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After watching the newest (partial) season of Arrested Development I want to preface this review of the second reboot by stating the original show is the greatest sitcom of all time.
Its double and triple entendres, the innumerable cultural memes it spawned (I’ve made a huge mistake; I blue myself; Mrs. Featherbottom; Mr. F), its satirical posture towards the media and Iraq War— these and much more made the show’s unbroken hilarity the multi-dimensional tour de force it was. Most fundamentally Arrested Development was exceptional in its ability to juxtapose wild, ridiculous individual caricatures with knowable, intimately relatable familial dynamics.
Of course, this only applies to its original three-season run, and while its exceptional status is taken for granted at this point, it is important to introduce the following: the new season of Arrested Development is unequivocally not good (note: per its new release on Netflix, this is only the first part of the new season; more episodes are coming). Despite some writing and aesthetic flourishes harkening back to the show’s original run— it’s a rather unnecessary extension of the itself unnecessary season 4.
One of the main problems with season 5 is the plot itself, which charts an absurd course seemingly only for the sake of absurdity itself. This ‘absurdity for absurdity’s sake’ as qualitative measurement is radically distinct from the original run. The new episodes are not often funny, usually unnecessary, difficult to follow (to understand it, one requires a memory of the forgettable season 4), and just banal.
Probably this last quality is its worst: Arrested Development (seasons 1-3, what I refer to henceforth whenever I say Arrested) was nothing if not enjoyable. The new season is at moments mildly entertaining but generally boring; and Arrested Development certainly was never that.
I had hopes for this season. The expectation was it would be better than season 4, which came out in 2013. It is, but that doesn’t mean much. This first reboot came at a time when the ubiquity of reboots had not yet reached the fever pitch it has achieved today and was such a tremendous disappointment. Mainly because the original was so fantastic, and its restart such an unexpected letdown. At the time, many were unprepared to admit that the creator of such a momentous show could create such a weak extension. There couldn’t be a bad Arrested Development! Five years later, it’s not such a surprise.
Return to Form?
That said, its billing as a ‘return to form’ only connects to the original in the stilted way a contemporary cultural reboot can. The dialogue flows more naturally than in season 4. Michael Cera’s one-off comments are sometimes memorable. Alia Shawkat is consistently satisfying. Gob (Will Arnett) is quite funny. The latter often seems he is the only cast member to throw himself fully into the show.
There are other mildly bright spots. Yet, the constant magic is no more. Lucille’s (Barbara Walter) signature blend of villainy with motherly affection is reduced to constant grimacing. George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is ridiculous, in no small part due to an utterly unnecessary plot-line. Portia Di Rossi barely appears. At least Henry Winkler is back. But for a reboot, what’s that really worth? Especially in relation to a brilliant original. Why not just leave it alone?
In the rush to review every new film or TV show, the omnipresence of cultural recycling remains only casually acknowledged. But it is so utterly and obviously defining of all media and culture today. This is problematic for many reasons. However, a simple one is that the bar has been lowered. Everything is graded on a curve. If a new television show isn’t horrible, it’s considered okay. But this progressive relativization is just draining all these forms of substance and vitality.
The Legend of Arrested Development
As Arrested Development’s season 3 is ending – the last before the reboots – and cancellation looms, the absurdity of the show, the desperation of the creators, the collapse of the 4th walls reach fever pitch. Thus, offering the only possible ending to such a wacky and consistently dynamic TV show. TV as a medium is unlike others. It exists in real time. It responds immediately to the pressures of a shifting environment.
Arrested Development’s constant reference to it’s impending cancellation in the third season (Please, tell your friends to watch this show!) is part of its legend, a principal reason why many hold the show in high regard. It’s the only way the show could go out. And as the third season spirals upwards to its laughable, absurd conclusion, its comedy far over the top – jetpacks and balloon escapes and Rita corny, Michael! – all winding ridiculously to the end, the way it comes undone at the seams is only too fitting.
No Longer Continuable
However, by that final episode, it’s impossible for the show to carry on. Over the course of season 3 and in the finale, the plot moves from being absurdly comic but tenuously existing in this world to somehow exiting this domain of reality. Lucille’s reveal as the villain. The return of Anyong. The Queen Mary pulling out to sea. Each is appropriate to the show as a cartoonish ending. However, none is no longer really continuable, plot-wise.
So, when the fourth season picks up at the police station, moments after the end of the third, we instantly exist in a space that is unreal. One where absurdity exists in a vacuum removed from the original series. Viewers are separated from the familial heart that was essential to the plot’s bizarreness in the first place. For the most part, the fifth season continues this.
What is there to say? It is disappointing studios keep reanimating cultural gems that are best left alone. I suppose like the final few seasons of The Office, like the new Star Wars films, like a million other recent revivals, these are mostly just another forgettable addendum to an original that remains unparalleled. So, whatever this reboot means, pity the Bluths and writers none, because there never was and never will be TV quite like Arrested Development.