic described it.

All of which points to a problem that no amount of the comic elements that made the show unique 15 years ago can remedy - be they a refocus on multi-character story interweaving or sharp comic interactions between the cast - and that's that the show seems horribly and awkwardly unable to move with the times.

A joke in which Tambor's character dresses up as a woman seems a desperate attempt to deflect from the actor's behaviour. Similarly, a running joke about Bluth's involvement in the building of a border wall is included mostly as a means of trying to remind the audience how clever the show was when it introduced this idea in 2013, three years before Trump's election.

Overall, the once quaint and ditzy dysfunction of the Bluths' frantic attempts to hold onto the last vestiges of their white privilege now seems tacky and slightly offensive in a world in which these ideas and attitudes are constantly being challenged and called out.

LEGAL FEES

The whole enterprise feels shallow, like it's trying to make amends for the disappointments of the previous outing. So far it's leaving an unfamiliar bitter taste in the mouth, rather than the gentle, warm chuckles it delivered so successfully in its first three seasons.

In spite of its still excellent cast and its still annoying but accepted over-explanatory narration, it seems that Arrested Development has had its own satirical development arrested and now it's waiting around to see if there's any more money to be made from it for Tambor and his possible impending legal fees.


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