Tv Review: Arrested Development S5 Episode 16

arrested s5e16

Towards the end of this final episode of the season (and hopefully the series) I was incredibly pissed off, I thought they’d fucked things up completely and it was leading to a miserable ending. But then the rug was pulled from under my feet and it actually looked like it was going to be quite sweet, a surprisingly upbeat and positive closure for the story of the Bluths. I started to think that I’d been too harsh about the show, and that maybe it wasn’t a mistake for them to bring it back, but then right at the very end Mitch Hurwitz and co screwed things up and left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth, one which makes me hope the show never ever returns.

It pains me to say such a thing too as, like I mentioned in the review of episode 9, Arrested Development was once one of my favourite ever comedy series, I loved it a ridiculous amount simply because it was so funny, so smart, so inventive, and so layered, every time I rewatched an episode I’d notice something new, or a reference to a joke which paid off later on in the season. And when it returned to Netflix despite being a patchy affair I was glad it had come back, season four had some right clunkers in it but certain episodes were superb (Tobias, G.O.B.’s and the finale especially) and the general feeling was that Mitch Hurwitz was still capable of creating amazing episodes, if only when he was able to get all of the cast together at the same time.

But season five proves that this is no longer the case. Or this second half does at least, the first batch of episodes were pretty strong but this latest lot have been a real mess. There have been a few highlights, The Guilty Gang provided some laughs and Henry Winkler was as good as ever as Barry Zuckercorn, Gene Parmesan was still a joy and the court scenes in general were mostly strong, and Michael and George Michael had the odd funny line, but that’s about it and in a series which used to have an insanely high gag rate it’s enormously disappointing that these latest episodes were so poor. Indeed I let out a massive sigh when I noticed that the finale was a double length episode and normally with a show I love (or once loved, at least) the opposite applies.

The biggest problem with the season and this latest episode is that there’s lots of convoluted plotting but hardly any actually funny jokes, and they’ve ruined so many factors that used to be great about the series. I don’t blame David Cross at all as the writers are clearly to blame but Tobias just isn’t funny anymore, and his ongoing plot to find somewhere to live with his new family was only irritating instead. When he turned up at Maeby’s as Mrs Featherbottom I was briefly elated as that character was so much fun in the earlier seasons but they didn’t do anything with her, and it was just plain and boring, which was the last thing Arrested Development ever used to be. That’s something of a recurring theme too, with a lot of callbacks and appearances from characters who used to be hilarious now simply feeling misjudged.

Also frustrating was the fact that Alia Shawkat was massively underused, I don’t know if this was by choice or because Shawkat was busy but Maeby only turned up for the odd scene every so often and her storyline, which had been one of the highlights from the first part of the season, came to an end in a very bland way. Another weak element was the badly acted flashbacks at the beginning of recent episodes, them turning out to be footage from an abandoned Netflix series at least explained why the portrayals of Lucille and George Snr were so off but it still didn’t make them funny. The same applies with Dusty turning out to be another “Motherboy”, which was a rare example of a character in the show who wasn’t funny from beginning to end, despite taking up far too much screen time this time around. Lucille’s fixation with him also led to George Snr’s moping about in way too many tedious scenes, and there was a ridiculous amount of recapping going on too, it felt like the show didn’t trust us to remember things that had only happened in the previous episode which was bizarrely patronising.

This final episode really suffered from having to tie everything up quickly too, despite it’s double length. So we got the sudden revelation that Buster had been hypnotised and hadn’t really killed his Grandmother, and then Michael conveniently remembering the events of the night Lucille disappeared while in court and so a mistrial was inevitably called, before it was quickly revealed that Buster actually had murdered Lucille’s mother after all. Then we skipped forward two weeks to resolve the whole Faceblock nonsense and while there was the occasional funny moment here (mostly Michael and George Michael’s fake fight, but also Buster wearing a “Mis Trial” sash), I still found myself frustrated by the ending. At least they didn’t kill off G.O.B. like it looked like the were going too, and his reunion with Tony Wonder was affecting, but just as everything looked like it had worked out we had Buster admitting he did kill Lucille 2 and christ, it was a miserable and shitty a way to end the mystery and also made one of the show’s best characters an utter monster, but not in the amusing way he used to describe himself as.

At least Michael and George Michael made their escape and have hopefully left the family behind for good, and I hope we as an audience have done so too. Arrested Development used to be an ingenious comedy but it became too obsessed with tricksy plotting and forgot to make that many jokes, and the jokes that were present often misfired painfully. It took everything that used to make it a joy and either made it agonisingly bland or overly repetitive, and it also made far too many of the characters genuinely unlikeable, even the ones you might have previously loved to hate. Season four may have had it’s issues but it was never annoying or irritating which this second half of season five has been all too often, and if I’m ever to really fall in love with the show again I’m going to have to hypnotise myself in to believing it never existed.

Alex Finch.

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